Grace Charitable Trust is based in Masinagudi, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. The Nilgiris district, which is part of the Western Ghats mountain chain has a distinct tribal history and culture. The area has long being occupied by Adivasi (indigenous tribal people) who once survived as hunter-gatherers and grew food by shifting cultivation depending on forest and common pasture ground for their livelihood.
During the time of British Colonialism in the 1860’s and 1870’s common lands were taken for coffee and tea plantations and forests were made into state property, displacing the people and affecting their traditional ways of living. Today the whole area is criss-crossed by several National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Forestry Reserves and designated Elephant Corridors. Employment is scarce in the area due to animal conservation and these same animals make it too dangerous to walk through the jungle as risk of attacks from elephants, tigers or even snakes is ever present.
Wage labour is a major occupation for the local population; many Adivasi work in agricultural fields and farms, tea and coffee estates, brick kilns, construction work, etc. on daily wages, with migration for wage work a common feature among the employed. As the Adivasi parents are both busy, they leave early and come home late due to the distances they need to travel for work, they are unable to care properly for their children. They are not able to prepare them for, or take them to, school. Many parents have had little or no schooling themselves and are illiterate, therefore they are unable to help their children with their homework or studies.
With little or no public transport in many villages and families struggling to survive financially, the school drop out/non-attendance rates for Adivasi children was disappointingly high. In tribal area’s children still need much more help from the government. While the literacy rate in Tamil Nadu is claimed to be 80%, the rate for Tribal people is 41% with the female rate being even lower at 33%*.
* Census of India 2011: Primary Census Abstract – Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe