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India Maoist conflict 'affects children's education'

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Delhi

Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh
There has been a surge in Maoist violence in recent months

The ongoing conflict between Maoists and government forces is disrupting the education of India's most marginalised children, a rights group says.

In a new report Human Rights Watch has urged the rebels to stop attacking state-run schools.

It has also asked the government to instruct its troops not to use school buildings as part of their operations.

The rebels are fighting for communist rule in many Indian states. Over 6,000 people have died in the 20-year fight.

The rebels have a presence in more than 223 of India's 600-odd districts across 20 states, according to the government.

Human Rights Watch says school children - often from the poorest families - are suffering in specific ways.

The Maoists have attacked schools as symbols of state power in rural area - a total of 14 schools have been attacked in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar alone over the past month.

'Important'

The group is also critical of the government for inviting rebel attacks by stationing security personnel inside school buildings - sometimes while lessons are taking place in neighbouring classrooms.

"We hear again and again from the government here that the Naxalites [as Maoists are called in India] cannot be defeated by force alone, that they are only going to be defeated by targeted development assistance to these areas," writer of the report Bede Sheppard said.

"If that is the case then the government has to recognise that having access to quality education is an important part of any progress."

For months now there have been rumours of a big paramilitary offensive by government forces in remote but vast jungle areas where the rebels have free rein.

The fear is that if that happens the disruption to the education of some of India's most disadvantaged children will become even worse.

The insurgents wield most influence in areas which are mostly poor and dominated by tribes people.

They are also areas widely seen as being rich in mineral wealth which the Maoists say is being handed over to corporate firms while the poor remain deprived.



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