After years of assurances and neglect, girl tribal nursing students from various parts of Chhattisgarh on Monday crawled in scorching heat in protest against the delayed payment of scholarships for two consecutive years. The protest started from Rengani Chowk in Raipur and moved towards the chief ministers' house, but was stopped by the Police midway. At least two students reportedly fainted and were rushed to the nearest hospital for primary treatment.
Explaining their plight, one of the students said that they were promised free training of nursing for 3.5 years and job under an agreement between the Government of Chhatisgarh and European Commission. The selected students were eligible for annual fee of Rs 80,000 which included Rs 40,000 for tuition fee, Rs 36,000 for mess facilities and Rs 4,000 for other expenses. Following reports of alleged financial irregularities, the project was discontinued and ensued the unending plight of tribal girl students which continues till date.
Sanjay Parate, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who has been associated with the movement, alleged that the attitude of the administration remains unchanged despite change in the government last year. Talking to NewsClick, he said, "The claims of both political parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), regarding sensitivity towards the tribal population stand exposed after this episode. In order to hide the financial irregularities, the government is now diverting funds from Sarguja and Bastar development authorities. But the question still remains unanswered that when these girls will receive their due."
He added, "When we investigated the matter, we found that the government had received the money and it is lying unused in a State Bank of India account. Still, the matter is beyond comprehension."
But the crisis and continued negligence has taken a toll on the lives of the tribal students. Lakshmi Rana, who hails from Sukma district, said that the happiness of the family was boundless when she was selected for the course. She told NewsClick, "What could have been more pleasing than the fact that I would be offered a job after the training? My parents own 2.5 acres of land. Since the water is scarce in the region, we only grow one crop of paddy and that's the sole source of income. In this situation, the offer was like a lifeline. When the scholarship was stopped, my parents mortgaged the land to fund my studies. If I do not receive the scholarship, we will lose our land."
Aswanteen Kumeti, another student, said, "I was the sole child who graduated in my family. My parents sold their jewellery after the scholarship was stopped. Why cannot they provide us the money even when it is lying in the bank? We are trained nurses now and we will only help better the medical facilities. As far as the job is concerned, we will fight till our last breath to claim what is ours."
*This is a developing story.
Update: The struggle appears to have finally paid off. R N Pandey, Joint Director of Health Services in Bastar Division informed NewsClick that they have released the pending amount for two years to 22 tribal girl students. He said, "We have released the amount today in accounts of the beneficiaries." However, the girl students of Sarguja division hope they will receive their due amount soon.
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