Field notes from west India

I drafted the field notes presented here as part of a larger study conducted by NIAS, Bangalore, to bring out a perspective paper on issues pertaining to the education of the tribal peoples of India. In March 2012, NIAS submitted a final report of its study to UNICEF. The report was titled ‘The Education Question: From the Perspective of Adivasis: Conditions, Policies and Structures.’

By providing the field notes for reference through this forum , I hope to make amends for invisibilising the voices of the actors in the report, in the making of which I was part.

West zone consultation meet December 27 and 28, 2010

Following the discussions and the field visit organised by the National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Pune, in association with NIAS, new perspectives that emerged on the issues identified have been recorded here.


  1. I.                    Status of education in Adivasi areas: issues of access, structures

1)    Dhanaji Khupkar, tribal youth, now with Vichartha Samuday Samarthan Manch, Gujarat:  Belongs to a pastoral, nomadic tribe [Karkariya?].  Has completed MSW. 

  • Attributes his education to the fact that he was a ‘sickly’ child and hence was left behind with his grandparents in Satara while the rest of his tribe ‘wandered’ with their animals, as is their wont.
  • Draws on the experience of his tribe’s people and  of settled tribes such as those in Nandurbar to say that nomadic tribes learn to speak and understand the mainstream/ regional language [Marathi in this case] being constantly on the move between their village and various towns.  But their itinerant ways precludes a school education that demands regular attendance in a fixed place.  Tribes who are traditionally cultivators and such like, however, who can attend a school if it is accessible, are disadvantaged because of their cloistered existence and the consequent ignorance of language other than their own and the ways of mainstream society.
  • The earlier generations of his tribe could also speak Hindi as the language was widespread in the Bombay province.  The new generation speaks only Marathi, besides their own tribal language.

2)    Rajeshwari, BAIF-MITRA [??].

  • “Unofficial” holidays in tribal areas of Nandurbar as tribal schools start a month after other schools due to paddy cultivation.
  • School also interrupted during “custard-apple season.” Custard apple picking is a part of the culture of the tribal people of the area and children use the season to get some pocket money.
  • Even schools that are two or decades old do not have all the infrastructure in place.
  • Many teachers appointed on “daily wages.”

3)    Phundilal Mali, Teacher, Nandurbar.

  • Mass migration of families to Gujarat during the cotton growing season.
  • “Seasonal” hostels exist (or existed??) for housing students during the migration.
  • Those whose siblings have “completed” education more likely to go on to study.

4)      Geetha, SSA.

  • Two problems:  The system has never “talked” to the people and the “attitude” of the people is also “not proper.”

5)    Gandhi, Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, Melghat, Gadchiroli

  • Students drop out, even those who are doing very well, due to lack of ambition among parents.
  • A lot of funds are returned, unused.
  • Suggestion: Special division for tribal children has been created in 33 Sainik schools across Maharashtra.  Each division has a few select students who are given special training before they are mainstreamed.  Government can pay the amount they spend on tribal children in government schools to these and other public/ private schools that will take the responsibility for the educational attainment of the tribal children.  Each school will adopt a few children and work for their educational advancement.
  • BJS has a school for tribal children in Melghat (??)  Identified tribal students and their parents are brought to the school on an orientation trip and the parents are made aware of the facilities and expectations.  After their permission is given, the students are absorbed into the residential school.

6)    Bhavanishankar and Roop Lal Garasiya, Rajasthan

  • Out of 383 schools, 40% are fully closed down.
  • Every school has a handpump for providing drinking water
  • Gujarat: Hostels serve non-vegetarian food even to vegetarian children.

7)    Field action project, Raigarh

  • No water. Children bathe in a ‘nala.’  The water is so polluted, skin diseases and other problems result.
  • Children even die due to snake bites.
  • Since students stay away from parents and grandparents in the residential model, traditional knowledge is lost.
  1. II.                  Gender
  • Girls are largely uneducated.  Dhanaji said that as their tribe has a tradition of endogamy, he was finding it difficult to get married as he was looking for an “educated” bride.
  • Rector post recently created for Ashram schools in Maharashtra.  But only males appointed to the post. [During the field visit this matter came up again; the rector of a residential Ashram school, with standards up to ten, said that though it was mandatory to appoint a female social worker to every residential Ashram school, the rule was hardly followed.  His own school had only recruited a female teacher for this purpose the day before our visit.]
  • Marriage takes place at thirteen or fourteen.  Father [parent??] cannot initiate proposal; someone approaches the father with a marriage proposal.  Therefore, in poor families, or where there are many daughters, since there are few proposals forthcoming, girls remain unmarried for longer years and hence may continue with their schooling.
  • Nandurbar: 80% tribal population and highest sex ratio in state [??] but low on human development indicators, including female literacy.
  • Lack of separate toilet-bathroom due to lack of water and absence of lady superintendent major hurdles.
  • To be a teacher or nurse is the major aspiration among girls who go on to upper primary/ high school [Nandurbar BAIF]
  • Ashram schools for girls play a very important role in education for girls.
  1. III.                Textbook language and content
  • Tribal festivals and important festivals for tribal people, like Holi, not represented in textbooks, which talk only of Ganesha-Gowri festivals and such like, which are not theirs.
  • Pauri language textbooks were introduced in Maharashtra but were not used due to multi-lingual, multi-tribal class composition.
  • Also, Pauri spoken differently in different regions.
  • In Solapur city, the Marathi spoken is different from the rest of Solapur and Maharashtra.  Called Magali [??] it is a mixture of Telugu and Marathi.  City people believe they are speaking Marathi, but when exposed to the actual language, find it very different from theirs.
  • Teachers from alien cultures unable to identify with local languages [eg. Marathwada teachers in Nandurbar].
  • Medium of instruction and preservation of culture not to be conflated.  To make the tribal children feel proud of their language, wall poster making in their own language, free translation of Marathi content into tribal languages and such other mechanisms may be used.
  1. IV.                Caste certificate
  • In Chhattisgarh, ST form is complex – four pages long; for SC and BC only two pages.
  • Affinity test/ scrutiny test in Maharashtra conducted by non-tribals, mostly police officers, in Maharashtra.
  • TRDI in Maharashtra, which is also in charge of deciding the affinity test parameters has a statistician on the job, but has no anthropologist.
  • Thakurs take advantage of the tribal classification of the Thakar tribe to get ST certificates issued.
  • False certificates rampant in Maharashtra.  Government passed a law in 2000 to penalise those who got or gave false certificates.  But only a handful punished so far.
  • Certificates may be got by “illegal” payment.
  • In Rajasthan, Sarpanch/ Patwari issues the certificate.  No problems in procuring caste certificate.


