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Ramonita Shabar's Academic Excellence Breaks Glass Ceiling, Inspires Shabar Youth to Enter Education

Stigmatised, ostracised and treated as habitual offenders, the Shabar community continues to bear the 'criminal tribe' tag of colonial times.
Ramonita teaching at a Shabar society class room

Ramonita teaching at a Shabar society class room

Kolkata: Ramonita Shabar has made History by becoming the first from the Kheriya Shabar community to earn a postgraduate degree. The 23-year-old recently passed her Master’s examinations in History with flying colours, getting more than 81% marks.

Stigmatised, ostracised and treated as habitual offenders, youths represent the plight of the Shabars, a scheduled tribe which continues to bear the criminal tag of colonial times in West Bengal.

Featured in the now scrapped Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, the denotified Shabar tribe bears the stigma in West Bengal, where they have still not been identified under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, unlike in neighbouring Orissa and Bihar. In fact, the case of Budhan Shabar’s custodial death in February 1998, which had triggered a flood of emotions in the state, is still pending in the Calcutta High Court.

 Ramonita Shabar

Ramonita Shabar

Ramonita Shabar stays with her parents in the Barbazaar police station area under the Sindhri Panchayet in Fulzhore village. Her father Mahadeb Shabar was a former teacher in an informal school organised by the Paschimbanga Kheria Shabar Kalyan Samity (PBKSKS ). Despite pressures from the headmen of the Shabar ethnic group, her parents chose to support their daughter’s education.

From Class 3 to class 10, Ramonita’s schooling was in neighbouring Jharkhand state, and she attended Purulia’s Kasturba Gandhi High School in 11th and 12th standards. Afterwards, she studied at Patamda Degree College, affiliated with the Kolhan University in Jharkhand, and completed her undergraduation with a first-class degree in History. She enrolled in the Sidho Kanho Birsha University in West Bengal’s Purulia for the postgraduate programme in History.

During the time of the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19, she was given a laptop by the district administration to facilitate her studies, said Prashanta Rakshit, Director of PBKSKS. Ramonita is a fellow and at PBKSKS and receives Rs 4,000 per month as a stipend to continue her studies. PBKSKS started the fellowship to support Shabar youths in the field of education.

ramonita shabar with other leading members of PBKSKS

Ramonita shabar with other leading members of PBKSKS

The President of the governing body of PBKSKS is Ratnabali Shabar, another promising member of the community who completed her honours degree in History and is now studying for a diploma in museology at the Sidho Kanho Birsha University. Riding a scooter, she regularly visits the Shabar tollas (the Shabar hamlets) in the district to speak to the youths and enthuse them about entering the education field. The Shabar tollahs, where the Shabars stay, are situated outside villages as they were considered pariahs.

To take her academic achievements further, Ramonita is now preparing to sit for NET and SLET examinations with an eye on pursuing PhD in History.

Talking to Newsclick, Ramonita thanked her father, mother and the director of PBKSKS for being her inspiration and standing in her support when she needed it the most. It was PBKSKS that got the attention of the administration so that the various problems faced by Ramonita were solved during the Lockdown period. Now, Choten Lama, Secretary of the Tribal Welfare Department under the Government of West Bengal, has also offered to bear all costs of Ramonita’s education if she wants to move to Kolkata for further studies.

 ramonita shabar taking part in group discussion to shabar youths to come in the education field

Ramonita shabar taking part in group discussion to shabar youths to come in the education field

“In my free time, I want to enthuse the Shabar youth, especially our brothers, to take to education as most of the Shabar males do not complete their secondary or even primary education and are all school dropouts. Amidst the Shabar female students, the trend is marginally better. But during their teen years, they are married off. “This has to change,” she said to Newsclick.”

“If my achievement inspires any Shabar youth, that will be my greatest achievement,” said Ramonita, who, as a student, got 80% up number throughout her education.

“So far, the fight is with myself to excel in studies, and due to my career marks, I have never faced social ostracisation at the school, college or university levels. I want to get myself well established in the teaching field and make them (the Shabar community) understand the importance of studies,” She said.

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