In the insurgency ridden Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, government school teachers risk losing their lives if they fail to indoctrinate young minds into joining the children's unit of the Maoists.
"In the entire conflict zone of Bastar, teachers impart education in the shadow of the gun," says Raja Toram, a government school teacher in Dantewada, the thickly forested heartland of the left-wing insurgents.
"When I am in the classroom, my mind stays hijacked by Dadas (Maoists) who have threatened to kill me if I fail to inspire students to get recruited in their child unit, Bal Sangham, for which recruitment starts at the age of six." Toram says.
"In the areas controlled by Dadas, there is hardly any educational activity," the 42-year-old teacher says. "If at all it happens, it is on how to overthrow the (central) government through an armed movement."
He further says that the ultras have warned teachers of government schools, including residential schools run by the tribal department, against providing education at schools where police and paramilitary troops have camped for anti-Maoist operations.
In schools where there is no police or paramilitary presence, the Maoists are known to say that teachers should prepare students to take up arms aginst the government.
"Maoists hate education and, of course, hate teachers," a teacher based in the Konta block of Dantewada says. "They would like the tribal population to continue in poverty and remain illiterate, so that they can inject their ideology and raise cadres for their bloody movement."
He is surprised that neither the local authorities nor intellectuals from cities visit Bastar and highlight the sufferings of teachers.
"The educational system here has crumbled because teachers mostly do a bunk to save their own lives and those of their family members," he says.
Primary school teacher Mahendra Sahu makes an interesting observation: "In Dantewada district and Bhopalpatnam (in Bijapur district), teachers outsource their work to unemployed youth for a fixed monthly amount. This is the best way to avoid getting sacked by the government and escaping the Dadas."
Chhattisgarh Additional Director General of Police Girdhari Nayak says: "There is no denial of the fact that teachers are put under a lot of mental stress in Bastar's interiors. Militancy has hit the educational system the most there. Be they teachers, traders, other civilians, or even the police, everyone is under the shadow of the gun."
Police say that the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), which holds sway in the region since the late 1980s, has hundreds of cadres in the Bastar region. They are armed with AK-47 assault rifles, mortars and rocket launchers.
These cadres are backed by thousands of 'Sangham members' armed with traditional weapons such as the bow and arrow.
(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)