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Maharashtra AHA moment: ‘Tribals don’t fit aviation bill’

About three years ago,every time an aircraft flew over Pen in Maharashtra’s Raigad district,children in the tribal village would look at it and say Bharti Sheed,one of their own,was on it.

Written by Shweta Desai | Pen (raigad) |
March 22, 2010 3:34:19 am

About three years ago,every time an aircraft flew over Pen in Maharashtra’s Raigad district,children in the tribal village would look at it and say Bharti Sheed,one of their own,was on it. It was a matter of pride for the community as Sheed,24,had made it to the first batch of a course specially designed by the state government for the tribal community at the privately run Air Hostess Academy (AHA) in Pune. And even though she was still pursuing the course then,she was already a star for her community.

Three years on,those dreams have rudely crash-landed for Sheed and more than 100 other tribal youngsters who had joined AHA. None of the students who passed out of the first batch of the course in 2008 or the second one a year later has got any aviation jobs. Following a lack of response from airlines to students who passed out of AHA,the government has now scrapped the course.

While many students complain that they feel cheated as they had been promised jobs when they enrolled,the state government denies making any such promise.

In fact,Maharashtra’s Minister for Tribal Development Babanrao Pachpute blames the students themselves,saying they were lacking on many fronts — particularly physical assets — while Commissioner for Tribal Development D S Rajurkar says air-hostess jobs would have been difficult for them given the competition.

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“They are not physically appealing and because of their strong local accent they are not good communicators too. I had met (Civil Aviation Minister) Praful Patel to push for jobs but nothing concrete came out of it,” Pachpute told The Indian Express,adding that the government would consider implementing the project by trying to get the girls jobs in the hospitality sector.

“The training was part of skill development,” adds Commissioner Rajurkar. “Many girls have benefited by way of jobs in the hospitality industry but it is difficult to think of air-hostess jobs for them as candidates there are highly skilled and competitive.”

For students like Sheed,that’s end of a dream that had been sold to them for three years. “I believed I would be flying in the domestic sector,if not going abroad,after doing the course,” she told The Indian Express. “Every time a plane flew over my village,kids here would say I was on it. Now I don’t think anyone wants to believe in the government’s promise.”

The disappointment is particularly acute for her as she was among the first tribal girls to be selected to the academy. There were felicitation events organised by the state government,tribal welfare agencies and NGOs.

“Despite being poor we spent money to buy blazers,high-heel footwear and cosmetics. Now we have to throw them all away,” she said.

Last year,Sheed applied for vacancies advertised by Air India under the ST quota but didn’t make it. “I was rejected on grounds of not having the mandatory three-month experience in the industry,” she said.

In fact,that was one of the crucial problems with the course. Students say far from getting mandatory in-flight training,they were not even shown a real aircraft. They could not even intern as cabin crew and had to settle for internships as ground staff,hotel receptionists and in call centres.

What the year-long training included was effective communication,hosting and serving and life-saving skills,plus knowledge of first aid and customer care. The girls learnt to shed their inhibitions,from speaking in English without an accent to wearing make-up and short skirts with stockings.

The special course was a brainchild of the Congress-NCP government to promote the welfare of tribal youth by training them to work in the aviation,travel and hospitality sectors. The programme had a budget of Rs 1 lakh per student and 97 girls and three boys were selected from far-flung tribal hamlets across the state for the first batch to get aviation training in February 2007. The plan had raised hopes among tribal youth,with few employment opportunities around and with the aviation sector booming.

Priyanka Jadhav,a Pawra tribal from Nandurbar district,says she left her pharmacy graduation course to pursue the dream of becoming an air-hostess. While AHA helped her improve her communication skills and grooming,she could not get a cabin crew job as her height was only 5 ft.

Paigambari Partit,22,a Gond tribal,belongs to Gondiya. Not only is it one of Maharashtra’s most backward districts,it is incidentally the constituency of Praful Patel. Partit said she met him and gave him her resume and photographs to help find a job,but to no avail.

“People in my village did not even know what an air-hostess was,” she says. “I thought I could get a great job and fly in an aeroplane… But I have now returned to my tribal life.”

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