Off to school through swirling waters

 Tribal children cross Chaliyar river to reach their school near Nilambur in Kerala. Photo: Special Arrangement

 Tribal children cross Chaliyar river to reach their school near Nilambur in Kerala. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dozens of children from four marooned tribal hamlets in the jungle across the Chaliyar river at Munderi near Nilambur in Kerala are risking their lives to reach schools every day. They have been forced to use bamboo rafts to cross the river since two bridges were washed away in the floods that devastated one of the hamlets in 2018.

The government has done nothing to re-establish physical connectivity for the 105 tribal families living in Vaniyampuzha, Tharippapotti, Iruttukuthi and Kumbalappara hamlets to reach the mainland since 2018. Although the Malappuram District Collector and his revenue colleagues raised a fund and built a hanging bridge to help the 400-odd tribes-people, it did not last beyond 2019.

Reopening of schools

The hardship of the tribal children has come to the fore with the reopening of schools in full swing after a hiatus of two years brought about by COVID-19. With the government deciding to wind up single-teacher multi-grade learning centres (MGLCs), all the children of the marooned hamlets have no means but to depend on the mainland for education.

About half of them have joined tribal schools with hostels in the State. When all students of Kumbalappara, the remotest hamlet of the Kattunaikar tribe, were shifted to residential schools, more than 40 students of Iruttukuthi, Vaniyampuzha and Tharippapotti hamlets cross the river twice a day for their education.

The Chaliyar, one of the mighty rivers of Kerala, swells in its upstream region during the monsoon and poses a huge risk for the children crossing it on bamboo raft. “We are worried for our children in monsoon. When it rains heavily, crossing the river on the raft is risky. Our men cannot operate the raft when the current is fast,” said V.K. Sudha, one of the parents who help the children cross the river every day.

Miserable life

Ummul Wahida, who was a teacher at the Vaniyampuzha MGLC, said life had become miserable for the tribes-people since the consecutive floods of 2018 and 2019. “Living in makeshift tents in the elephant-infested jungle is really hard, let alone the challenge of crossing the river to reach the mainland,” she said.

On a couple of days last week, the children crossed the river by wading through it as the rains had stayed away. “They waded largely because they did not have money to pay for the bamboo raft,” said Ms. Sudha. The men operating the raft charge a fee from the users.

For Aiswarya, Nitya and Manoj, ninth, 10 th and second standard students respectively from the Vaniyampuzha hamlet, crossing the river is not always fun. “The strong current in the river can cause accidents any time. Even though there is fun, we are aware of potential accidents,” they said.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2022 1:50:50 am |