Jamui, Bihar: Nibha Kisku, 45, breaks down as soon as she meets us in a dilapidated government school in a part of Bihar held hostage for decades by Naxalism.
The building, coming apart at the seams, has three functional class-rooms, another three that are not usable, and a kitchen. The building has been attacked by Naxals each time security forces used the school as a camp during elections. In most of these cases, the attacks have taken place a few days after the forces vacated the school, a rough-hewn warning from the Naxals for security personnel to stay out. The insurgents, however, ensure that no children are at school when they strike.
Naxals still storm into the building, says Nibha, looking for policemen or informers.
"I don't ever speak to them. They come here, sit around here, sometimes ask me questions about the police. I let them do their thing, I don't interfere. I think targeting school buildings like this and others is not right," she says, seated in a small classroom where a big hole in one of the walls serves as a window.
20 kilometres away, a new building is being constructed to replace the school that was razed three years ago by Naxals using bulldozers. That attack, in broad daylight, came just days after a temporary police camp set up in the school was shifted out. After bringing down the building, the Naxals left behind posters warning that any other schools used by the police would be similarly destroyed. But the government and the police say that in many of these areas, schools are the only buildings that can accommodate them.
In a makeshift brick structure that came up just two weeks ago, 400 students and five teachers get to work. For teachers like Mohd Raees Ansari, who has worked here for eight years, the challenges are many. Because there is no school building, classes are held in temporary sheds; larger sessions meet under trees. In the monsoons and winter, the occupational hazards bulk up. But they're nothing compared to recent threats from Naxals warning that the new building will be blown up.
"I sometimes wish I were transferred out of here. But what can I do? Till the government transfers me, I have to be here. I always tell these children, please don't be scared," said Mohd Raees.
Teachers like Raees and Nisha are hired on contract by the Bihar government and have no say in where they are posted. They are paid Rs 7,000 a month. Beyond that, they must fend for themselves and the children they teach.