Tamil Nadu

When hostels turn hovels: All is not well with SC/ST hostels in Tamil Nadu

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

N. Selvaraj, who now teaches in a college affiliated to the University of Delhi, stayed in the hostel run by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department (ADTWD) in Royapuram, Chennai, when he was doing his master’s in economics at the University of Madras, back in 2001.

“The hostel used to be in squalor, lacking even basic infrastructure like doors for bathrooms. We were served unpalatable food, lived amid filth and in the presence of antisocial elements,” he says.

Eighteen years later, these issues continue to dog hostels for school and college students belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities run by ADTWD across Tamil Nadu, with no end in sight to the plight of students residing in them.

A strong stench greets anyone visiting the Government College Boys Hostel in Kodambakkam. “I live here only because I cannot pay to stay elsewhere. I go for catering work part-time. I avoid eating here as the food is pathetic,” says a student, requesting anonymity.

Two weeks ago, when an outfit called the Tamil Nadu Odukkapattor Vazhvurimai Iyakkam protested against issues plaguing ADTWD-run hostels, the Kodambakkam hostel was among those that found mention.

Despite their abysmal state, the hostels in Chennai appear to be relatively better maintained in comparison to many functioning in other districts.

For instance, every day begins with a struggle for water for students at a hostel in Tiruverumbur in Tiruchi.

 

A girls’ hostel in Paravai in Madurai functions out of a dilapidated building with no basic amenities, let alone the presence of washing machines, napkin vending machines and incinerators, as promised by the department.

Four months ago, students at the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) hostel in Vellakinar, near Thudiyalur, petitioned Coimbatore District Collector K. Rajamani, complaining about poor quality of food, resulting in the suspension of a cook. However, such punitive or corrective actions are rare. Frequent protests by students to highlight the problems often go in vain.

Poorly run

Activists say that the issues originate in the way these hostels are administered by ADTWD. Irregularities in the deputation of wardens, rampant corruption, lack of effective monitoring mechanisms and the consequent absence of accountability are the fundamental problems, they say.

“Department norms say that wardens, who are deputed from ADTWD-run schools to hostels, must go back to their institutions after three years. This is seldom followed as wardens continue in hostels for even 10 years,” says B. Pandiaraja, member, Child Welfare Committee (Madurai) and Madurai District Vigilance and Monitoring Committee for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

K. Manuel, State president, SC/ST Government Employees’ Welfare Association and a Physical Education Trainer at the ADTWD-run school in Pulianthope, alleges that the primary reason for wardens to remain in the post is corruption. “Other officials in the department are hand in glove as they also benefit,” he claims.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

 

According to him, being a warden in a hostel in Chennai is ‘lucrative’ because of which many in neighbouring districts seek a transfer here. “Moreover, a warden often takes care of more than one hostel despite the availability of excess staff in the schools,” Mr. Manuel, who has submitted multiple petitions to different authorities in this regard, says.

One of the easiest ways to swindle funds, he says, is to inflate the number of students on the rolls. “The numbers are fudged so that that the money allocated for food and other facilities for the students can be siphoned off. There is provision for allowance even for hair oil, soap and other such necessities of students, but it hardly reaches them,” alleges S. Balaji, Dindigul district secretary, Democratic Youth Federation of India.

P. Kuganantham, former City Health Officer, Chennai Corporation, who assists students of these hostels, says that the irregularities start right from the process of admission. “A complete revamp of the administration is needed. We can take lessons from States like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana,” he adds.

 

Anbu Selvam, a researcher who has studied the issues in these hostels, says that the minimum objective should be that students coming into the hostel must either successfully complete their course and go for higher studies or find a suitable job.

“Neither seems to happen. In our study of select hostels in Chennai and other districts, we found that around 60% of college students do not complete their course within the stipulated time,” he points out.

Mr. Pandiaraja, who has documented the issues in some of the hostels in Madurai, highlights the absence of any support for studies or extra-curricular activities in the hostels.

“There seems to be no focus on the holistic development of these students apart from providing them food and a place to sleep, which are also of poor quality,” he says. A warden of one of the hostels in Chennai, however, blames lack of funding for the majority of the woes. “There are no periodic allocations for maintenance work. The amount allocated for food is grossly inadequate,” he says, insisting on anonymity.

Bottom of the heap

Of the ADTWD-run hostels, those run for tribal students are the worst administered. C. Nataraj of Sudar, a non-governmental organisation working for the welfare of tribal students and eradication of child labour, cites the example of a few Government Tribal Residential Schools (GTRS) in Erode district.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

 

“In a school in Kanakarai, which is supposed to be a residential school, there is no building for the hostel. Steel cots procured for the students are left to rust,” he says. Similarly, another supposedly residential school in Kongadai, which was upgraded to a high school from middle school, hasa high number of dropouts. “Despite the government announcing an upgrade in 2017, no admissions were done due to lack of teachers,” he alleges.

Of the 49 tribal students who were admitted to Class 9 in 2018, only 17, which is only 35%, are studying in Class 10 now due to non-availability of teachers and lack of support infrastructure.

“This is when I visited the school on Thursday. It is highly likely that the boys who dropped out have gone to work, and many of the girls are married,” he says.

Many of the GTRS do not have accommodation because of which students are served dinner at 5 p.m. on working days and sent home. “Over 40% of the positions of wardens, cooks and other workers remains vacant for many years in these hostels”, says an official in the ADTWD office in Erode.

Mr. Natraj argues that it is time to consider whether the administration of these schools should be handed over to the School Education Department (SED). “Vacancies in GTRS are not given importance compared to those coming under SED. The Chief Educational Officers of districts do not focus on these schools. The District Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Officer is primarily a revenue official who has umpteen areas to focus on,” he says.

Activists also acknowledge that these hostels often get divided along caste lines within Scheduled Caste communities.

“The division is among both students and staff. Moreover, though 15% of seats in these hostels are reserved for Backward and Most Backward Communities, it is rare to find students from these communities staying in ADTWD hostels,” says Mr. Pandiaraja.

A chance to bond

Despite all these issues, Mr. Selvaraj says that these hostels, mainly those in Chennai, provide a foothold for upward social mobility for students from oppressed communities, by at least giving them a place to stay and bond with other like-minded students.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

A girls’ hostel located at Paravai in Madurai is housed in a dilapidated building, lacking basic facilities promised by the Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department.

 

“I along with many of my friends took up part-time jobs while in the hostel. We were into bodybuilding. Many of these friends, who hailed from rural areas, joined the Tamil Nadu police. Some cleared Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission examinations,” he says.

“We achieved this in spite of the extremely non-conducive environment in the hostel. Imagine the impact if there is a nurturing environment in these hostels,” he adds.

(With inputs from D.J. Walter Scott in Ramanathapuram, R. Rajaram and R. Krishnamoorthy in Tiruchi, R. Akileish in Coimbatore, S.P. Saravanan in Erode, Vignesh Vijayakumar in Salem, Sanjana Ganesh in Madurai andA. Shrikumar in Dindigul)


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2022 10:26:11 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/adi-dravidar-and-tribal-welfare-department/article29669188.ece