Situation of Tribal Peoples and Dalit in India

16-20 June 2003
Agenda item 3

I am Sister Stella Balthazar from India and I speak on behalf of Franciscans International.

Tribal peoples are a vulnerable and discriminated group in India even 56 years after the independence of the country. Isolated from the mainstream society, astounded and unable to fight against the onslaught of the highly competitive surroundings, they remain a silenced lot in their inability to fight for their rights and freedoms. They are exploited by the land lords in worst forms of land grabbing, underemployment, ill-treatment. Very often, their life is threatened if they assert themselves.

Vengapathy, Anaikarai are but few examples of the hundreds of villages and hamlets of the Urali/Irula tribals in the hilltracks of Sathyamangalam, Athikadavu and Bargur forest range in the districts of Erode and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu as well as Palakad district in Kerala. Here, peoples are deprived of their basic rights such as housing, sanitation, healthcare, and education. The Bihils of Rajasthan and the Santhals of Bihar and Jharkand also live in similar, deplorable conditions.

In particular, children are the most neglected and victims of multiple forms of discrimination. As a result of poverty, migration, illiteracy and inadequate health-care, the Urali/Irula children are oppressed in a variety of ways. Specifically, we would like to call the Working Group’s attention to the fact that education for those children is a remote possibility at the moment. Literacy in these villages hardly reaches 5%.

Although the government has built some residential tribal schools in Asanur, Thalamalai, Manar and Bargur, these institutions do not cater to the needs of all the villages. They are far fetched from the reach of tribal children. For instance, Asanur is filled and overflowing to its capacity and unable to accommodate the children from the area. Moreover, tribal children do not have access to formal schools in many of the hamlets, in most cases, because their births are not registered. It is therefore urgent that the government in conjunction with the local administrations sets up schools in the villages to favor an easy access to education for all children. The educational system is also in need of special curriculum integrating tribal values and keeping their oneness with nature.

There is no controversy that the right to education is a fundamental, universal human right. However, the impact of some negative structural adjustment programs and the rooted discriminatory attitude towards tribal peoples led to a situation where the allocation of funds for education, agriculture and health have been slashed. As a consequence, in Tamil Nadu, the government has withheld the appointment of teachers in the minority run government aided schools since the beginning of this month. In a country where literacy is the prime need of future generations such a move is bound to further the marginalization and discrimination of the marginalized, namely the Tribals and the Dalits (the untouchable castes). We strongly urge the government of India to revoke this unjust decision which will further discriminate against this group.

Franciscan International would like to call upon the government of India to consider the following recommendations for action:

1. To undertake adequate steps to register the birth of every child in the tribal villages and hamlets and deliver birth certificates to each children. A survey should be done on the enrollment of Urali/Irula Tribal children in schools.
2. To create adequate educational institutions for the Urali/Irula Tribal children within their reach.
3. To provide adequate infrastructure facilities such as transportation for the Urali/Irula children to have regular access to schools.
4. To integrate, with the assistance of NGOs, in school curricula the communitarian and life-sustaining values of the Tribal culture and to enable the children to feel respectable to claim their culture with dignity.
5. To integrate the academic excellence of the children with the tribal way of life which is closely aligned with Nature and to restructure the curricula in order to be more life oriented.

Urgent Attentionis required on the

The situation of the tribal children are most pitiable who are taken for forced labour from the age of eight onwards. The parents are paid a sum of Rs: 500/-( less than 10 Euro). Boys and girls are employed and made to stay in the field day and night. They are given a bag of broken rice ( the waist after cleaning the good rice). The children have to borrow money for other expenses from the contractor and this makes them dependent in a state of debt to the sub-contractor. When harvesting is over in one area the workers are moved to the next area. The children are deprived of adequate nutritious food, security, health care and education.
Plight of the Children of Slum Dwellers who are rag picking:
To present the progress of the efforts of the governments in preventing the subcontracting of Urali/irula Tribal children in forces labour by sub-contractors for Sugar cane harvesting for Sugar Mills.

Oral, Written or Summary: 
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Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
Meeting Name: 
Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery