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Gujarat Elections: With Tribals’ Literacy Rising, Unemployment Makes Youth Vulnerable

In absence of employment opportunities, the educated tribal youth are either forced to work as daily wagers in unorganised sectors or migrate for better options.
Gujarat Assembly Polls

Image credit: News18

Ahmedabad: Statistics reveal that the literacy rate of the Scheduled Tribes (ST — also called ‘adivasis’ and ‘tribals’) population in Gujarat has been constantly increasing for the last five decades. But at the same time, the ground reality and the data suggest that there is massive unemployment in the community and its participation in government, as well as organised sectors, is dismal.

In absence of employment opportunities, the educated tribal youth are either forced to work as daily wagers in unorganised sectors or migrate for better options. And this is one of the major issues the community seems to be considering before making a political selection in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state.

The tribal population in Gujarat is 14.67% (around 75 lakh), but the beneficiaries of primary and secondary education are 17.10% and 12.53% respectively — as per the 2011 Census. Let’s classify them further: their enrolment in the Arts stream is 14.68%; 3.07% in the commerce stream and 7.20% in the science stream. Their presence in higher education is hardly one per cent.

The majority of tribes reside in 15 talukas (subdivisions) of south Gujarat’s seven districts — Surat, Dang, Tapi, Bharuch, Valsad, Narmada, and Navsari.

Twenty-eight scheduled tribes are enlisted in Gujarat. Eight of them are primitive tribes — mainly belonging to Alech, Barda and Gir forests (Jamnagar and Junagadh districts in western Gujarat) and Ahmedabad district in central Gujarat. About 21 tribes are spread over 12 districts (north-eastern belt) in Gujarat.

As per a study conducted by the Behavioural Science Centre, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, in the seven districts of south Gujarat, nearly half (51%) of the total 1,941 respondents were class X pass. The ratio decreases with higher studies, i.e., about a fourth (24%) have passed class XII; graduates were 11% and postgraduates 4%.

The major problems of the tribes in north Gujarat (Vadodara, Dahod, Panchmahal, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha) are — lower levels of literacy, high incidences of sickle cell anaemia, unemployment, high degree of migration and no access to forest or forest produce.

The tribals of south Gujarat have reported a higher level of literacy, but they too are faced with the same set of problems in addition to unemployment.

They allegedly face atrocities by forest officials very frequently and report the highest number of displaced people due to development projects like large-scale dams on Tapi and Narmada as well as industrial estates as part of the silver corridor of Gujarat.


Nareshbhai Devrambhai Gamit, 29, a resident of Ahwa in Dang district, earned his master's in sociology from a government college in Surat. He then went for a bachelor’s in education (B.Ed.) and finished it at a constituent college in Rajkot.

He had applied twice to appear in the primary school teachers’ requirement examination, but the paper got leaked. He has once again applied for the job but is not sure when the examination will be conducted and when the results will be out and whether the written test will be conducted at all in the era of paper leaks.

“Cancellation of exams as a result of frequent paper leaks has made me lose interest in government jobs as securing it has become next to impossible. Vacancies are announced, application forms are invited and examination dates are announced. But when we reach our centres to write papers, we come to know that it is cancelled because of the paper leak. The process goes on,” he told NewsClick outside a photostat shop in Ahwa where he had come get his caste certificate photocopied.

“Applying for government jobs is an expensive affair,” he said, adding that “once an exam gets cancelled, it is the aspirants who bear the losses. Every time, we have to pay hefty application fees to the government”.

To make ends meet, take care of a family of five and fund the education of his six-year-old daughter who studies in a private school, he takes contracts for government construction works such as check dams, etc.

“Small contractors like us don’t get big returns as a good chunk of money is spent on officials who don’t pass the work and approve final payment without a bribe. The money I earn is just enough to win bread and butter for the family without difficulty,” he said.

His father is a marginal farmer who has five acres of land, which was allotted to him by the then Congress government in the state. “Though we possess the land as we have patta (lease), its legal ownership with the Forest Department — which can evict us any day in the name of some development project,” he concluded.

The only degree college Dang district has, he said, offers courses under the Arts stream. “Most of the students here graduate in Gujarati, Hindi, Sanskrit and sociology as the arts faculty of the college has no other departments,” he added.

There is a dearth of tribal youths who have passed graduation with English or Economics as a major subject. It has several reasons: the colleges in tribal areas don’t have different departments and offer professional courses; the youth is not well aware of the market needs most of the time. If they are aware of the market needs, fees for such educational courses are very high. This means that even being educated does not guarantee meaningful employment.

Bhartiben, a mother of two from Chikar village in Dang, has an M.A. (Hindi) and a bachelor’s degree in a teaching discipline, but she failed to get a government job because she could not qualify Gujarat Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) — which is conducted by the Board of Secondary Education Gujarat (BSEG) for teachers recruitment in state-run schools.

“We get degrees but not quality education as most of the faculties always run short of teaching staff. The system of education is traditional and not competitive enough to compete with the talents out there. We cannot afford expensive coaching and study materials. Therefore, tribal students fail to compete with their counterparts in the mainstream,” she added.

A resident of Dang’s Nirgudmal village, Pravin Pawar, 29, pursued a bachelor's in education in 2017 after graduating in sociology from a college in Rajkot. He then completed his master's as well in 2019.

He had applied to enter the state’s revenue services as a junior and senior clerk soon after completing the bachelor's and master's, but the examination papers on both occasions got leaked. The written examination for junior clerk was held this year, but he could not crack it.

From 2017 to 2022, 19 cases of paper leaks have been reported in the state.

“After appearing in the examination, I realised I am competing with highly educated candidates who are well-prepared and how hollow our education is. I cannot afford preparation at specialised preparatory classes in bigger cities as I don’t have the resources,” he added.

His father owns one acre of land combined with his four brothers. Agricultural farming — which solely depends on rain as the forested hilly areas don’t have water for irrigation — is the only source of his family’s sustenance.

He does petty jobs as a daily wager to support his family’s income. 

Satishbhai Laxmibhai Bhoye from Borkhal village had got training (ITI) to become a health sanitary inspector. He was working with the Rajkot Civil Hospital as a contractual labourer, but was fired after the COVID-19 pandemic eased in the state.

He is presently working as a computer operator with the office of a local advocate in Ahwa (the district headquarters of Dang). His younger brother also has an MA in sociology and is presently pursuing B. Ed from Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad.

To support his family and meet his own expenses, he is also working as a graphic designer.

After completing graduation in Gujarati language, one of his sisters is studying GNM (General Nursing and Midwifery). Another sister is working with a textile firm in Surat after graduation.

“Everyone in my family is educated, but none of us has a government job. Our father has two acres of land and all of us must spare some time to work in the field as it fulfils the need for food grains and vegetables. In addition, we work here and there to earn something. And therefore, we fail to compete in competitive examinations — which demand good and modern preparations and concentration,” he said.

Tushar Raman Kamadi from Vyara in Tapi district has done a three-year diploma in forensic science, but he too is one among the jobless.

“There is no government vacancy at all,” he added.

The rising unemployment among youths has contributed to the anti-incumbency against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is ruling the state for the past 27 years.

It’s high time, said the tribal youth, that we bring about a “change”.

“The BJP has been in power in the state for so many years; therefore, it cannot blame the Opposition for our educational and socio-economic backwardness. We study because our areas have no other employment opportunities. If we are not getting jobs, why have we spent our time, money, and energy on education? Therefore, we want a change of guard,” they added.

As 89 constituencies of the 182-member Gujarat Assembly go to polls on December 1, south Gujarat is very crucial for both the BJP and the Congress. If the BJP has to retain power in the state, it will have to retain 28 of the 35 seats in tribal-dominated south Gujarat. The Congress has six seats in the region.


Despite being educated, why are tribal youths facing such a large scale of unemployment? Activist Romel Sutaria, who is working with adivasis in south Gujarat, said it’s a multi-pronged issue: lack of quality education, financial crunch, less exposure to the mainland are some of the factors responsible.

“The schools and colleges in tribal areas are just for name’s sake. These lack good teachers, who can impart quality education to them. Most of the degree colleges offer bachelors in very limited streams. One will rarely find English, economics, commerce, and science departments,” he told NewsClick, adding that where ever these faculties exist, there is a dearth of teachers. According to him, the education system in tribal belts needs a complete overhaul.

“The industries that were set up in tribal areas don’t employ locals, arguing that they would organise and form a union which will hamper productivity. The Kakrapar Atomic Power Station and the Ukai Thermal Power Station do not have local employees. Many of the tribals are employed at the Narmada Nigam for Sardar Sarovar Project at Kevadia as casual labourers since the beginning of the 1980s. However, they have continued working as they consider this job as a ‘government job’ meaning a secured job,” he said.

Tribal concentrated belts of the state are witnessing three-dimensional migration: people go to harvest sugarcane in Surat, Navsari and Valsad districts; a large number of them travel to Maharashtra for onion, grapes and pomegranate production and harvesting; the rest go to Delhi and other big cities to work as construction labourers.

There have been several additional and special arrangements for education in tribal areas — 458 residential schools, known as Ashramshalas, 89 post-basic schools, 935 hostels for tribal boys and girls, 53 model residential schools, 19 Eklavya residential schools, one military school, 23 dry hostels, 50 government hostels, coverage of 5,838 students under talent pool and supply of textbooks to 12,835 tribal students.

Unfortunately, all these schemes lack effective implementation.

According to Arunbhai Patel, a research officer at the Tribal Research and Training Institute of the Gujarat Vidyapith, “non-formal” education is perhaps relevant to the tribals’ traditional lifestyle, focusing on collection of forest products, agricultural activities, hunting, fishery, grazing of animals, etc.

In addition, he said, special measures should be taken to employ educated youths in government and organised private sectors.

“New Ashramshalas should be opened and regularly supervised. Its staff members should be provided with benefits at par with panchayat-run schools. Likewise, post-basic school staff should be treated at par with secondary school staff as recognised by the Secondary School Examination Board. Efforts should be made to provide education in Ashramshalas, ranging from dialects to international languages. It should be at par with mainstream education,” he added.


Land alienation among tribals is very rampant across the northeastern belt of Gujarat. It is reported that officially about 7-8% of tribals are alienated from the land; informal surveys reveal this extent to 15%.

The state government has taken steps like launching the Joint Forest Management, Vanbandhu Yojana and other development programmes, but its effect is limited in providing employment and better quality of life.

Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1998 (PESA) was expected to provide opportunities to tribals for local self-governance, but it has not been implemented well by the government.

In this situation, tribal development has remained centralized and largely government-dependent. Since the industrial houses failed to engage educated tribal youth meaningfully in respective units, agriculture emerged as a main economic activity. But due to large-scale dams and wider forest cover, most of the farmers are marginal or small with small and medium landholding.

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