Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > July 21, 2007 > Need for a Just Deal for Denotified and Nomadic Tribes

Mainstream VOL XLV, No 31

Need for a Just Deal for Denotified and Nomadic Tribes

Saturday 21 July 2007, by Bharat Dogra


It is generally not realised that as many as 120 million people in India belong to the denotified and nomadic tribes (DNTs). They are among the worst victims of neglect and oppression. Denotified tribes include various tribes which were unjustly notified as ‘criminal tribes’ under the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 (or its amendments) during the years of British rule and following independence these were ‘denotified’. Various nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes may be pastoral groups (such as van gujars of Uttarakhand), or they may have artisan based livelihood (like godalia lohars or blacksmiths of Rajasthan) or else they may derive livelihood based on medicinal herbs, acrobatics, folk arts, etc.

Recently some attention could be focussed on the suffering and tragic plight of these neglected groups due to the efforts of dedicated social activists and the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi Nomadic Tribes. This Commission submitted its Interim Report recently. It is important to take note of some important observations of this Commission.

“The Commission was shocked to notice the living conditions of large section of these people during its field visits. It was appalled by the fact that some of these communities are far away from receiving the benefits of freedom and social justice even though they are classified as ST, SC or OBC. The welfare measures implemented for these groups either have not reached them or are irrelevant in their context. Those among the concerned communities who got the benefits of welfare are basically the ones who are better off and organised and the vulnerable groups are completely left out of their reach....

“The nomads nurture a feeling that independence of the country has no meaning for them, as their condition has become worse in the more recent past....

“Several groups among these communities across the States, in both urban and rural sectors, are seen dwelling in temporary shelters or tents on vacant lands. These people have no permanent addresses; hence they have got no land allocation for housing purpose. With no proof of residence or property ownership certificates, they are not in a position to avail ration cards and have not been included in the BPL list.With no certification of their residence, they also face a lot of trouble in getting the caste certificate, which results further in not being able to avail government welfare schemes....

“In the name of change of occupation, the people are encountering dehumanisation and deterioration of character, sometimes being forced to move away from morality and ethics due to their vulnerability....

“The people concerned have no stakes in the decision-making processes of the state. They are not a part of the gram panchayats as they are severely discriminated against, and inhabit the outskirts of a village....

“Among the extremely patriarchal nomadic communities there is hardly any protection for women, and the progressive property laws and laws for the dignity of women have virtually no relevance to the women in these communities. Living utterly undignified lives in destitute conditions, they are subject to maltreatment and abuse by all—the family, the community and the society at large. Having no shelter or support, they fall victim to every kind of social harassment and torture.”

This report says that long after the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 attached the stigma of criminality to these communities, the people of the communities are still harassed and persecuted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Proceduce Code.

In addition the nomadic communities also suffer. As this report says, “Generally, it is understood by the goverment as well as by the activists that atrocities are perpetrated on the tribes considered ‘criminal’; however, the fact is, that the nomadic communities which are scattered and in today’s circumstances dehumanised into begging or other illegal activities at the bottom most level are being victimised on a growing scale. As was often reported by the people, they are harassed more often under Acts like the Prevention of Beggary Act. If they are caught begging, they are allowed to carry out the same only after agreeing to pay regular cuts to the officials, the non-payment of which may result in persecution. The same is true about other communities in the context of the Wildlife Protection Act, the Act for Prevention of Cruelry to Animals, the Act for Prevention of Magic and Drugs. These are the laws that have destroyed traditional livelihood supports, with no thought given to destroyed traditional liverlihood supports, with no thought given to providing any alternative means of livelihood.”

BASED on these observations the Commission has made a number of interim recommendations aimed mainly at helping the DNTs to make better use of existing government programmes.

Recommendations to provide essential facilities for the settlements of the DNTs and some land to the landless have also been made.
For implemending welfare schemes for the DNTs it is describle that these Tribes are identified and State/UT-wise lists of various such Tribes are made. Moreover, to have a correct estimate of their population the Commission has recommended as desirable that the Union Government initiate steps to enumerate the DNTs in the next census due in 2011.

“A large number of DNT families earn their livelihood by selling vegetables, fruits, Datun, second hand clothes and many other similar articles as street vendors/hawkers/peddlers. However, they face difficulties in getting licenses from the Local Bodies. It is suggested that special market zones may be developed at suitable places in large cities, giving them priority in the allocation of space. Such special markets exist in several cities but under the titles of ‘Bhikbazar’ or ‘Chorbazar’, which actually are the poor man’s markets. These should be turned into dignified market places for the DNTs with priority given in space allocation for them.

“One of the major problems being faced by the Denotified Tribes is a continuing stigma of criminality about them and which has made them vulnerable to frequent police action merely on the basis of suspicion arising out of the stigma of criminality. It is, therefore, necessary that the Denotified Tribes get rid of this stigma at the earliest and live a dignified life like the mainstream citizenary of the country.”

It is also suggested that a senior police officer at the district level be specially authorised to hear the grievances of misuse of law against the members of the Denotified Tribes. Efforts need to be made by the Election Commission and the State governments to undertake a special campaign for inclusion of their names in the voters’ list.

In an important recommendation, the report says: “It is desirable that a regular National Commission on the lines of National Commission for Scheduled Castes is constituted to aid and assist the Union and State governments to review and monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribes. The National Commission may be created by an Act of Parliament and may be appropriately empowered to successfully implement its mandate including the preparation of an annual report to be presented to the Parliament.”

While these various recommendations are useful, it is hoped that at the time of making the final recommendations, the Commission will also look beyond the existing government schemes to ensure how the livelihoods of the DNTs based on their numerous existing skills can be protected and strengthened. n

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