The only way to commute to and from these three villages is by boat.

Education for these tribal villagers is a physical odyssey but they persevere
news Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 15:29

An eight-kilometre boat ride past forested hills of the Western Ghats followed by a two-kilometre trek through the forest might sound like a great occasional adventure. But imagine having to make this journey every day to go to school, or to get to the nearest hospital?  

This is just the daily routine for 52 families of the Kani tribe, living in the forest region near the Pechiparai dam of Kanyakumari district, primarily in three tribal villages, Thotamalai, Maramalai and Chempagaparai. Most of the members of these three villages are daily wage workers who earn between Rs. 200 and Rs.300 per day by working in rubber tree plantations or on construction works.

The villages have only one government school between them, which was started in Thotamalai under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program in 2006. There are about 22 students in the school now from all three villages. The school only provides education until Class V, after which the students have to travel to Pechiparai, the nearest village, which is about 11 km away.

The only way to commute to and from these three villages is by boat. There are no motorable roads at all in the area, and the only “road” that exists is so narrow that it can accommodate only one person at a time. “It is very difficult to walk from this place to Pechiparai. We have one boat which we use to travel, said Srirangan Kani (62), an elder in the tribal village.

Despite all of this hard work in pursuit of an education, however, most children in these three villages end up following in the footsteps of their parents and becoming daily wage workers.

Selvi, who is now 32-years-old, was the first one to pass her Class X exams in her village. Everyone expected her to get a government job. When the school was started in the village in 2006, she was given the job of an assistant teacher for one year. However, after a headmaster was appointed to the school, the post of assistant teacher was cancelled, and Selvi was left jobless.

Muralidharan, the first headmaster of the school said, “Selvi, according to her qualifications, should have at least been given an ‘aaya’ job in the school at that time. Now, Selvi is handling the Parent Teacher Association in the school which is no longer a post under the state government.”

When asked why Selvi never got a government job, he said, “Earlier, there were jobs reserved for the Kani tribe in the school, but later the job reservations for the Kani tribe were shifted to Thirunanthikarai. In that area, there is already a Kani tribe which resides there, and has better facilities for education and commuting. So, all the jobs in that area go to that Kani tribe. In this area, there are jobs reserved only for Adi Dravidars.”

This isn’t just Selvi’s story, but is common to most of the young people in the villages. Thus, we have cases like that of 70-year-old Lakshmi, whose daughter Thotamalai studied up to class XII, or Malkani’s son Mani, who passed the Class X exams, but neither of whom could get any job besides daily wage work.

Many of the villages’ problems arise from their isolation from nearby areas. “It is very difficult to travel from here. Twice, deliveries had to be conducted on the way to the hospital,” said Srirangan Kani.

Outreach services do exist in the vicinity, for instance, in the form of a medical camp which is set up every Saturday in a nearby area. However, the camp does not find its way up to the tribal villages. “And Saturdays are the days when the grocery market is also set up. So, most of us go and buy vegetables, most of the people are unavailable on that day,” said Srirangan.

He added that requests have been made for the camp to be conducted on Wednesdays. “We have told them to come on Wednesdays. Earlier, they used to come on Wednesdays and we all used to go and get the required medicines. But now, that facility is also unavailable for us.”

The villages’ isolation is not complete, however.  They receive supplies of piped water and electricity, and the dishes for DTH services could be seen on many houses.

What is interesting is that despite the many travails of travel to school, and the limited opportunities for employment, the villagers continue to dedicatedly send their children to school.  “It is because of the social respect that education brings, we want our children to get respect in the society,” says Srirangan.

And so you have Selvi, who has two children, a son named Abhinash and a daughter, Pavithra. She sends both her children to school hoping against hope that someday they will be employed in something other than wage work.

 

 
"Does anybody care for us?" Kani tribe of TN seek help

Video: "Does anybody care for us?" Kani tribe of TN seek help

Posted by TheNewsMinute on Monday, April 11, 2016

 

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.