Digital divide exposes India’s neglect of tribal students

A young girl with her school book at Anbu Nagar tribal hamlet in Coimbatore.

Sixteen-year-old Sreedevi has to walk at least 5 km from her home in Poochukottamparai tribal settlement in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur district just to get a workable mobile phone signal.

Sreedevi recently made headlines after scoring 95 per cent in her Class 10 board exams and became the first one from the forest-dwelling Muduvar tribal community to do so. However, she didn’t come to know of her results until a journalist from neighbouring Kerala -- where she went to a government residential school -- reached out to her family.

After the nationwide lockdown was imposed because of the coronavirus, Sreedevi had returned to her tribal settlement deep inside the Anamalai Tiger reserve. The isolated settlement lacks roads, electricity and access to mobile phone network. The families, including Sreedevi’s, don’t even have proper houses. While three of her exams were held in March before the coronavirus struck, she took the rest in May. (Unlike most school boards, Kerala conducted the rest of the exams during the lockdown.)

Two months back, the Kerala government had arranged a special bus to ferry her from the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border to the school so she could take her exams. But to catch that bus and reach the checkpost, the young girl and her father had to travel nearly 80 km in a two-wheeler.

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