Tribal Children’s Right to Education in India: Proclamations on child rights

Author: Mehendale, Archana,  Bangalore 2003, Child Rights International Network: | Download this document >>

Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child For the Day of General Discussion on “Isolated Communities and Ignored Claims: Tribal Children’s Right to Education in India”. Tribal communities in India have been historically deprived of access to resources and opportunities, including education. According to the author, unless the government undertakes urgent steps to address this issue, its proclamations on child rights would remain empty rhetoric.


Indigenous communities of India are commonly referred to as tribal or adivasi communities and are recognised as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution of India. Although the Constitution does not define Scheduled Tribes as such, it designates these communities as those which are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. According to Article 342 of the Constitution, the Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President through a public notification. The criteria followed for specification of a community, as scheduled tribe are indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness. At present, 533 tribes in India have been notified under Article 342 of the Constitution with the largest number of 62 tribes belonging to the State of Orissa.

As per the 1991 Census, the Scheduled Tribes (ST) account for 67.76 million representing 8.08 percent of the country’s population. Of this, 1.32 million (1.95%) belong to Primitive Tribal Groups (PTG) who are more marginalised than the ST population. The ST population is estimated to have reached 88.8 million in 2001 which is 8.6% of the country’s total population in 2001. The Scheduled Tribes are spread across the country and reside mainly in forest and hilly regions. The proportion of Scheduled Tribes within general population varies across States/Union Territories and indicates heavy concentration in certain parts such as Mizoram (94.7%), Lakshwadeep (93.2%), Meghalaya (85.5%), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (78.9%). States of Kerala (1.1%), Tamil Nadu (1%) and Uttar Pradesh (0.2%) have a low percentage of Scheduled Tribe population in comparison to the general population. Since Independence, the percentage of ST population has steadily increased following the growth in general population.

Table 1. Schedule Tribe Population over the years […]

Tribal communities in India have been historically deprived of access to resources and opportunities, including the opportunity to get educated. […]

For such historically deprived communities, providing access to education is simply not enough, the government has to take a proactive role in creating overall conditions and opportunities that will facilitate their transition and breaking of the intergenerational cycle of poverty and illiteracy. A sensitive cadre of teachers and bureaucracy is definitely required to make the difference. At another level, educational deprivation must be seen in the context of overall deprivation of the community and hence emphasis must be placed on improving the situation of tribal communities in general. Restoring land and livelihoods, empowering women, providing basic civic amenities such as fuel, water and sanitation are preconditions to advancements of rights of tribal children. Unless the government undertakes urgent steps to address these issues, its proclamations on child rights would remain examples of empty rhetoric and its actions would effectively continue to exclude those already sidelined. Following the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in the country, the gap between the tribal and non-tribal children is also widening rapidly, thereby further isolating the isolated. Respecting their claims at the outset should set the ball rolling in the right direction.

Source: Isolated Communities and Ignored Claims: Tribal Children’s Right to Education in India | Resource Centre
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Right to education handbook – Unesco

Civil and political rights
Even where the constitutional and legislative framework does not provide for the remedies for violations of the right to education, proactive courts may nonetheless render the right justiciable through innovative interpretations of civil and political rights which are guaranteed. For
example, in Mohini Jain v Karnataka which concerned the charging of ‘capitation fee’ by the private educational institutions, the Supreme Court of India held that although the right to education education was not explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, it is essential to the realization of the fundamental right to life and human dignity guaranteed
by the Constitution. […]

Court decisions recognizing a violation of the right to education are important whether they concern individual cases (e.g. in the case of
pregnant girls excluded from schools) or society in general (e.g. Brown in the US). However, court decisions have a stronger impact when they
bring structural and policy changes that create the condition for the full enjoyment of the right to education.

As underlined by Siri Gloppen: ‘enforcement resulting in policy change — if
implemented — can easily outweigh the impact of thousands of individual cases.’ For instance, it has been estimated that 350,000 additional girls are now going to school in India thanks to the midday school meal scheme implemented as a result of right to food litigation brought before the
Indian Supreme Court.

Source: Chapter 8 pp. 244-245 & 251, Right to education handbook (Unesco)
Date accessed: 6 February 2019

What is the Right to education handbook?
05 February 2019
Education is a fundamental human right of every woman, man and child. However, millions are still deprived of educational opportunities every day, many as a result of social, cultural and economic factors.
UNESCO and the Right to Education Initiative (link is external) (RTE) recently released the Right to education handbook, a key tool for those seeking to understand and advance that right. It is also an important reference for people working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 by offering guidance on how to leverage legal commitment to the right to education. […]

Who should use this handbook?
The handbook was developed to assist all stakeholders who have a crucial role to play in the promotion and implementation of the right to education. This includes:
– State officials, to ensure that education policies and practices are better aligned with human rights.
– Civil servants, policy-makers, ministers, and the ministry of education staff, officials working in ministries and departments of justice, development, finance, and statistics, as well as National Human Rights Institutions.
– Parliamentarians, their researchers and members of staff will find this handbook useful in evaluating and formulating education, human rights, and development legislation, and in implementing international human rights commitments to national law.
– Judges, magistrates, clerks, and lawyers and other judicial officials can use the material to explain the legal obligations of the state and how to apply them.
– Civil society including NGOs, development organizations, academics, researchers, teachers and journalists will benefit from this handbook as it includes guidance on how to incorporate the right to education in programmatic, research, and advocacy work. […]

Source: Right to education handbook (Unesco)
Date visited: 6 February 2019

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Adivasi and “tribal” are not interchangeable as explained by Dr. Ivy Hansdak:

Tribal” is a very broad term in the English language, as we all know, and includes all the different indigenous groups of India.
Adivasi” – which is derived from Sanskrit – is applied to the dark-skinned or Austro-Asiatic indigenous groups of India (usually those from Eastern India). It is a commonly-used term in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. It is also used by the local Mongoloid tribes of North Eastern India for the migrant workers who were brought in as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations during the colonial period. 

Source: personal message (email dated 27 March 2020)

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  • Ekalavya* Residential School Scheme (EMR): a network of boarding schools where tribal children are to be educated in accordance with rules and syllabi provided by the government; such schools are being designated as “Eklavya Model Residential School (EMR)” with the objective of empowering students “to be change agent, beginning in their school, in their homes, in their village and finally in a large context.”
  • Residential School and Ashram School
    In some regions there are similar “Residential Schools” and “Ashram Schools” for tribal children, as in Tripura where they are managed by a society called “Tripura Tribal Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TTWREIS)”
  • Factory schools “exist to turn tribal and indigenous children – who have their own language and culture – into compliant workers-of-the-future. The world’s largest Factory School stated that it turns ‘Tax consumers into tax payers, liabilities into assets’.”– | Research this subject with the help of a Safe custom search engine >>

* Ekalavya (Eklavya, Eklabya): the name of a legendary archer prodigy “who, being a Nishada [Sanskrit Niṣāda, “tribal, hunter, mountaineer, degraded person, outcast”], had to give his thumb as a fee to the brahmin guru thus terminating his skill as an archer.” – Romila Thapar (“The epic of the Bharatas”) | Read the full paper here | Backup download link (pdf) >>

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