Mahouts protest over order to enrol children only in government schools

BENGALURU: In a circular being described as ‘infringement on the rights of the student’, the Forest department has ordered mahouts and kavadis to enrol their children only to government schools. The reason, according to the department, was because mahouts and kavadis were sending their children to distant private schools it was adversely affecting “government work, forest and wildlife conservation.” Both mahouts and activists have decried the order and have demanded the department to withdraw the circular, which was against the interests of students and ‘reeked of conspiracy’.

The circular, issued on March 15 by Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Force), said that mahouts and kavadis working in different divisions and wildlife ranges, despite the presence of nearby government schools, were not enrolling their children in them. Rather, “they were enrolling in private schools far away from their residence or place of employment”.

Therefore, “in order to ensure the welfare of forest and wildlife conservation”, mahouts and kavadis have been hereby ordered to enroll their children in government schools, which is in the proximity of their residence or place of employment”, from the next academic year, the order read. It instructed all chief conservator of forests to implement the decision in their jurisdictions.

When contacted, Vasudev Sharma of Child Rights Trust said, that he largely saw a ‘conspiracy’ in the order. “It appears that the forest department fears that it may not have mahouts and kavadis, if the children of the existing lot are educated,” he said. Raju, a mahout employed with the forest department, hailing for Shivamogga district, questioned whether they were living in the British era. “If we tend to the elephants, does it mean we shouldn’t provide quality education to our children?” he questioned. He said that most of the mahouts and kavadis came from scheduled tribe communities and such circulars were detrimental to their welfare. Another mahout from Dubare, under the condition of anonymity, condemned the circular.

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