‘Tribal’ is a generic term generally applied to people living on the fringes of Indian society in remote parts of the country making a precarious living as ‘hunter gatherers’.

About 6% of the overall population of India falls into this category while, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala (the areas we visit) it is thought that about 1% of the population are classed as tribals. Tribal people are usually regarded as being outside the caste system, that is beneath the underclass, ‘untouchables’.

You would be forgiven for thinking that living close to nature in a semi-tropical jungle would be an idyllic existence. In reality, it is extremely harsh; survival depending upon finding food (wild honey, nuts and berries, etc.) and trading the surplus. To be born as a tribal almost certainly means that you will be consigned to remain outside mainstream Indian society for the whole of your life. You will be condemned to a hard and (measured against our life expectancies) probably a fairly short life, without access to even the most basic education or medical care. Although, in so many ways, India has moved ahead of the developing countries into the 21st century as a tribal you will nevertheless be progressively left behind.

The residential care provided by Ignatius and his SDET associates at Sdetland is currently providing limited opportunities for 50 boys and 25 girls (soon to be 50) to make the best of themselves. The basic education available to them is giving them the opportunity either to join mainstream India or return to the Government settlements created for their displaced families to remain as a tribal. The children will, if their parents wish, be educated to 10th Standard (at about 15 years of age) or beyond if they have the ability and ambition. They will have seen a way of life which they may wish to adopt. Many of their parents will also welcome the opportunity to have educated children since, one day, if family tradition is followed, they will be expected to look after their fathers and mothers!

So this is where the choice arises. After a child has received a basic education in a State School, the parents may wish the child to return to his or her tribal settlement. But, this is not considered as a failure of the scheme. The child has now experienced another way of life which he, or she, may wish to adopt later. The child is now numerate and literate and much better able to deal with modern life with all its challenges (even if it is at the simplest level of dealing with the merchants who buy the forest products collected by the tribe).

India is changing. The tribals are under pressure from the State Authorities who have moved them from their natural habitat to the real world ill-equipped to handle the demands new to them. We cannot help them all but Lincs with India’s partnership with SDET is giving just a few of the children a choice.