Tripura to hold fresh exam for vacant SC/ST seats in MBBS

Agartala, Sep 12 : The Tripura Government has decided to conduct another exam under Tripura Joint Entrance Board (TJEB) to fill up 29 seats in reserved categories, including 25 ST seats, which had been left vacant in AGMC this year because of non-availability of qualified students.

After several rounds of discussion at an all-party meeting yesterday, higher education department announced that TBJEE would conduct a fresh examination for ST/SC students to fill up the vacancies.

In the all-party meeting, opposition Congress had raised strong demands of reviewing all answer scripts of medical joint entrance examination while the state government gave opinion in favour of re-examining all the candidates.

Both Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Health Minister Tapan Chakraborty had written separate letters to Union Health Minister Ghulam Navi Azad and the Medical Council of India (MCI) requesting to reduce the cut-off marks from the prescribed 40 in state joint entrance exam for SC and ST students.

Replying to chief minister’s letter, Azad on August 8 clearly stated that the issue involved two aspects--teaching and treatment and the professionals would be dealing with living human beings, so, diluting qualifying criteria was neither feasible nor desirable.

He said two separate writ petitions were filed in Guahati High Court's Agartala bench demanded filling up of reserved medical seats by reducing cut-off mark.

The bench rejected the plea for reduction of cut-off marks prescribed by the MCI for reserved categories for getting admission in MBBS last month.
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An identity crisis for tribal communities

By Baljeet Kumar

New Delhi, April 18 : Today, there are several regions, many of them forested and inhabited by the tribal communities, which have become flash-points of violence where Naxalism has taken root.

It is undoubtedly one of the gravest challenges facing the country. Contemporary political understanding has moved beyond viewing the phenomenon as a security or merely a law and order situation.

There is an acknowledgement, that development processes either bypassed these tribal regions or were severely compromised over the decades. The neglect of these regions and the impoverishment of its people has been widely perceived to be a fundamental cause pushing them towards Naxalism.

In its broad strategy to rid these regions of the 'Naxal menace', the Government has adopted as one of its core principles the restoration of the development process in these 'regions of conflict'; to open up the tribal communities to opportunities, which they have remained excluded from and bring benefit on the ground.

We are then at an intersection of legacy of neglected development in tribal regions, the rise of Naxalism and now the government's move meet the challenge head on. The strategy clearly has been to flush out the Naxals from the rural hinterland using force and quickly apply the balm of development to the areas affected.

It is at this intersection that the tribal community or the Adivasi stands today. What are the needs on the ground, how have they been addressed or not addressed and how can development agendas now become inclusive and integrate their interests with the rest of the 'mainstream society? The answers to some of the fundamental questions of our larger polity and society lie in this, addressing the concerns of the adivasis.

On the face of it, it seems like a clear-cut policy line, but is it really that easy? Who actually are these adivasis? Here, we are not talking about their social, cultural, linguistic, ethnic entity, which in a sense defines their identity. We need to get beyond that to see how they are defined or categorised for the purpose of targeted development within the political system, their 'political identity' as it were.

Do we have a methodology in place to identify them on the basis of certain characteristics? Is there a nationally accepted yardstick to know who falls in this category and how they can be distinguished from other communities, who inhabit the same region?

The government parlance is 'ST', an interchangeable and official term that implies this distinct group. Yet do we know what this term 'ST' which is used commonly means? What are its parameters or its defining features? Only if we are clear, could we move ahead to assess the present policies, their impact on 'regions of conflict' and attempt to broaden or improve them.

This is the first point of ambiguity. Article 342 section (1) of the Constitution enjoins upon the President of India, in consultation with the Governor of a state to notify SC or ST communities. Article 366(2) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as communities who are "scheduled" in accordance with Article 342 through a declaration by the President of India.

The 'Adivasi' then remains just a term, which according to the discretion of the President finds a 'fit' with a particular community living in specific areas, which the Constitution recognizes as "Scheduled Areas". There is no uniformity or a set of features or conditions, which they need to fulfill to categorize them as such.

Surely, this is an unacceptable situation considering the fate of 11 crore Adivasis in this country, constituting 6.2 per cent of the total population according to the 2001 Census hangs in balance. The process can be defined as 'discretionary' at best and 'random' at worst. This shows up as gross irregularities on the ground.

