They made it to college. Despite all odds. But pandemic apathy is making Adivasi students drop out -Prashant Rathod

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published Published on Mar 31, 2021   modified Modified on Mar 31, 2021

If Maharashtra government doesn’t act soon, an entire generation of students from Melghat’s tribal communities will be pushed out of higher education.

Jaylal Dhikar wakes up at 4 am. While it is still dark, the 22-year-old climbs up a stony hillock a few miles from his home. He walks from one end of the flat hillock to the other looking for a mobile network on his basic smartphone. All by himself, the second-year student of mathematics sets up his class and prays that the network stays and the phone battery lasts for the four hours he has to study before another day of back-breaking work begins.

Dhikar belongs to the Korku Adivasi community. He lives in Potilawa village of eastern Maharashtra’s thickly forested Melghat region, which made national headlines two decades ago when over 5,000 children died of malnutrition within a year. Even now the region’s Adivasi communities – Korku, Bhilala, Balai, Basor, Gond and Ozha – battle chronic poverty, hunger and isolation. Dharani block, where Potilawa is located, gets cut off during the monsoons.

Despite these challenges, a few young Adivasis like Dhikar have made it to college. But the disruptions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are threatening to end their dreams. And the government is letting that happen.

A life of struggle

Dhikar lives with his father, grandmother and three brothers, two of whom are married. One brother works on farms in the village, another as a labourer in Akola city, 175 km away. The rest of the family cultivates wheat and soybean on their five-acre land but the earth does not support growing food to last the family the whole year. Their joint family income comes to Rs 10,000 per month, which is not adequate to support the 11-member household.

As he reached adulthood, Dhikar became painfully aware that while she was pregnant with him, his mother Ramku Dhikar had gone without a nutritious diet and other support. Two of his sisters had died within 15 days of birth. As the youngest in the family, he survived. And his mother worked hard to send him to school, but she died of cancer in 2015 since the family could not afford her treatment costs. Dhikar, then 15 years old, was away, studying in an ashram school in a village in Nagpur district. He felt broken.

Please click here to read more., 31 March, 2021,

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