INSIDE HIS room at the Government Ashram High School at Luxetipet in Telangana’s Adilabad district, Headmaster A Sudarshan discusses with three other teachers two burning questions: What can they do to keep the school open, how can they prevent students from dropping out.
On May 31, the Adivasis announced a boycott of Lambada teachers as part of an ongoing agitation in the tribal-dominated districts of Adilabad, Komaram Bheem Asifabad and Mancherial. The Adivasis claim that a majority of benefits earmarked for STs in the state have been “cornered” by the dominant Lambada community.
But the boycott has also led to a worrying fallout. With that one move, hundreds of Lambada teachers have been kept out of schools in Adivasi-dominated areas, leaving small groups of students and teachers stranded in empty classrooms.
In Luxetipet, classes started on June 2 but Sudarshan lost 14 of 19 teachers, leaving just five from other ST groups. Of the 380 students from Class III to X, the 40 Lambadas and the 340 Adivasi students have stayed away. Today, 15 students from other communities remain at the residential school — their favourite pastime is throwing around a ball.
“We are only able to teach them one or two subjects, and students have started dropping out. Adivasis and Lambadas must come to an understanding or the government should find a solution. Otherwise, all schools will remain empty,’’ Sudarshan warns.
In 2016-17, the school reported 60 per cent pass in SSC. This year, only 20 per cent of the 69 students cleared the test. Sudarshan admits it is because of the absence of Lambada teachers who were also banned from teaching in tribal schools last year from November till January.
It is not very different outside the Ashram High School for Girls at Indravelli, off the Adilabad-Utnoor highway. “What will we teach? There are 656 students from Class III to X and there are seven subjects to be taught. Of the 11 regular teachers in my school, seven are Lambadas and of the 15 teachers on contract, 10 are Lambadas,” says Headmaster K Gangaram.
At Luxetipet, the desks and benches are covered with layers of dust in five classrooms on the ground floor of the school. Nine additional teachers were appointed on contract of which seven are Lambadas. “I support the agitation. The original Scheduled Tribes should also benefit from the quota. Now, only the Lambadas are benefiting from it,’’ says Sudarshan from the Gond tribe, which is leading the agitation against Lambadas.
“But as a teacher, I am torn because the students are suffering. This controversy is killing the aspirations and dreams of thousands of students and their future is at stake while the elders squabble,” he says.
So what is the solution? Sudarshan and his colleague K Prabhakar simply shrug. “Adivasis and Lambadas have to sit together and decide. The Lambadas have to go to schools in non-tribal areas. The government must recruit, even if only on contract basis, Adivasis who are well qualified and are sitting idle. That is the only solution,’’ Sudarshan says.
At Indravelli, headmaster Gangaram says teachers “suffer from guilt pangs all day because the students are left in the lurch”. Of the 656 students, 344 are Adivasis while 160 are Lambadas.
“Due to this agitation, which we all support, I think the Adivasi students will go back 20-30 years because 90 per cent of them will drop out. Once they are out of school, it is difficult to bring them back into the system,” he says.
While the lines between Adivasi and Lambadas have been drawn, they are careful to avoid a direct confrontation. Outside the meeting hall at Komaram Bheem Complex at Utnoor, nearly 300 Lambada teachers have gathered for an “orientation” organised by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA).
“It is like bringing us here to teach alphabets,’’ says Vijay Rathod, a member of the Lambada community who teaches Life Sciences. “It is just a ploy to keep an eye on the Lambada teachers. The administration thinks we will create trouble. We do not want to sit idle like this… No one is thinking of the students,’’ says Kapil Kumar Jadhav, also a Lambada.
Adde Dinesh, state secretary, Tribal Teachers Union, says that except for complaining to the authorities, they have no other option. “The District Collector and the SP say we should be patient till a solution is worked out but we do not see anything being done. We are being told not to create problems while the fact is that we are the receiving end of this boycott,” says Dinesh.
There are an estimated 25 lakh Lambadas in Telangana, which makes them the largest tribal group in the state. The 30 communities that make up the rest of the state’s ST population number about 5 lakh. Adilabad is the only district in Telangana where Adivasis outnumber Lambadas, according to the 2011 Census.
ITDA Project Officer, Aditya Krishna, who is in charge of schools in Adilabad, Asifabad and Mancherial, says the dispute will be resolved soon.
“By June 15, we will know the exact status of the number of teachers of each community in all the schools. After that we will be transferring all teachers who have worked at one place for five years or more,” he says.
“Then we will hold Internet counselling for the remaining Lambada teachers and ask if they are willing to move out of tribal areas to non-tribal areas. Once this is done, we will fill up the vacancies left behind by Lambadas moving out by hiring contractual residential teachers from the tribal communities. They will receive a fixed salary of Rs 24,000 per month. This will most likely solve the issue.”