It took lives of nearly 1,000 tribal children and the rape of dozens of girl students to wake the Maharashtra government up to stipulate some of the most basic measures at the Tribal residential schools meant for underprivileged tribe communities (ashramshalas).
On Wednesday, the Tribal Development Department came up with a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and wellbeing of four lakh tribal children who are currently studying in nearly 1,100 Ashramshalas spread across 16 tribal concentrated districts. Visit of women officers’ team in tribal schools to establish confidence among girls, reducing the 16-hour gap between dinner and morning meal for better growth and nourishment, posting of Auxilliary Nursing and Midwife (ANM) and 108 ambulances at schools to provide timely health facilities, and mosquito nets to save kids from deadly malaria and dengue are among the slew of measures the tribal development department seeks to implement in these schools soon.
The plan of action was put forth before Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao by the Tribal Development Secretary Rajagopal Devara at Raj Bhavan during a review meeting for tribal schools called by the former. The deadline to actually implement these steps on ground is still missing though.
On October 19, the governor had directed the Fadnavis government to take urgent steps to curb the death and rape of children in the Ashram schools. It was the Salunkhe Committee’s report, submitted the same day, which had alerted and prompted the governor to force the government to do something on an urgent basis. Rao’s order was ignored by the government until a rape incident involving several girls in an ashram school in Buldhana came to fore in the first week of November, putting the limelight back on the sexual exploitation of girls in tribal schools.
The Salunkhe committee had suspected foul play in the incidents that took place in these schools because in 2/3 of the 1,000 plus death cases, the cause of death in the certificate was mysteriously missing or vague. “Tribal schools conduct urine pregnancy tests and keep menstrual record to curb sexual assault,” the Salunkhe committee had revealed in its report which had shocked everyone. The committee also noted that several teachers had been found in a drunken state during the inquiry.
Sexual exploitation of girls, space crunch and pathetic living conditions of the dormitories, lack of security and health facilities, 16-hour gap between dinner and morning meal were among major findings of the committee.
The committee was constituted by the Fadnavis government in the month of May after the issue of 1,077 kids deaths in a decade in the state’s ashramshalas came to light in the month of April this year. The committee was entrusted to assess the living conditions and shortcomings in tribal schools.
Tribal Schools in Maharashtra
#529 state-run tribal schools
#556 state-aided tribal schools
#Total 4.45 lakh children enrolled