A NATIONAL Convention on Adivasi Exclusion from Education was jointly organised by the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM), Centre for Adivasi Research and Development (CARD), and Students’ Federation of India (SFI) in New Delhi on August 18, 2018. 224 adivasi participants, including 117 adivasi students, many adivasi teachers and also parents and guardians attended the convention from 14 states. As many as 31 delegates spoke in the convention bringing their varied experiences and suggestions making the discussions lively and educative. This was the first national convention which brought together students from both schools and colleges from adivasi areas, their parents and guardians as well as teachers on a single platform with the aim of building a joint movement in adivasi areas to ensure access to the Right to Education to adivasi students at all levels of the education system and to build this movement from the adivasi inhabited areas, at the village, block district and state level.
The convention started with Jitendra Choudhury, national convenor of AARM, placing a resolution before the convention. The resolution was seconded by Vikram Singh, general secretary of SFI. The resolution expressed solidarity with lakhs of adivasi students, and their parents, who struggle to overcome numerous hurdles created by flawed government policies and obtain education. The resolution noted that the policies of privatisation and commercialisation have had a disastrous impact on educational facilities for adivasis. Modi government has sharply cut down allocation of funds for tribal development in general, and for education of adivasis in particular, and shelved the system of having a separate Tribal Sub Plan. In 2018-2019, the entire budget for all the nine education schemes for adivasis was only Rs 2,166 crores, half of what the Modi government spent on its self-advertisement. A large amount of funds meant for scholarships have not been disbursed because of bureaucratic delays and because of insistence on Aadhaar. Lack of adequate funds has also meant that schools are in a deplorable state with 80 percent schools with adivasi students without electricity and more than 26 percent without drinking water facilities. In schools with only adivasi children, 70 percent of toilets for boys and 65 percent of toilets for girls do not have facilities for flushing and cleaning.
The resolution unanimously adopted by the convention demanded that the government should implement the TSP guidelines in allocation of funds for schemes targeted at adivasis, make special provision for allocations for education of adivasi students, increase the number of tribal hostels and upgrading the infrastructure in tribal schools and hostels, raise the scholarship amounts and pay back all the arrears with interest. The resolution demanded that funding for Ashram schools be restored and funding for Eklavya schools be increased. In many states, adivasi schools are being closed down in the name of rationalisation and merger with larger schools.
Over the last year, CARD has conducted a survey of 1700 adivasi children living in 32 hostels in Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. In addition, state units of AARM have conducted surveys of adivasi hostels in many other states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tripura and West Bengal. A report based on these surveys was presented at the convention. The survey report was presented by Prof Vikas Rawal and Smita Gupta.
The surveys found that many hostel buildings were dilapidated while almost all were in need of major repairs. Toilets and bathrooms were broken and unused in all the boys hostels in Jharkhand. In most girls hostels, girls were using few filthy toilets and bathrooms with broken doors and inadequate water supply. In hostels which had toilets and bathrooms, children had to get up as early as 2 am to be able to use then. Hostels in all the states were over-crowded with at least two children sharing a bed. The problem of overcrowding was particularly severe in hostels with dilapidated buildings as falling rubble and leaking roofs made it impossible to use some rooms. Hostels were under-staffed, with vacant posts of wardens, guards, cleaning staff and cooks. In the absence of adequate deployment of staff, students in most hostels were required to clean the building on a regular basis; in two hostels, even cooking of food had to be done by students. In one hostel in Jharkhand, there was absolutely no staff or warden, and the students were found to be running the entire hostel on their own. In all the states, rather than appointing wardens, additional charge of looking after hostels was given to teachers for a meagre additional allowance and accommodation. In Rajasthan, many wardens were given charge of multiple hostels, and did not stay in the hostels at all.
Given the severe fund crunch, hostels were running on meagre resources. The most important result of this was the near-starvation diets being provided to children. The prescribed menu was seldom adhered to and mainly comprised cereals and potatoes. Milk, eggs, dal, fruits and vegetables were seldom served in prescribed quantities, if at all. Starved of adequate and nutritious food, children had to bear long spells of hunger on a daily basis.
Facilities for sports and for coaching classes for students either did not exist or were very poorly organised. Although hostels in Rajasthan had a provision to deploy coaches for tutorial classes for students, coaches were paid a meagre amount of Rs 2500 per month. While children complained of inadequate coaching facilities in all the hostels, the surveys found that over-invoicing and false-billing was used to compensate for low payment to tutors. In Madhya Pradesh, only two of the 15 surveyed hostels had coaching facilities while in Jharkhand no such facilities existed in any hostel.
Supply of toiletries and sanitary pads was irregular or non-existent. Most hostels did not have first-aid facilities or an arrangement for visits by a doctor. Children lived in extremely unhygienic conditions, were unable to bathe regularly and skin diseases were widespread.
The survey teams came across complaints of sexual harassment in girls hostels in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In Jharkhand, five out of nine hostels that were surveyed did not have a boundary wall. Lack of electricity, dysfunctional fans and lights were a major problem. There were no fans in rooms in six out of nine survey hostels in Jharkhand.
The resolution adopted at the convention also expressed the demands for withdrawal of HECI bill and reversal of recent decisions to undermine reservations in teaching positions. The convention noted that the declining allocation of public resources towards education of adivasis has resulted in a severe deficiency in availability of facilities for education among adivasis. Along with dismal conditions of public schooling facilities and commercialisation of education, policies that induce displacement of adivasis and disruption of the sources of their livelihoods are major causes of low participation of adivasis in education and high rates of drop out among them. The convention noted with dismay that at present only 16 percent of adivasis in the age-group 18-23 years are college students.
Speakers at the convention highlighted that use of non-tribal languages as the medium of instruction in schools in adivasi areas was a major barrier for adivasi students. The convention resolved to demand that adivasi languages be used as a medium of instruction at the primary level and adivasi students be given the right to choice of language in the pre-matric and post-matric levels.
In BJP-ruled states, some of the hostels built using public resources, have been handed over to organisations affiliated to the Sangh Parivar, who use it to further the agenda of Hinduisation of adivasi children. The most disturbing feature of functioning of such schools is the incorporation of RSS indoctrination into the curriculum and daily routine of the students. Hindu religious practices are made a part of the routine, and students are made to observe fasts and sing communal songs. The convention demanded to build resistance against communalisation of education in adivasi areas and handing over educational facilities created through public resources to communal organisations.
The convention resolved to launch struggles for a quality education for tribal students, better hostel facilities, timely disbursement of scholarships, and against the policies of commercialisation and communalisation of education. It resolved to build a strong movement for the rights of adivasi students in education from the primary to the highest level of educational institutions and work to end exclusion of adivasis from education.
The convention concluded with the address of Mayukh Biswas, SFI joint secretary and Brinda Karat, vice president of AARM. Brinda emphasized the approach adopted at the convention and reflected in the speeches of the participants that to fight against exclusion of adivasis, it is essential to understand the context of the Right to Education in tribal inhabited areas which is entirely different given geographical remote locations, specific cultural issues, the crucial issue of education in tribal languages, displacement policies and so on, compared to the context in non tribal areas. Here it is essential to build the struggle for schools from the village, block and district levels. To achieve success, the entire community will have to be mobilised. The Right to Education is a legal right which is being denied to adivasi children. This is the crux of the issue against which united and fresh strategies have to be used. She also gave details of the RSS agenda and how it is damaging adivasi cultures and languages and leading to divisions among adivasis.
The conference resolved to take the inspiring message of the convention to the various states and continue the joint work between AARM and SFI on education issues in adivasi areas. Songs and slogans rent the air as the convention reached a successful conclusion.