Story – Saurabh Hatkar
On 03 rd of July, Pandhari, 40 years old shepherd, came to me and said that his two and his cousin’s two, a total of four children detained from the school’s admission process.
Pandhari said, “School is not allowing us to admit them, and now we don’t have any other options to take our children away with the Caravan of sheep and goats.”
Pandhari is the shepherd who migrated from one place to another with his herd of sheep and goats. Pandhari did not attend school, but he wished his child could get proper education at the appropriate place. That’s why he puts his efforts into admitting his and his cousin’s children at the Dnyanpith Ashram school of Hivra Ashram Tq.
Mehkar Dist.Buldhana(Maharashtra). Pandhari is one of the shepherds from Lac’s of the shepherds from Maharashtra, Who seasonally migrated from one place to another.
The migration is basically for fulfilling the needs of the fodder of the sheep and goats. Traditionally shepherds are the nomadic tribe community in Maharashtra. They have their set routes across Maharashtra. Averagely 300-400 Km Area is covered under the migration by every family. There are various patterns of migration. In some parts of Maharashtra, migration takes place for the whole year.
For some places, it took 6 to 8 months; like in Vidarbha, Shepherds average, migrated for 6 to 8 months(Probably from September to May).
The impact of migration on shepherds has different aspects, but the lack of education is the most concerning(And related to this article).
While migration, it is not possible for shepherds’ children to attend school;
Many times, shepherd put their children at some relatives’ homes for schooling. But the lousy treatment of relatives and the extra burden of housework at relatives’ homes push children to flee away from education.
Shepherds are often not interested in enrolling their children in school; instead, they prefer to put their children in the traditional occupation of rearing sheep and goats. Many Shepherd children left schooling due to the lack of resources, money, and infrastructure. Ultimately the consequences of all such reasons culminated in the higher dropout rate of the shepherd children.
Why are admissions denied?
For decades shepherd Dhangar demanded the implementation of their S.T. reservation status.
In 2014, Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP) came into power by promising to implement the Dhangar community’s demand; Devendra Fadanvis, the then chief minister of Maharashtra, made a false promise to implement S.T. reservation in the first cabinet after the government formation. But BJP misled the community and did not take any action on the demands of the Dhangar community.
Then in 2019, elections were announced, but the outrage in the Dhangar community against BJP impelled to announce some catchy and populist schemes for the community.
In the last month of his tenure as a CM of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadanvis in exchange for S.T. reservation demand announced the schemes of 1000 crores for the Dhangar community.
On 04 September 2019, the department of other VJNT, backward class, and particular backward class(Now popularly known as Bahujan department) promulgated the G.R. No 2019/sr.no. 72/education.
The G.R sanctioned the schemes of free education up to the 12th class for the 100 Dhanagar students in nearby residential schools. The scheme covers all charges from the dining and hostel to school fees in residential schools.
Though schemes have several flaws like schemes, they do not cover non-residential schools for those Dhangars who do not migrate. Also, the limitation of 100 students is not enough for the concentric populated districts of the Dhangar community. But the scheme was welcome by the activist and community. Then the government changed in September 2019, and the scheme was not implemented effectively. In 2020,2021, the Pandemic hit Shepherd’s education badly.
During the Covid -19 pandemic, 80% of the shepherd’s education was stopped.
The government did not make any active efforts to bring inclusive educational policies to the NT-DNT communities. Like Shepherd, children were totally excluded from education due to infrastructural and financial obstacles. In Covid-19, Many children migrated to different places with the herd of sheep and goats. The lack of instruments like the Tab/ Mobile, Network in the forest and remote areas, awareness and friendliness about handling the devices, and lack of electricity to charge mobile in the forest excluded many Shepherd children from education.
After the lockdown, Many shepherds positively admitted their children to different schools.
Now they are seeking to take admission under the scheme of free residential education to hundreds of students at the nearest schools. But the admissions are denied, and many of them took their child back to the Caravan and are currently in a position to leave school and start migration with their family.
Context of Incident
Vivekanand Dnyanpith is a famous ashram(Residential school) for providing good quality residential education.
Hence many shepherds like Pandhari eagerly admit their children to the school. Initially, the school administration informed many shepherd families to wait for further time as the government did not sanction the admission proposal. Shepherds were not fully aware of the scheme, they were ready to pay full fees for the school, but the Administration did not allow shepherds to admit their children into the general quota. They were asked to wait for free admission to the residential schools.
Many shepherds happily wait for further government sanction to admit their children without fees. But the files did not get sanctioned due to the current political chaos in Maharashtrian political spheres.
The collector has the right to sign the file and send it to the ministerial level for final permission. But due to the sudden change of power in Maharashtra, the ministerial departments are not yet allocated. Hence many files like the Vivekanand ashram from overall Maharashtra are pending in the Ministry of Maharashtra. There are thousands of known – unknown shepherd children whose education is already hit badly due to the Pandemic and way of occupation are again on the verge of dropout.
When as an activist, I put my request to the chief secretary and secretary of Bahujan Kalyan Vibhag to help us, and they showed their empty hands. And Said, ” we can’t do anything until a new minister comes to the office and sign the file”.
The pending files push the future of thousands of innocent children into the darkness.
The irony of governance
on 24 June 2022, the Maharashtra government promulgated circular no 2022/ch. no 84/sd6- 04, as per the circular, the government will celebrate the 2022-23 year as the ‘ educational growth year2022-23.’
The circular consists of various parameters like ‘zero dropouts, pre-school camps for increasing admission, regular evaluation, happy syllabus, etc., The main motto behind such activities is to control the education damage brought by the Pandemic.
But unfortunately, the Rhetoric words of the circular did not compensate for or understand the pain of the most marginalized shepherd community.
The schools commenced on 26 June (The birth anniversary of great Bahujan ruler Shahu Maharaja). Still, thousands of shepherds like Pandhari are waiting to get admission for their children in the schools. This is clear institutional discrimination done by the Maharashtrian government, which excluded nomadic shepherds from education. The current political chaos violates the shepherd community’s fundamental right to education which must not be another collateral damage of power struggle in a post-pandemic world.
(Saurabh Hatkar — Writer is President of mendhpalputrArmy(Shepherd Organization) in Maharashtra and Currently pursuing his master’s from Tata Institute of social sciences, Mumbai)