The incident of sexual harassment of a 10-year-old child studying at a tribal boarding school in Buldhana district of Maharashtra is shocking. Parents of some other girls, too, suspect their daughters were being sexually exploited at the school run by a private trust with funding from the state government. The police have formed a special investigation team under a woman IPS officer to investigate the entire case. One hopes the monsters who committed this heinous crime get the harshest punishment.
As Hindustan Times reported on Monday, the state government had already been cautioned about the possibility of sexual exploitation of children in tribal boarding schools in the state. A panel appointed to recommend measures to prevent deaths of tribal students in such schools had pointed out the possibility of sexual harassment of girls in these schools. After receiving the report, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao had twice in October told the state government to monitor the boarding schools by way of periodical visits of teams of officials as a preventive measure. Even before the government could act on Rao’s directives, the unfortunate incident at Buldhana came to light.
This is the second incident involving tribals in Maharashtra within a span of less than two months. In September, the state was shocked following the reports of deaths of children in Palghar district due to malnutrition.
Although there were strong reactions from all quarters in both the incidents, there are chances that most people will forget these incidents after some time till something happens again. Is it just because tribals are not a majority community and can’t form a strong pressure group and take out rallies to grab attention to the injustice against them? Won’t it be right to say that we are treating tribals as second class citizens? For them, nothing much has changed in decades. Illiteracy, unemployment and poverty are still serious problems for state’s 9% tribal population. Infant mortality is high and periodically there are reports of children dying due to malnutrition. They live in remote areas, making it a standard excuse for poor state of infrastructure there. They have reservation in education and government jobs, but many of them are not even in a position to benefit from it. Some percentage of the tribal population has made progress, but a large number of them are still in bad shape.
By law, the government has to make a provision for a sub-plan (a budget within its annual budget) for welfare of tribals. This percentage of budget has to be in ratio of tribal population in the state. In Maharashtra, roughly 9% of the state’s budget has to be earmarked for tribal population. Activists like former legislator Vivek Pandit who work in tribal areas point out the entire amount of budget provided for welfare of tribals is never utilized. It is often around 6%.
On paper, successive governments have worked out several schemes for them -- supplying nutritious food for expectant mothers and children, subsidised food through public distribution system, school material and uniform for students, funds for building better houses and finance for starting self-employment among others. Year after year, hundreds of crores of taxpayers’ money is spent under these heads, but the outcome is there to see. There is no supervision or audit of the actual use of funds. Corridors of Mantralaya are full of tales of the contractor-administration-politician nexus that plays a role in this. “There is rampant corruption. We often joke that the funds under tribal sub-plan are actually meant for the contractors,” remarks Pandit.
If this is not enough, tribals living near major cities like Mumbai, Thane, Nashik and Pune have also lost their lands to the land sharks and greedy real estate developers. There have been many instances of land mafia and developers taking away their lands by fraudulent ways.
It doesn’t matter which party is ruling in the state, the situation of tribal population doesn’t change. For decades, the system has been treating tribals like second-class citizens and we don’t know when will it change.