The Adivasis declared ‘self-rule’ on June 1 and have been denying entry to Lambada teachers into their hamlets and villages.

Ground report An agitation that is costing Adivasis in Adilabad their kids education
news Education Wednesday, July 04, 2018 - 14:49

The village of Pedda Sudhaguda bears a deserted look. With the arrival of the monsoon, all the farmers are busy in the fields, tilling and sowing seeds. On the way to the village, green flags erected along the road lead us to the primary school. The school is locked up and the premises are used to house cattle. This is the situation in many villages in Utnoor, Adilabad.

On June 1, the Adivasis (all the nine Adivasi communities) collectively declared ‘self-rule’ with the slogan ‘Maava Naate Maava Raj’ (‘our land our rule’ in Gond) across the state in regions which are dominated by Adivasis. The Adivasis have also denied entry to any official from the Lambada community into their villages; this ban includes teachers too. While the schools which have Adivasi teachers and teachers from other communities continue to function, the less fortunate ones, like the one in Pedda Sudhaguda, which only have Lambada teachers have been forced to shut down.

Read: Explainer: Why Gond Adivasis and Lambada Banjaras are clashing in Telangana

In Pedda Sudhaguda, which is located just 2 km from Utnoor town, the primary school has remained closed for almost six months, ever since the violent clashes between the Lambadas and Adivasis last December. Though the teacher thought that things would return to normalcy when the next academic year started, she was proven wrong. After declaring ‘self-rule’, the Gonds in Pedda Sudhaguda allegedly threatened the teacher against visiting the village and teaching their kids. Since then the school has remained locked.

The children from the village are now forced to walk or travel by other means to the government school in nearby Lakkaram, which is functional as it has Adivasi teachers.

Seven-year-old Durga Parsaram, studying in Class 2, is among the 10 children who walk nearly 2 km every day to reach their school in Lakkaram. His mother Bharati says that she abides by the decision taken by the village elders.

She says, “The village elders have taken a decision. What can I say about it? My son is now going to the nearby school."

The Adivasis, who primarily speak Dravidian languages, have contested the fact that Lambadas - who traditionally are from Rajasthan - have been added to the Centre’s Scheduled Tribes list. They claim that as outsiders, the Lambadas have bagged all the government jobs and are availing the benefits under the SC quota. Saying that the government has sidelined them and favoured the Lambadas instead, the Gonds called for them to be removed from the SC list.

Similar is the situation in Nagpur village, about 10 km from Utnoor town, and in Pitlaguda, 4 km from Utnoor town, which have at least 20 students enrolled in the respective schools.

Residents in both villages have decided to close down the school heeding to the call given by ‘Thudumdhebba’, an Adivasi political group that is spearheading the movement to decategorise Lambadas as tribes from the Scheduled Tribes list. Again, students here have been forced to move to other functional government schools nearby. However, owing to the distance, parents have hired autorickshaws to take their children to school every day.

Bheemavva, who works as a caretaker in the anganwadi centre adjacent to the Pitlaguda village school, says, “Parents are forced to pay Rs 200 every month now. The agitation is affecting us financially.”

Direct impact on education

The impact of the ongoing Adivasis vs Lambadas crisis can be seen reflected directly on the performance of the students. Adilabad district, which is at the epicentre of the conflict, recorded the lowest pass percentage for Class 10 in 2017-18 with a mere 51.94% against the previous year’s 65%.

Utnoor has 79 government primary schools with 1,049 students and seven high schools with 3,430 students. In most villages, the ban of Lambada teachers has already proved to be a disaster.

Several Adivasi youth who are part of the agitation against the Lambadas but objected to the idea of banning teachers were labelled ‘sell-outs’. Nevertheless, to address the reasonable question raised, their leaders proposed the idea of educated Adivasi youth volunteering to teach the children, but the idea failed miserably.

With the volunteers rarely turning up to take classes, Adivasi teachers have been burdened with additional work.

A school board in Perkaguda village with the self-rule flag

Despite the agitation proving detrimental to their community, the Thudumdhebba, also known as Adivasi Hakkula Porata Samithi, leaders are firm on their stance.

Thudumdhebba state president Soyam Baburao, who refuses to back down from the protest, says, “Even if we open the schools and let our children study, they will still not get employment. What difference does that make?”

Utnoor based human rights activist Athram Bhujang Rao, a Gond, who supports the demand of the Adivasis to delist the Lambadas from the ST category says, “I support the protest, but education and health departments should be spared even during an agitation. Teachers don’t discriminate based on caste and ethnicity. They should be exempted. Poor district health officials (Lambadas) are entering the village without getting noticed, serving and leaving. That is a sad state of affairs.”

The defiance of a village

While many primary schools across Utnoor dominated by Adivasis have closed down because they had only Lambada teachers, defying the call given by Thudumdhebba, Ghanpur village unanimously decided to allow their two Lambada teachers to continue working in the school.

With a population of about 700, Ghanpur is one of the biggest villages in Utnoor dominated by Gonds. It has at least 50 students studying in the primary school. This village has shown its open defiance by not erecting the Komaram Bheem flag, which symbolises self-rule.

The village chieftain Lacchu Patel says, “All the villagers took this decision unanimously. If the school doesn’t function, our children will roam around the wells and while away the time playing. Their education will be severely affected.”

Pandhra Jaalim Shah, another villager, candidly shares, “We had objected to the teachers coming to the school when the clashes were happening. However, after the school resumed, we did not raise any objection. The recent Class 10 results made us rethink. Several others asked me why your village is not coordinating with the agitation, but I know the implications it has on our children.”

Shah admits that the idea of educated Adivasi youth volunteering to teach was unproductive.

“These teachers are doing their job well. We are convinced with their teaching. What certainty do we have that the next teacher who comes will be good?” adds Kodapa Ramu.

Ramu’s two grandchildren, Jaywanth Rao and Jangu, are studying in Class 2 and Class 1 respectively in the Ghanpur government primary school.

Lacchu Patel with the villagers gathered outside his house

How are officials addressing the crisis?

Government officials have been trying to counsel villagers against preventing Lambada teachers from teaching at their schools. They have also been trying to depute vidya volunteers (temporary teachers) from the Adivasi community in villages where the residents are adamant on their stand.

The Adilabad District Education officer Janardhan Rao admits that there is an acute shortage of Adivasi teachers in the state. The only way to return normalcy in schools would be by convincing the Adivasis to relax their ban on the entry of Lambada teachers.

The Utnoor Integrated Tribal Development Agency Project Officer Krishna Aditya says that the intensity of the agitation has weakened now and they are able to convince the villagers against the discriminatory practice of banning Lambada teachers.

“We acknowledge that self-rule is their [Adivasi] constitutional right, but taking a discriminatory stance against Lambadas is objectionable and unconstitutional. We are trying to identify temporary teachers with Adivasi ethnicity and recruit them in the Adivasi dominated areas, and also trying to convince the villagers at the same time.”

“The better pass percentages in the abutting districts like Nirmal and Mancherial that had over 80% pass-outs in Class 10 has made the Saarmedis (ambassador of the Gonds to the government) realise the consequences of the agitation.”

With the warring group Thudumdhebba refusing to back down from the agitation, the only option now left for Adivasi parents is to either send their children to private schools or have their children undergo the pain of walking several kilometres for education.

Read: Explainer: Why Gond Adivasis and Lambada Banjaras are clashing in Telangana

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