Vinod has recently enrolled for a PhD in Applied Economics at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT).

Vinod, frost researcher from the Cholainaikkan Community, sits on a rock near a natural waterfalls
news Education Sunday, November 15, 2020 - 19:41

Vinod had only one pair of clothes when he joined Class 11. The authorities at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Model Residential School, Nilambur had asked students to come with four pairs of clothes to use at the hostel. Vinod thought of quitting studies. Not that his friends didn’t help by giving him clothes to change, but having to depend on others began to disturb him. “I thought of giving up because it was too much to fight,” he recalls, speaking to TNM. Vinod, however, didn’t quit. His teachers, Unni and Fasila, encouraged him not to give up. The year was 2011.

Fast forward to 2020 and Vinod has recently enrolled for a PhD in Applied Economics at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). He is perhaps the first researcher from the Cholanaikkan tribal community in Asia.

The 24-year-old belongs to the Manjeeri tribal hamlet in Malappuram district’s Nilambur. It’s in the Manjeeri and Alaykkal hamlets that the community’s population of less than 500 people lives.

According to Vinod, the Cholanaikkan community exists only in the state. “Ours is the only tribal community that lives in rock-cave shelters. It was through news reports that I realised that I’m the first research student from the community in Asia. This could be because we exist only here in Kerala in the continent,” Vinod adds.

After completing Class 12, Vinod joined graduation at Sree Vivekananda Padanakendram, Nilambur. The college manager, KR Bhaskaran Pillai, adopted him. “For the three years, I studied living at his home. Mine was not a smooth journey, but there was always someone to lift me up. Teachers like Unni and Fasila and people like Bhaskaran Pillai Sir never allowed me to give up. I have friends from various backgrounds too. They always made me feel that I should move forward,” Vinod says.

Vinod pursued both post-graduation and M Phil at CUSAT. His father, Mannala Chellan, collects forest resources for the Vana Samrakshana Samithi under the Forest department. His mother, Vijaya, is a homemaker. Vinod has seven siblings – two elder brothers and five younger sisters.

The young man says there was a high number of school dropouts in the Cholanaikkan community till five years ago.

“The education system has not yet been made adaptable to the tribal way of living or traditions. Till Class 10, tribal students manage as they study in schools where tribals are the majority. After Class 10, it’s tough for them to stick to education. However, there’s been considerable change in the past five years,” he says.

Vinod wants to work among tribals in the future.

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