Schools visited: English-medium government higher primary residential Ashram school, Goregaon; SHASHWAT’s Balwadi, Ambegaon; Government primary school for tribal children [non-residential], Pimpergani; Residential Ashram school [I-X], Bombay Point.


  • Children as young as in the 2nd standard have to learn about computers in English.  Teaching by rote seems to be the technique employed. Children able to ‘read’ and ‘write’ but not understand English yet as evident from their response to simple questions such as “What part of a computer is this?” when pointing to a monitor or a CPU.  They can read and answer similar questions that they have copied out in their copy book.

On the other hand, there was a demand from the community for such a school, the student strength appeared good and the teachers said the children were not in any significant way hampered by their apparent lack of ‘cultural capital.’

  • All teachers and children engage in ‘games’ while physically disabled boy [using a sturdy pole instead of crutches] is left alone to watch.  Should a truly ‘inclusive’ school culture be more sensitive to the disabled child’s needs?  Can a few games have included this child as well?
  • Only 21 children on rolls [out of which 20 were present] in the government primary school that has classes one to four in a single multi-grade class.  However, school premises clean and spacious.  Classroom and building construction appealing and school is right in the midst of the settlement. The community was engaged in activity related to the harvested paddy and children who should have been in the school were seen helping out.  On the other hand, all children in school were neatly dressed, and some wore crisply ironed uniforms.
  • Children of all ages [primary to high school] unresponsive to questions.  Is the ‘class’ or the ‘teacher-taught’ model oppressive, making them tongue-tied?  There was a demonstrable difference when Pratibha [of SHASHWAT] took a ‘class’ in the government primary school.  Her informal approach made the class participatory and the children answered with ease, even when asked to respond to individual questions of a general nature.
  • Rector of Residential High School critical of the huge funds being allocated for building the modern, spacious residential school complex.  Felt tribal students and their parents do not respond sufficiently to the funds being sunk into such ventures for their benefit.
  • Villages too remote.  Transport available – only one bus in the morning, which leaves in the evening and one bus in the evening, which leaves next morning.
  • Displacement a constant threat: from the construction of the Dimbe dam many decades ago to the present issue of displacement for the purpose of constructing a township [??]
  • Pastoral tribes and NTFP collectors now forced to become subsistence cultivators, brick makers and fishermen to meet livelihood needs as the forests have become inaccessible due to conservation measures.
  • Aope [??] ‘devarai’ or sacred grove threatened some years ago with decimation by authorities who wanted to take over the area for some construction [??].  Experts from Agharkar Institute used an age-old creeper inside the grove to prove that it was at least an 800-year old sacred grove, which has great religious significance for the tribal people of the region.

Seeking Education: One Person’s Journey

Dhanaji Khupkar[1] belongs to the pastoral, nomadic, Dhangar tribe.  He has completed his master’s degree in Social Work and works with a NGO in Gujarat.  He says that the itinerant ways of his tribe precludes a school education for most youngsters of the Dhangar tribe as school education demands regular attendance in a fixed place.  He attributes his own education to the fact that he was a ‘sickly child’ who had to be left behind when his family went on their ‘wanderings’ with their animals, as is their wont.  He stayed with his grandparents in Satara, and studied.  ‘I’m finding it difficult to find an educated girl in my community to get married to,’ he smiled, ruefully.

Khupkar  drew our attention to the fact that tribal people, whether they were settled cultivators or nomadic pastoralists, suffered from various kinds of disadvantages.  For instance, while the nomadic lifestyle, as in the case of his own tribe, made school education difficult, it helped the tribes people become conversant with the mainstream/ regional language – Marathi in this case: ‘The earlier generations could also speak Hindi as the language was widespread in the Bombay province.  The new generation speaks only Marathi, besides our own tribal language,’ he said.

The settled cultivators among the tribes, unlike the nomadic tribes, could attend school, if there was one that was accessible.  But they soon drop out of school because of their lack of knowledge of languages other than their own tribal language.  Their cloistered existence, unlike that of their nomadic counterparts, also makes it difficult for them to adapt to the ways of mainstream society, said Khupkar.

[1] We acknowledge these inputs from one of the participants in the west zone consultation meet, held in Pune in December 2010.

 For more notes from the field, click on links below:

South India

East India


2 thoughts on “Field notes from west India

    • Thank you. It means a lot to receive this note from you. As I have said, many voices of the people whom we met could not get the attention they merited in the final report that was submitted to UNICEF. I believe that your individual stories should be heard, and I thought this may be one way of doing it.

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