Going To School In The Tribal Village Of Javvadu Hills In Tamil Nadu

Summer holidays are coming close to an end, and school season is beginning, to the excitement (or distress) of many children across India. But in remote villages, schools are often far away and difficult to reach. Many children have to take the most backbreaking routes in order to receive an education that for many is so easily attainable. From unsafe journeys in conflict areas, over hilly terrain, and across rivers, above shaky bridges and through flooded pathways, the road to the classroom remains rough and rickety for many children across India.

Living in thick forests, kilometers away from the nearest school, children in the Tribal Villages of Javvadu Hills, in the Eastern Ghats spread between the Thiruvannamalai and Vellore districts of Tamil Nadu, take on long, ardous journeys to reach school, everyday. 

On assignment with Aid India, running an integrated development program across 28 tribal villages (supported by NSE), populated by the Malayali and Irulu tribe, one of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) of Tamil Nadu, Smitha Tumuluru documents a day in the life of these tribal children as they take on their journey to school, waiting for that single autorickshaw that will take them to school. 

On a typical school day in the Javvadu hills… As the sun rises, a mother braids her daughter’s hair and helps her get ready for school…

Other children, like getting ready themselves… Meet 5 year old Sandhya who likes to powder her face and keep a pottu (bindi, red dot on forehead) all by herself. Sandhya and her 8 year brother, live with their grandmother in a village in Javvadu hills in Tamil Nadu. Her parents are migrant laborers, working in the plains near Ambur. They cannot afford to visit home often. Migration is a common problem in this area. With farm labour not paying enough money, most men and many women migrate in search of work, often with no choice but to leave their children behind.

With heavy school bags on their tiny shoulders, some children like 9 year old Saravanan and his sister, whose homes are nestled in the forest, away from the center of the village, they have to walk upto 2 kms one way, through dense foliage, in order to board an autorickshaw that takes them to school.

Many parents enroll their children into the residential tribal schools as their villages are remote and children have to walk several kms to school, especially the middle and high schools. Migration is also one of the primary reasons why children are enrolled into hostels.

Each morning, the children gather at the village center and await the autorickshaw to take them to school. Since Javvadu hills is a tribal area, the government pays for an auto service between the villages and school, to ensure children do not drop out due to lack of transport. The auto is often late on Mondays, as the driver is busy ferrying passengers to the market for the weekly village fair, keeping the children waiting.

The auto often arrives late. More children get into the auto rickshaw at every stop. By the second stop there are already more than 10 children. The auto stops further from its usual stop. Children run after the auto, in the hope of securing a seat. 

The auto-rickshaw makes a final stop. Worried mothers try their best to get their children onto the auto rickshaw, their only means of travel to school. 

A total of 26 children pack themselves into one auto (way above the auto capacity), making their journey to school on the bumpy and hilly roads of Javvadhu hills.

Photo Credits : Smitha Tumuluru

Words By : Smitha Tumuluru

Smitha Tumuluru is an independent portrait and documentary photographer based in Singapore. She travels regularly to India, especially Tamil Nadu on documentary assignments. Prior to becoming a photographer, she was a development professional for more than a decade, working with non-profit Aid India on education quality issues. Her grassroots work inspires her to use photography as a medium to document lives in rural India, and understand their realities more closely.

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