NASHIK: Tribal students have remained isolated from the mainstream and have been deprived of education for centuries.
In post-independent India, efforts being made through special budgetary provisions to deliver vital requirements like education and health services to tribals are at the mercy of the bureaucracy and the polity.
The recent case of the alleged rape of a girl studying in a government ashram school in Surgana tehsil of Nashik district has, yet again, brought to the fore the stark reality of affairs pertaining to tribal students, in general and tribal girls, in particular.
In 1998, in all 23 students of the state government’s ashram school at Raite in the Peth tehsil of Nashik district had marched to the tribal development commissionerate’s headquarters in Nashik city, travelling 66 km, to throw light on their plight. The teachers posted at the ashram school (for Class I to X) used to take turns attending school – two teachers came to school per week, while the rest stayed away. The headmaster used to stay in Dhule and visited the ashram school only once a month to sign the register and other documents. On his return journey, he would take away food grains and other ration received for the students. The students were neither fed nor taught properly.
In 2001, a Class IV student, Chintaman Khirari, died of snakebite while sleeping in the dormitory of the Raite ashram school. The mishap took place due to the broken doors of the dormitory which were repaired.
In 2002, a girl studying in a government ashram school at Bardi in Nandurbar district was raped by the school superintendent. The girl got pregnant, had to abandon her education and subsequently, delivered a baby girl. The accused was prosecuted and all the students were kept out of bounds of the school premises from sunset to dawn. The same year, the headmasters of an ashram school run by a trust at Berwal near Trimbakeshwar (Nashik) were booked for molesting a student.
In 2007, the state government announced an ambitious plan of training 100 tribal girls as air hostesses every year and spent Rs 1 crore for their training at a private institute. But not even a single girl could train to become an air hostess. The concerned minister later said that tribal girls could not make it as they lacked the required complexion and fluency in English.
Around six months ago, the pregnancy of a 16-year-old girl studying in an ashram school near Peth (Nashik district) went unnoticed for 24 weeks, despite the requirement of a mandatory monthly health check up that includes maintaining a register of menstruation dates of girls. The concerned officials came up with excuses like the girl was a day scholar and was staying at the ashram school and that some villager, not any member of the staff, was the culprit.
The latest case of rape in the ashram school in Surgana has not only highlighted the callousness of the officials, but also the infighting in the government system in handling the issue. There appears to be no coordination between the additional tribal development commissioner (ATC) and the tribal project officer (PO), responsible for local supervision. The tribal development commissioner, who visited the spot after the incident, has recommended action against the PO, who initially suspended 15 employees but later revoked the suspension of 13 of them. The incident has also brought to the fore the demand for posting IAS officers as POs, revealing internal bickering among various civil services departments.
Despite the tribal girl being allegedly raped at a time when the whole country is outraged by the recent gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya, neither local politicians nor policy makers in the state seem to have taken note of the Surgana case.
Incidentally, Nashik has veteran politicians who have a bizarre perception of tribal welfare. During the Shiv Sena-BJP regime in the state (1995-99), the then social welfare minister Babanrao Gholap (currently MLA from Deolali) had suggested that all tribals should be forcibly shifted from hilly regions to cities for their welfare and for convenience of the government.