“They told me to stop coming to school. They said they don’t want Lambada teachers anymore. It was a polite warning and I did not argue. It is nearly a month now that I have not gone to work,’’ says Shankar Rathore, who taught science at Ashram High School for tribal students at Gadiguda in Telangana’s Adilabad district. Every day, Shankar would ride 40 km to his school in Hasnapur and back, just because he loved teaching science. But ever since he was told by three teachers from Pardhan community — an Adivasi tribe — that the gram sabha had passed a resolution banning him and six others from the school, he is afraid to go back. “Of the 10 teachers in the school, seven are Lambadas. The remaining three would constantly taunt us, accusing us of grabbing all teachers’ posts in government schools. The insults turned to mild threats. On November 17, we were asked to leave,’’ he says. Since November 17, with Adivasis intensifying their demand to remove Lambadas from Scheduled Tribes List, more than 2,000 teachers from the community have not gone to work in tribal schools in Adilabad, district education officials have said.
According to district police officers, nine incidents of Lambada teachers being manhandled were reported since October 1. “Not only Adivasi teachers, even parents of children from Gond and Koya tribes staged protests outside schools, demanding that Lambada teachers leave,’’ says Kapil Jadhav of Narsapur village. “Discretion is better than valour. Why take the risk when police, district administration and government are not reacting when we are being openly threatened?’’ For the Adivasis staging protests in demand of removal of Lambadas from ST category, the high representation of Lambadas in teaching and non-teaching positions in tribal and government schools is a major cause for heartburn. “Lambadas are not 50 per cent, they are more than 80 per cent in the schools,’’ says D Samaiah, an Adivasi leader.
R V Karnan, Project Officer of Integrated Tribal Development Agency at Utnoor, which manages 75 tribal welfare schools and 298 high schools in Adilabad, said officials are trying to mediate between Adivasis and Lambadas so that the latter can return to work. “The problem is not in all schools, but in some schools in Adivasi-dominated areas. The safety of Lambada teachers was our first priority so when there were protests, we asked them not to go to schools. We are managing by deploying teachers from other communities,’’ Karnan says. “We hope to resolve the issue in a week or so and reopen the schools as soon as possible.’’ To mark attendance, the Lambada teachers visit the nearest tribal welfare office, sign in a register and go home.
“Some may think we are getting salaries sitting at home. But it is a personal humiliation. I am a teacher, nothing gives me more happiness than teaching my students daily. I feel useless at home,’’ says Chandrakant Kumar, another high school teacher. In Adilabad district, among the 32 tribes in the ST list, Gonds have the highest population at 2.32 lakh, followed by Lambadas at 1.21 lakh.
B Kotya Naik, Assistant Professor in Sociology at KRR Government Degree College affiliated to Dr B R Ambedkar University, says, “Till five-six years ago, dropout rate of Adivasi students from schools was very high. The maximum level till which they studied was Class 10. How will you get government jobs with that qualification? The youngsters would join their parents to work as farm labourers. Only now, due to encouragement from tribal welfare and development agencies, they have started sending their children to residential schools and coaching classes which prepare them for competitive exams. On the other hand, Lambadas have been pursuing higher education since decades. Is it Lambadas’ fault that there is no competition from other tribes in ST category?’’ Vijay Chawan teaches bio-sciences to secondary students at Mankapur Tribal High School. He has not gone to school since November 5 after he was warned of “dire consequences”.
“Ninety per cent of tribal welfare schools are closed now because Lambada teachers have been driven away. All these schools are in forest areas where Gond and other Adivasi communities live. Their resolution is final and no pressure from District Collector or anyone works,” he says.