Published: 11th August 2022
Madras Christian College welcomes four students from Irular tribal community who will pursue their UG
Ramya’s mother, who worked as a bonded labourer at a rice mill in Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, was rescued in 2012. Priya’s mom and dad were also rescued from a rice mill in Tiruvallur in 2010
In a big leap of faith for a community that has remained on the margins for thousands of years, four Irular tribal students — including three girls who are daughters of rescued bonded labourers — have joined undergraduate courses at Madras Christian College this year.
The community, traditionally involved in snake and rat catching and honey collection, is one of the six particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG) in Tamil Nadu and is among the most backward in education and employment.
Nandhini, Ramya, and Priya are 17 years old; Rajkumar is 21.
Nandhini's father died when she was young and her mother Vijaya worked as a bonded labourer at a brick kiln in Tiruvallur until she was rescued in 2014. "I used to live in different hostels till my mother and I shifted to the Irular smart colony in Tiruvannamalai district three years ago. Though my mother was rescued from bonded labour in 2014, it took a long time for her to mingle with us again," said Nandhini, who joined BA Tamil this year. Ramya too has joined BA Tamil. Rajkumar is enrolled in BA History and Priya has chosen BA Social Work.
While Nandhini and Priya want to become police officers, Rajkumar aspires to be an IAS officer. "Becoming an IAS officer is an uphill task for tribal people like us. But I want to aim high and achieve it," Rajkumar said.
Ramya’s mother, who worked as a bonded labourer at a rice mill in Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, was rescued in 2012. Priya’s mom and dad were also rescued from a rice mill in Tiruvallur in 2010. "After being rescued from bonded labour, my parents wanted me to stay in hostels," Priya said.
"Nandhini and Rajkumar are from the smart colony for Irular tribals located at Meesanallur village in Thellar panchayat in Tiruvannamalai district. They will be the first graduates from the 143 families settled in the colony.
“The city college has been involved in various social works including freedom training for rescued bonded labourers. One of the important components of rehabilitating bonded labourers is to make sure that their children get education. Due to constant migration, many of their children struggle to complete even school education," said Solomon, lead of the community relations team of the International Justice Mission which worked with the Tiruvannamalai district administration on the project.
Madras Christian College has given seats for seven tribal students, including these four, so far. "We give importance to merit but don’t rely on it entirely. We use our discretion to provide opportunities to all communities. Opportunities are provided to PVTG and first-generation graduates to make education inclusive. We are also planning to set up a tribal study centre and provide tribal-specific pedagogy and curriculum to pull them into science courses as well," said Paul Wilson, Principal of MCC.
Karur District Collector T Prabhu Shankar, who initiated the smart Irular colony project in 2016 when he was sub-collector of Cheyyar, said people from tribal communities lack opportunities. "Irulars live not far away from accessing schools or colleges. What the government should provide is a constant hand-holding with the help of educational institutions and NGOs. We can mainstream them," he said.
Ponnusamy (20) of Agili village in Chengalpattu, who is also from the Irular community, has joined MSW this year after completing B Sc Chemistry in the same college.