What would the lifestyle of children living in the forest be? Do they go to school? Do they have medical facilities?

“I don’t want people to think that we put feathers in our hair and dance around the fire. We don't do that!” says Dinesh Kumar, a 12-year-old who belongs to a tribal community in Tamil Nadu. True to what he says, many of us imagine tribes and their way of life.

Their life may have been very different to ours and may be even something we cannot relate to, a long time ago. But today, these children go to school just like us, their parents are involved in agriculture or other forest-centric activities like many and live in poverty. However, some things still remain different for them — limited access to education, modern resources, medical facilities and a prejudice associated with their community.

What they need

The tribal communities live in various ecological and geo-climatic conditions (forests, hills or plains) and in various stages of social, economic and educational development. Education is a primary concern for the government and many organisations as it is a means to improving the lives of the communities overall — be it education reading, writing, general knowledge or health and hygiene.

“The children cannot spend an entire day at school as they have to work and help their parents. It could be helping graze the cattle, household work, babysitting, collecting fruits and firewood to be sold and so on. So many drop out after a certain point of time,” says Vimal Chand Kothari, Trustee, Friends of Tribals Society, a pan-India organisation that works for the welfare of the tribal communities. Treading paths through the forest fraught with wild animals is also a deterrent to some.

But there is an increased awareness about the need for education. “Parents want their children to study. It helps improve their lives as well. I have seen parents of the children going to school change their attitude and living conditions as these children make their parents aware in turn,” observes Vimal Chand.

Who are the tribal people?

They are a community of indigenous people endemic to a particular region and living a life that remains pretty much the same since the time of their predecessors.

According to the government, for a community to be identified as tribes or “Scheduled Tribes”, they should display the following characteristics: indications of primitive traits; distinctive culture; shyness of contact with the community at large; geographical isolation; and backwardness. According to the website of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the tribal population in India constitutes 8.14 per cent of the total population of the country according to the 2001 Census. More than half of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. In the states of Punjab and Haryana, and in the Union Territories of Puducherry, Delhi and Chandigarh there is ST population.

PONMANI R.

I live in an adivasi ooru (hamlet) called Kallakara, which is situated in Attapadi Hills adjacent to Silent Valley in Palakkad District. I belong to an adivasi community. In my ooru, there are about 200 houses and approximately 50 children in my age group.

My father works as a daily wage labourer and my mother is with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. We are two children. My elder brother dropped out from Std IV and is now working as a coolie. I study in Std VIII. My family doesn’t engage in agriculture. We are totally dependant on ration shop for our daily food. Rice and some curry is our regular diet.

When I was a child, my ooru looked green surrounded by lots of trees. It was nice to hear the sounds of birds and enjoy the dance of the peacock. There was a small stream passing through my ooru with lots of fish in it. Cranes used to come there to catch the fish. But all those days are gone! Now, there is no water in our ooru for drinking itself. We have to go 2.5 km to the Bhavani and carry pots of water on our head.

I feel extremely happy when I spend time with my friends in school and also in my ooru. We, the children in the ooru, have formed a children’s group called “Karthumbi”. We share our happy moments, sad experiences and discuss our concerns during the meetings. Now there are around 40 children coming regularly to the Karthumbi meetings.

In the school, I participate in sports. But in dance and other activities, most of the times we are not given a chance to participate. My ambition is to become a teacher. I want to see all the children in Attapadi going to school.

Courtesy: C.R.Y