Thus, the Santhals living in Assam do not have access to benefits due to Scheduled Tribes, which are accorded to Santhals in Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. Several tribal groups like Gonds, Pahari Korbas, Kanwar, Junawar spread in states like Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand are covered under different gradations of Central Government. This arises again from difference in their definition status.

In the Central Government's records, the term is equally vague. There is no concrete definition, which means that Government policy for inclusion and upliftment of tribal populations is built on shifting sands. If the very definition is arbitrary, the entire process following it would be flawed. Massive sections of those, who are actually adivasis may not figure at all. This non- commitment to a set of standards in defining tribals is reflected at international levels too.

The ILO Convention No.169 adopted in 1989 refers to tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions clearly distinguish them from other sections of national communities. Their status is regulated wholly or partially by customs or traditions handed down the ages or by special laws or regulations.

Interestingly, India was one of the first nations to ratify the precursor to Convention 169, the ILO Convention no 107 in Sept 1958 but has not ratified the present one.

The catch is that all of this falls within the 'objective criteria', a parameter not sufficient to declare a people' tribal' or 'indigenous'. The 'subjective criteria' hinges on a process of 'self identification' of these groups. Thus self-identification is supposed to compliment the objective criteria and vice-versa. Across countries, this ambiguity has left policy makers sans the required level of information on the communities whose concerns they are meant to address. Monitoring the effects of state interventions also gets jeopardized.

The Lokur Committee set up in 1965 to revise the lists of SC's and ST's in the country defined the characteristics of the ST's. Several communities living in forested regions in our country, who are seen to be fulfilling these norms, are excluded from the official tag of ST's.

They face the biggest loss, excluded from a plethora of development programs devised keeping in mind communities with their particular characteristics. The extent of this exclusion is mammoth. The present categorization covers only 8.5 crore, out of 11 crore are Adivasis today. It is in some of these regions in India, amongst these hapless people, that the Naxals have their stronghold.

According to Charkha Development Communications, the government's approach to development in tribal regions, need urgent identification and correction. The ongoing violence, loss of lives, property, livelihoods and security has been too heavy a price to pay for this ambiguity at the highest level.
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Migrating to distant lands for a job

K. Venkateshwarlu
Goal of rural job scheme eludes Chenchu tribals
-PHOTO: K. VENKATESWARLU

Struggle for survival: Udathanuri Parvatalu, who was among the group of Chenchus who went all the way to Meghalaya in search of work, at Vadde Rayavaram in Mahbubnagar district.
VADDERAYARAM (Mahabubnagar dt): For a morsel, primitive Chenchu tribes of this ‘gudem' (habitation) again gear up to migrate to distant Meghalaya for work, a paradox in a State that boasts of creating the maximum number of person days under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme.
Criss- crossing undulating Nallamala forest for long distances is a life skill learnt early by these fleet-footed tribals. Yet they dread travelling 1,700 km to Meghalaya as it often means facing death and working as bonded labour in abominable conditions for a paltry wage. But with water sources drying up, dwindling forest produce, fragmented farms not yielding much and finding work to feed themselves turning a daily challenge, they hardly have a choice.
They have to take the arduous journey despite the MGNREGA's express purpose of checking such migration from drought prone areas by providing wage employment for all in their own ‘gudem' or village. Five years since the programme was launched, the goal continues to elude Chenchus.
“Last month we got work for eight days and this month there is no sign of any work so far. How will we survive? We are scared of going to Meghalaya as every time we go there at least two or three of our community people die. We are treated worst than animals. But if things do not improve here in the next few days we have to pack up and go” says Udathanuru Parvathalu.
There fear is not unfounded. The saga of deaths began at the site of a power plant near Shillong with Katraju Laxmi of Marredmandinne in February 2006, around the time NREGA was launched. She was among 600 Chenchu bonded labourers who were literally carted away to Shillong by a labour contractor on a paltry advance of Rs. 1,000.
Like other Chenchu women, Laxmi found the wage hardly sufficient. Hard labour with no proper food made her vulnerable to disease and she died. Her death sparked off protests and one of them was staged at India Gate in New Delhi and the then Rajya Sabha member, R. Chandrasekhara Reddy, highlighted their plight in the Upper House. Petitions were sent to National Human Rights Commission and the Prime Minister and the State Chief Minister. Parvathalu says at least six Chenchus met the same fate during the last five years. After the furore, they indeed got wage employment but not enough to rule out migration. The only thing that has changed during these years is increase in advance for bonded labour from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5000.
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Some self-help - and tribal women mean business

 Banswara: They set out to work in their `offices`, dabble in numbers with ease and bring home more money than their husbands. The fact that they are illiterate tribal women in obscure Rajasthan villages does not dampen their shimmering entrepreneurial dreams.
It all started with the coming together of some women who formed self-help groups (SHGs). Now the self-help movement is an over 1,000- strong army with a presence in 24 villages in Banswara district`s Sednani area.

