RTE

Jaitley’s budget and the story of an Adivasi Youth

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Som Murmu (27) doesn’t know what is happening in JNU or what is in the mind of HRD Minister Smriti Irani. He is also indifferent to Jaitley’s so called pro-poor, pro rural budget, 9000 cr for Swach Bharat Mission or ‘worst ever’ budget allocation for education or 7000 cr slash in food security doesn’t make any difference to Som Mormu and his villagers. Rather he is concerned about the basic education of 37 traumatized Adivasi children of Fulbari in newly formed Biswanath Chariali district of Assam near Arunachal Pradesh border. Som Murmu is convinced that our great nation and its budget allocation has nothing to do with the education of Adivasi children of his village, hence, he has taken the responsibility on his tiny but strong shoulder.

Adivasi Women Fetching Drinking Water
                                                    Adivasi Women Fetching Drinking Water from an Earthen-Well

The Adivasis of Fulbari witnessed one of the most brutal forms of violence on the eve of Christmas in 2014. A group of terrorists belonging to outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland came to their village on the fateful day. They asked for water from the villagers, killed as many as 31 children, women and men and then laughed, sang, danced and disappeared in the nearby jungle. The attacked was not only committed on that particular village, rather a series of attacks were executed in Adivasi villages in Sonitpur, Chirang and Kokrajhar district as well. The violence claimed nearly hundred lives including 4 innocent Bodos who were killed in retaliatory attacks.

More than a year has been passed since the incident happened. But the pain and suffering of the villagers are still on. The worst sufferer of the violence has been the children. Many of the children had lost their parents, siblings, family members and friends. Many of them survived the bullet narrowly. The horrifying experience has traumatized the young minds. Many of them, who once travelled two to three kilometers to attend school, discontinued their study after the violence. The education scenario among Adivasi children is already alarming. Study revealed that the average number of ‘out of school children’ among Adivasis is more than double than that of the state average.

Coming back to the story of Som Murmu, the incident of 23rd December, 2014 changed his life completely. Though the Adivasis of Fulbari living a appalling live but he has never seen so much of pain and agony among his fellow villagers. Starting from recovering the dead-bodies after the massacre to taking the villagers to safe distance and then managing the day to day affairs of the relief camp, Som continued to serve his villagers to get the ex-gratia and rehabilitation grant. When he realized that the children were not going to school, he took initiative to discuss the matter with the villagers and decided to start a school in the villager itself and became the first teacher. Under matriculate Sim understands his limitation; Som himself couldn’t complete his schooling. The nearest high school is 5 kilometers away from the village and there is no provision of roads. Som found out a qualified teacher from outside and convinced the villagers to pay the teacher 40 mound of rice for a year as wage. It was astonishing to observe that the poor people who are battling every day for two square of meals are investing their hard earn rice to educate the children, whereas the our great country even though made law to make primary education a ‘right’ for the children but seems reluctant to implement it.

Actually, we couldn’t find anything in the village to feel the presence of government except the SSB camp, which was set up after the massacre. Basic government services like access to health care, access to pure drinking water, access to social security schemes are distant dream for the villagers. The entire village having over 500 families doesn’t have a single source of pure drinking water; all the households are using the water from ponds and earthen wells for drinking and cooking. When our Prime Minister, in fact the entire government is running campaign for Swach Bharat, 100% villagers go for open defecation. The consequence of open defecation and non-hygiene source of water is affecting the overall wellbeing of the villagers. Two and half years old Manjil Hembrom, who lost his parents in the massacre is suffering from severe skin diseases and he is suffering without basic health care.

Poor road communication is the root of many problems including health emergencies, education, livelihoods etc. Som Murmu took another daring decision to give tight slap on the face of our government. He gave a call to all his villagers to build a five kilometers long village road without any support from the government. 77 villagers have been giving shramdhan since 2nd February, 2015 to address their long standing need. Som is expecting that more people will join his troop and they will complete the task by end of March. Sonil Murmu (25), one of the villagers who are building the village road says that his wife having labour pain and he couldn’t take her to hospital on time. He carried her pregnant wife on a traditional carrier and feels that caused more pain to her. Though his wife Rupai Hembrom survived but their newborn baby died soon after the delivery. And Sonil was not the only one who finds a reason to work without wage to build the road. They hope once the road is built, they will get access to market, school, hospital and many more! This is worthy to mention that many of the Adivasis villagers of Fulbari got their job card under MGNREGA two years back but they are not getting work. Some of the job card holders worked for few days but didn’t get their wage.

Adivasis giving shramdhan to build their village road
                                      Adivasis giving shramdhan to build their 5 kms long village road

Adivasis are one of most marginalized as well as persecuted communities of Assam. Often they have been the soft target terrorists, chauvinists groups as well as government. Socio-economic condition of the Adivasis of Assam is abysmally poor. Adivasis who are working in tea gardens of Assam are still kept as bonded labour and starvation is reality in many of the tea gardens of Assam. Those who have come out from the slavery of garden management and tried to settle outside the garden are facing more cruelty from the state. It is important to remember that Adivasis of Assam are denied the constitutional provision of Scheduled Tribe envisaged in the constitution of India whereas their counter parts in Jharkhand and other states are getting the benefit of ST status.

I sincerely hope, if not our consciences, Adivasi youths like Som Murmu will one day change the destiny of their community.