120kms away from the Kanker district headquarters, lies Koyalibeda, an Adivasi majority block with a heavy presence of security forces, in the state of Chhattisgarh.
On June 28, the rural market in the block saw a huge gathering of the locals from several villages in the district. It was a rally organised by Palak Balak Sangharsh Samiti to highlight the educational demands and necessities of the local communities. Around eight thousand people from the local Adivasi communities from 68 villages in the district participated in the rally from Koyalibeda rural market to the tehsil office.
It was followed by a general meeting in front of the office which was attended by the local masses after which a memorandum was submitted to the Governor via the Naib Tehsildar.
Lack of Public Educational Infrastructure
Many of the villages in the Kanker district of North Bastar do not have a government school building and the teaching-learning process is conducted in open. The areas which have the buildings do not have enough or any teachers for classes to be.
The digital divide that has emerged as a major issue for students coming from marginalized communities in the country was also pointed out. The villagers said that since there is rarely a proper internet connection, online education has become meaningless for the students in the area.
The official figures pertaining to education in 18 Panchayats in the Koyalibeda block show that for the total population of around 50,000 in the Panchayats, there are only 2 higher secondary schools (one of which does not have a school building and the other one has a partially constructed building), 6 high schools, 24 middle schools, and 94 primary schools. As far as higher education colleges are concerned, there are none in this area. The severe lack of schools and colleges means that students in the region either have to cover long distances to reach these schools or drop out of school.
The government schools have remained closed since the onset of the pandemic but even when they were functioning, basic facilities like clean drinking water, light bulbs, fans, computer labs, playgrounds and sports equipment, libraries, or even washrooms were absent.
Along with the lack of proper infrastructure, the constant delay in receiving documents from the authorities keeps many away from education.
Sahdev Usendi, a member of the Sangharsh Samiti said that thousands of Adivasi students are deprived of secondary and higher education because of govt delay in providing them with caste and domicile certificates.
What do the Students from the Adivasi community Demand?
One of the demands of the people was that online education must be stopped and have demanded that the schools must be reopened and instead of teaching students in the open, classes should be held inside classrooms following COVID19 protocols. Proper school buildings must be constructed for the local students to get an education. Along with that all the facilities and proper teacher recruitment must happen.
The Panchayats of 18 villages in Koyalibeda had suggested a section of land for the construction of a college for higher education which the Revenue Department and the Police have reserved for building a helipad. The authorities must construct a college there instead of using it for other purposes.
People also demanded that the history of local martyrs and heroes, the local language, and the culture of Bastar should be included in the education curriculum. Furthermore, the medium of education should be in their mother tongue.
The students demanded that their compensation for mid-day meals must be increased from Rs.4 to Rs.20. It has also been demanded that people should be allowed to procure caste and identity certificates from panchayats itself along with raise in student scholarships, construction of hostels for students.
The article was published in web portal Janchowk. It is translated from Hindi to English by Aparna Sanjay.