These women sell seeds, own poultry businesses, make incense sticks and beauty products, besides doing conventional sewing and stitching activities. They gather at `chaupals` to hold meetings.

After being subservient to their husbands and lending a helping hand in labour work all their lives, these women in Banswara district are breaking the glass ceiling and ushering in prosperity in the area.

"Some NGOs working for tribal women`s development had called a meeting here to float the idea of self-help groups a few months ago. But when our families came to know that women will go out and be involved in earning money, they protested," Rampyari Devi, a woman associated with SHG Navjyoti, told IANS.

The first meeting was attended by the women`s family members.

"Somehow, the men were convinced. After that, like a revolution, women started joining self-help groups," she added. The group has set up poultry farms and supply chicken products.
These groups are democratically formed and elect their own leaders. The modus operandi is that women pool in their small savings, and then use it among themselves.

Another woman, Likhma Devi, says, "The women are now earning about Rs.6,000-7,000 every month, which in most cases is more than what men in the area earn."

She says about 80 women have so far gone to state capital Jaipur to acquire training in various fields. Different government departments and NGOs are providing training to these SHGs.

Rampyari, who is part of an SHG, said with money coming in, the lifestyle of villagers has started to change.

"Earlier things like television sets were available in very few houses...now a lot of houses in my village have TVs and that too with satellite receivers," she added with pride.

The migration of tribal families from the area has also stopped due to their improved standard of living.

"Earlier, tribal families had to migrate to other parts of the state and nearby states like Gujarat for a particular period every year. But this has stopped now, due to which children are getting steady education," said Sukanya Joshi, an NGO worker.

Likhma Devi echoes similar views. "My life has changed...I am illiterate but after I started to earn money I started sending my children to school," she said.

There are 21 SHGs in the district, some 550 km from Jaipur. The groups have been named after female deities of Hindu religion like Parvati and Saraswati and Bharatmata.

"The tribal women, most of them illiterate, run them like corporate houses. They have learnt skills, including auditing and accounting required for running the business. Most of the products are sold in urban or semi-urban areas besides for local consumption," Joshi added.
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All-India Adivasi Mahasabha calls for unity among tribals

Smita Gupta

‘In democracy, solution must come from peaceful exercise of people's power'
“Creamy layer” in tribal community must help fight poverty and illiteracy


New Delhi: The All-India Adivasi Mahasabha, on the first day of its three-day long conference here on Monday at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium, stressed the need to unite the diverse tribal communities from across the country to gain a voice in Delhi, as a starting point to controlling their own destinies – and their land, water and forests.
In his speech, Meghalaya Governor R.S. Moosahary told delegates: “Let us unite all tribal groups so that we can compete – this is a competitive world.” Calling on the “creamy layer” in the tribal community to understand the aspirations of those less fortunate, he asked them to help fight poverty and illiteracy.
Appeal to Maoists
Criticising the government, Mr. Moosahary said poor administration and corruption in parts of the country had created Maoism. Making an appeal to the Maoists, he said, “You may be fighting for a good cause but you cannot get anywhere by killing innocents. In a democracy, the solution must come from the peaceful exercise of people's power – look at the example of Egypt.” Referring to the Indian Constitution, he said, “The Indian Constitution is a flexible document – short of Independence, you can get virtually anything.”
The national conference is being jointly organised by the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP), an umbrella organisation overseeing over 310 issue-based tribal communities' organisations along with various other tribal forums. The meeting hopes to exert pressure on the government to properly implement laws such as Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, the Forest Rights Act and other pro- tribal laws, as well as strategise to address emerging challenges for the tribal communities as well as to protect tribal cultural identities.
Issues
The conference will focus on issues related to land laws and land alienation, development induced displacement, forest and encroachment and eviction, extremism in Adivasi areas, poverty and migration, among others. It also plans to look at the different laws enacted in the country for the welfare of the tribals and decide how to take advantage of laws such as the Right to Information (RTI), PESA and the FRA.
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