Melghat to Mumbai: Searching For Justice

Around 30 tribals in danger of losing steady employment in govt. schools and community shelters because of a recently passed order have travelled over 500 kilometres in the hope that their story of despair finds a sympathetic ear in the administration. So far, in spite of their best efforts, their non-violent pleas for justice have gone unheard.

Community Correspondent Amol Lalzare, a resident of Mumbai heard about their struggles from a friend. With his camera, he made a trip to the city’s most prominent space for public protest – Azad Maidan, where the community had set up camp.

The tribals belonged to the Melghat region in the Amravati district of the state of Maharashtra. Most had been employed for the past decade as cooks and helpers in the institutions. But a govt. rule declaring that all employees at their level must have cleared primary school has put their jobs in jeopardy. They claim that the government has shown no understanding of ground realities when the rule was passed.

Literacy levels among the tribals of Maharasthra are as low as 11%. Melghat is a remote and forested region where the tribal population lives hand-to-mouth. Job opportunities are limited. Even the jobs at the school and centre only paid a paltry Rs.32/- a day. Imposing new terms and conditions on the workers so suddenly and with complete disregard to local conditions and the accumulated hands-on experience of the workers is unfair, say the long term employees.

The protestors are all contract workers who work on a daily wage basis. Given their experience, they should be looked at for being made permanent. But instead of supporting their lives, the government seems bent on taking away their livelihood.

Their long journey to Mumbai, to the offices of their representatives has only met with despair. Water resources minister Sunil Tatkare (currently facing accusation sin Rs. 25,000 crore land scam) gave them one and a half minutes of face time. The Ministry of Tribal Welfare has been unreachable.

The protest continues at Azad Maidan among banners and slogans. But there is no solace and no justice. Even after a long journey and a sustained non-violent protest, they still haven’t found that one kind ear that they were looking for.

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