Education has proved to be a great social equaliser for the Gawdas and other tribals, including the Goan Christian Gawda community in the state. Gawdas were once the mainstay of the labour force in the state. Access to schools and institution of higher learning has changed the scene for the community over the years. Education has made them change their destiny of being a part of the labour force and seek better jobs. The state’s huge investment in education after Liberation appears to have paid off and the government can now boast of nearly 90 per cent of the state population as literate. While the people, especially from the lower strata of the society including tribals, have benefitted from investment in education Goa has lost a considerable number in the labour force due to the education as those who have acquired it prefer white collar jobs. The state has to now depend on migrant labour from other states. The influx of migrant population is increasing every year, causing a demographic change.
The tribals comprising Gawdas, including Christians, Kunbis and Velips account for 10.23 per cent of the state population and are spread across the state. Though they qualified to be STs they were included in the list of STs only in 2001. The population of STs in the state stands at a little over 1.49 lakh as per the 2011 census. Though a break-up of data with specific numbers and names of ST communities in every taluka is not available, the Christian Gowdas population is mostly concentrated in Salcete taluka, a sizeable number also being in Tiswadi and Bardez. The Nuvem village has the largest ST population among all villages with 3,634 of them. Incidentally the largest ST population is also recorded in Salcete and the total number of ST population in that taluka is 29,242. The lowest ST population is in Pernem taluka, where just 46 ST people live as per 2011 census put up by the tribal welfare department on its website.
The state’s high literacy rate at around 90 per cent has been complimented by quest for education among the backward communities including Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The literacy rate among SCs and STs is as high as 83.73 per cent and 79.14 per cent, respectively. However, the gender literacy gap between males and females is as high as 12.21 per cent (SCs) and 15.63 per cent (STs). The state-level literacy gap stands at 7.99 per cent. Goa has managed change the countrywide trend with regards to the welfare of STs, mainly due to availability of free education upto twelfth standard and desire of the tribals in the state to educate their children. Besides, the educated among the tribals have managed to get employment due to reservations, though there are a lot of vacancies reserved for STs are yet to be filled. Younger educated persons from ST communities have got employment in Goa and abroad, thus lifting the economic standards of their families. The state has, however, failed to give forest and other rights to the tribals perhaps due to lethargic attitude of the officials. Education has brought about change in the life of ST people, including the Christian Gawdas, but their presence in the government service is still not proportionate. The tribal communities have been fighting for filling of the backlog vacancies.
As education has helped the ST communities to give up their traditional occupation, providing them jobs in the government and private sector would go a long way to assimilate them in the mainstream of the Goan society. It is time the state government and the trade and industry bodies work out plans to absorb them in jobs with or without the advantage of reservation. A study conducted in the state has revealed that socio-economic conditions of 60 per cent of the tribal population are below the average standards. This clearly shows that the benefits of education and employment have not brought a majority of the tribal population out of their poor living conditions. Education along with job opportunities are vital parameters for a better tomorrow of the tribal population. Being industrious people the STs could contribute much more to the development of the state and help in changing the development scenario given the right opportunities. Both the public and private sectors must think about the problem facing the tribal population and help them come up. The private sector should consciously integrate uplift of tribals in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) plans.