Hailing from a small village near the Udumalpet hills of Tiruppur, Sridevi became the first tribal student from her village to not only complete her matriculation degree (standard X) but also to secure 95% in the examination. Adivasi Awaaz creator Kavipriya writes about this determined young tribal girl who beat all odds to secure her degree.
Sridevi completed her matriculation in the academic year 2019-2020. She belongs to the Muthuvar tribe. She is the first in her community to complete standard tenth and secure 95%. Sridevi is the daughter of Chellamuthu, living in the Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu. Her journey of completing her education has been full of obstacles. Lack of infrastructural facilities and economic problems have been her major hurdles. Sridevi agreed to an interview with us and outlined some of her challenges, which unfortunately affect numerous other rural areas and tribal belts of India.
Sridevi said, “Our town does not have electricity or telephone facilities. To use the telephone, we have to go a few kilometres away from the town. Most students terminate their studies during their primary and middle school years because there are so many hurdles and challenges. Continuing education becomes difficult and sometimes a burden because of our economic problems, lack of transportation facilities and lack of access to study materials." She also told us that there were no internet facilities in the vicinity and so it became difficult for them to compete with the students from urban areas who had the means to remain updated about topics. With the lack of transportation facilities, it became difficult for them to reach their schools and examination centres. Sridevi also talked about her struggles to arrange study materials for the examination. Schools in her vicinity do not have facilities for safe drinking water, proper sanitation or classrooms with good infrastructure. They also do not have access to the internet and other technological facilities. Moreover, economic challenges make many tribal students drop out of schools. Combined with these issues is the dearth of proper guidance and support systems for students. The problem of electricity in this area is another major concern for the students. Their overall living conditions are poor and hence education becomes a privilege. Sridevi informed us that a month prior to her examinations, the Kerala government had arranged for a vehicle to be sent to the Kerala border to pick her up for examinations. Her father Chellamuthu would take Sridevi every day from their village to the Kerala border on a two-wheeler.
Education has been a major challenge for the tribals of India. Even today most tribal communities belong to the lower class. Many of them still depend on the forests and the forest produces for their survival. Hence accessing education itself is a big concern. To make matters worse, even the enrolled tribal students are prone to dropping out because of the structural challenges in the education system. There is a lack of proper support systems for marginalized students in schools and in higher education. This results in the vicious cycle of poverty.
Sridevi's father Chellamuthu who is a farmer, said, “I am very proud of my daughter. She has scored very high marks in her examination. I am determined to continue her studies; it does not matter what anyone says. We don't want to shut her in our hut." Shanmugam, the Vice President of the Tamil Nadu Tribal Association was overwhelmed by Sridevi's performance. “It was amid a lot of opposition that Chellamuthu continued with Sridevi's education. Sridevi also made the most of that opportunity. Taking this as an example, I expect and hope that many tribal students from villages will endeavour to continue their education," he said. He saw Sridevi as an inspiration for many.
However, for tribal students to get access to education and then continue it, depends on a lot of factors, which need to be catered to by the government and the administration. They need to be provided with basic infrastructural facilities like electricity, transportation, drinking water and proper sanitation along with guidance and a good support system. It should be remembered that many of these students relentlessly endeavour for accessing education; Sridevi stands as their best example, but it is impossible for them to overcome structural problems present in the education system. Hence, the government needs to step in.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.