On the Education of Indigenous Peoples in the Northeast

Swayam Nath
Swayam Nath
A sceptic in this Hebraistic world is Swayam Nath, a 12th grader from South Point School, a passionate devotee of literature and theatre. He finds pleasure in composing poems. Over the years, he has participated in several public speaking contests and has been able to hone his oratory skills. Swayam was also one of the selected fellows in the YLAC 2020 online edition. He also has an ardent adoration for music and a fine taste for good art.

Education is almost indispensable for any child. It is even more essential to provide education in the remotest of areas so as to provide a way for the upliftment and an addition to the human capital. While the essentiality of education is established, there are several factors that come into play that hinder the enrolment rate in schools as well as the rate of continuity for those already admitted. All of these shall be discussed.

 This article shall try to only deal with the indigenous folks in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura.

 The following table shall account for

  1. Population percentage of ST in the state to the total population of the state.
  2. Population percentage of ST in the state to the total  ST population in India


The ST population is highest in these states: Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

Concerning the development of the literacy rate, there is enough development that people are literate, yet in terms of higher education, that continuity tends to fall in certain states. Mizoram tends to do well in terms of the literacy rate of the STs, followed by Nagaland.

A significant problem which remains a big hurdle is the location in which most indigenous communities are based, which are in the remotest of remote areas. That alone isolates the opportunities that the indigenous communities could avail of.

In an article for 'Outlook', TS Haokip points out that “The number of successful ST candidates from Northeast India who cleared the exam (UPSC) last year (the year 2019) is a dismal figure of 4. Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram, which predominantly have tribal populations, secured a ‘NIL’ outcome. While Nagaland and Tripura had one candidate each, Manipur, where 40% of the state population belongs to the ST community, had a zero success rate with no ST candidates clearing the exam.” 

Thus, it can be concluded that though reservations are intact and stably provided for the upliftment of the indigenous people, as provided by the constitution, that alone does not account for all the disparities that actually emerge as the case, such as the aforementioned. 

Consequently, over the years, there has been a very heated altercation on the Supreme Court’s verdict on allowing the sub-categorisation of STs and SCs by states.

Reservations, however, play a very important role and their structural integrity cannot be tampered with. A very recent agitation emerged out of the demand for ST status on April 3rd, 2022 in Delhi at Jantar Mantar. The All Adivasi Students Association of Assam (AASAA) staged a demonstration in demand of their Scheduled Tribe status. It was AASAAs's allegation against the BJP government on the issue that the Adivasi community who have been given ST status in other parts of the country were not given ST status in Assam, as a result of which they felt cheated, betrayed, and agitated because their promises were unfulfilled.

Language plays a very integral part in overall preserving the tribal or indigenous heritage. Language and Indigenous studies are very important, especially in the present age in which the threat of acculturation hovers over us. Tribal languages such as Moran, Tangsa, Aiton and more in Assam have been declared potentially endangered, and languages such as Majhi in Sikkim have completely disappeared.

 When asked how we conserve dying languages, GN Devy answered, "It is very simple. We need to create livelihood support for the speakers of the language." He added, "If they have a livelihood available within their language, nobody would want to switch from the language to any other language." In an attempt to preserve the "Wancho" language, Banwang Losu, a postgraduate linguist student at Deccan College Post-graduation and Research Institute, in Pune, has developed a script for the language, which originally had no script.

A proper plan of action is a dire need, complementary to the policies that have been introduced by the government. The educational board should try to incorporate existing languages into the syllabus, employ more speakers of those obscure languages as faculties, and generate more employment. Aside from language preservation, there should be ST sub-categorisation to provide adequate upliftment to the North Eastern STs, and more governmental impetus and initiatives are urgently needed to improve the enrolment ratio in the North-Eastern region.