The Maoists are at war with the State. Their political and military contest may therefore be understandable. But what is not so is some of their tactics that harass, torture, displace or even kill innocent people, many of them not even being aware of the issues involved nor informing on the rebels. Abductions are one of them and have formed a regular feature of Maoist action. From a person to hundreds at a time, they take away by force, sometimes for indoctrination, sometimes for interrogation, sometimes for punitive action, which at times has resulted in death sentences by their kangaroo court. Admittedly, most of the abductees have been freed. But that does not justify the action in the first place, just as illegal detentions, torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings committed by the State cannot be condoned. Another similar tactic used by them is to order villagers to leave their villages, in the process displacing tens of thousands of people.

The latest victims are 48 pupils, from first to sixth graders, from Basuladevi lower secondary school at Sisneri in Makawanpur district, not far from the capital, on Tuesday by six armed Maoists, who are reported to have assured the teachers that they would be freed the following day. This act has come just after, not necessarily because, the US decided to release the $1 million temporarily frozen military aid on human rights grounds to the Royal Nepalese Army. Elsewhere in the country, 2,000 people were reported to have been abducted by the rebels within 24 hours. Abductions being in themselves a condemnable act become doubly so when the victims are minors. Even when they are released, the abductees are likely to suffer from trauma or other effects of terror in an environment where counselling services and care are non-existent. So, many of the victims have to carry these psychological scars throughout their lives.

In some cases, the rebels’ motives in abducting may be clear. But in many others involving innocent people, they are unclear. These acts do not seem to win popular sympathy. So it is difficult to understand why even innocents are targeted, though they do not pose any threat to the rebels. Moreover, the Maoists should understand that abductions will not help them win the war against the State in any way, as the experience of other countries shows. Neither are these acts sanctioned by the Geneva conventions or other international norms. So what they should do at least, and immediately, is spare the innocents who are not in any way involved in activities reportedly directed against them. This single gesture would go a long way in reducing the brutality of the civil war. And this may also help improve the Maoists’ image at home and abroad.