Attappady tribals deserve better than mere sloganeering focusing on the manipulated magnanimity of the Chief Minister and the opposition leader.
Chandrika with her mother Malli. Courtesy: Mathrubhumi

It became a morale-booster to hundreds of highly educated tribespeople of the backward Attappady region of Kerala, who remain either jobless or underemployed, when a woman graduate of the locality joined the state Home Department as a civil police officer. Named Chandrika, the woman graduate from Chindakki tribal settlement of the predominantly tribal region is incidentally the sister of Madhu, an intellectually disabled tribal youth who was mob lynched last year by the local settlers who accused him of theft.

Chandrika had to appear for an interview for the post on February 23, 2018, when the body of Madhu was kept at the local government hospital for autopsy. Recruited along with 74 others from Wayanad, Malappuram, and Palakkad, Chandrika later completed the mandatory training at the police camp at Muttikulangara in Palakkad, and her passing out parade won large scale media attention on Wednesday. And although her recruitment had no connection with the beating to death of Madhu and the subsequent government interventions to enhance tribal living standards in the region known for poverty and malnutrition related deaths, Chandrika’s elevation as civil police officer became the subject of a large social media campaign involving pro-Left Democratic Front (LDF) cyber activists making it look like a major humanitarian gesture of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Some of them even went to the extent of terming it an appointment on compassionate grounds.

Upset over the way LDF’s cyber activists were gaining more grounds, social media handles of opposition UDF soon turned active on Facebook, terming the whole special recruitment initiative itself as the brainchild of former Kerala Home Minister and present opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. Quoting the old orders, they said Chennithala had initiated the move, to ensure tribal cooperation in the anti-Maoist drives, mainly in Palakkad, Malappuram, and Wayanad districts.

In the hectic debates that ensued, all of them conveniently forgot the fact that it was hard work and determination that helped Chandrika get such a job.

They also forgot that no government agency in Kerala other than the Home Department has conducted a special recruitment drive for tribals in the recent past, despite the increasing number of professionals and post graduates among the tribals in the state.

If tribal welfare was the sole motto, the government should have already conducted special recruitment of teachers, drivers, forest guards, and even gazette officers from among the tribals in the state. Kerala has seen only one tribal special recruitment and that had happened only because of the Maoist scare.

Approaching the issue at the ground level, all talks of education as a tool to uplift the living situation and prospects of Attappady tribes people seem vain when one finds the number of highly educated youngsters in the community either jobless or in jobs that do not match their qualifications.

Look at the findings of tribal voluntary organisation ‘Thambu’. At least 200 tribal youngsters with post graduation and above are now engaged in menial jobs in Attappady because of the lack of special recruitments. Whoever initiated it, it was a welcome relief that the government conducted a special recruitment of 74 tribal youngsters into the state police force. Though official efforts are now on to ensure more tribal representation in government services, the focus is more on youngsters who have completed school and Plus Two.

There must be efforts to conduct special recruitment for tribes people with post graduation and above, and that is the need of both Attappady and Wayanad. Postgraduates and those with professional qualifications from the tribal community require immediate placements, as that would inspire many others to complete professional degrees.

Look at the case of 36-year-old N Rangasamy, an Irula tribal of Sholayur in Attappady. Despite having a post graduation in Hindi along with an MPhil and a diploma in translation, he has been working as a guest lecturer for the last six years in different colleges, and that too with poor remuneration. After completing his post graduation, Rangasamy had cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET). But the additional qualification has also failed to ensure him a decent life and survival.

His wife, 32-year-old Naveena, has an MSc in Botany apart from a BEd. Yet, she works as a temporary school teacher in the absence any direct recruitment

Same is the case of 30-year-old PK Murukan of Kadukumanna, who belongs to a primitive tribal community, Kurumba. After passing BTech in Computer Science with high marks, Murukan worked for four years as a watchman of a tribal welfare project in Attappady. Now he holds the post of a temporary clerk at the local office of Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP).

Yet another example is 28-year-old Unnikrishnan of Irula hamlet in Chindakki, who serves as a warden of a tribal hostel despite his qualification as a marine engineer.

Hailing from low income families, these tribal youngsters are not in a position to obtain jobs in government-aided private institutions by paying huge ‘donations’ to the management. Even in the PSC examinations, they have to compete with candidates from privileged families with higher exposure.

Education can be tribal empowerment only if it is supplemented with matching job opportunities. Attappady tribals deserve better than mere sloganeering focusing on the manipulated magnanimity of the Chief Minister and the opposition leader.

KA Shaji is a south Indian journalist who regularly reports from the backward parts of the region and works in the areas of environmental protection, social advocacy, and grassroots level development. Views expressed are the author's own.