Schools for Tribal Kids or for Horror?
The death of nearly 900 children, between 2010 and 2015, in state-run residential schools for tribal children is a matter of deep sorrow and shame. Their parents sent these children, belonging to the most marginalised segment of Indian society, to these schools in the hope that education would liberate them from poverty and want. Instead, lack of basic facilities — drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, poor nutrition — and an excess of administrative callousness killed that hope. Those responsible must be punished. More to the point, institutions must be put in place to prevent recurrence of such tragedy.
Accountability is clearly missing. The residential schools in question, the Eklavya Model Residential Schools, patterned on the Navodaya Vidyalayas catering to children in class VI to XII, and ashram schools set up as part of a centrally sponsored scheme under the tribal sub-plan, are under the ministry of tribal affairs, unlike other state-run schools, which are overseen by the ministry of human resource development and state education departments. The tribal affairs ministry and its outposts in the states are ill-equipped to run these schools properly. As a result, tribal residential schools are monitored and held to account far less effectively than other state-run schools. Improved administrative oversight must be complemented with increased community participation through school committees comprising parents, district officials and school administrators. Community participation in states like Nagaland has resulted in substantial reduction in teacher absenteeism. There are no easy answers to how and how fast tribal communities join the mainstream. Taking their brightest children out of their homes and away from their culture, only to maim or kill them, is certainly not one of them.