The Nomadic and Denotified tribes constitute about five million of population in Maharashtra and about 60 million all over India. There are 313 Nomadic Tribes and 198 Denotified Tribes. Due to the wandering traditions over hundreds of years without any ostensible means of livelihood under the influence of the caste system, they are forced to live under sub human conditions. The large section of these tribes is known as "Vimukta jaatis" or the Ex-Criminal Tribes because they were branded as criminals by birth under the "Criminal Tribes Act 1871", enacted by the British Government. In spite of the repeal of the act in 1952, they are still treated as Criminals by birth and subjected to harassment and persecution at the hands of the police and the state machinery. However, they have been deprived of the status of Scheduled Tribes provided by the constitution due to certain historical circumstances and the acts of omission and commission on part of the Government and the society.
Criteria for Constitutional Safeguards
After Independence, under Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India certain tribes were classified as Scheduled Tribes and have been provided with constitutional safeguards under Article 342 (2) on a national basis. The classification was made on the basis of the following criteria, which are fulfilled by the NT's and the DNT's being the most depressed sections of society.
A majority of the Nomadic and Denotified tribes exhibit the primitive traits even today. They still live in tribal groups moving from place to place in caravans in search of livelihood. The various practices like worship of nature in different forms, animal sacrifices during religious ceremonies, adorning head with horn (Banjara woman), not wearing a blouse (Wadar woman) are only a few of them to demonstrate this fact. Their social life is still governed by Jat Panchayats , a primitive form of social organization. Every year they assemble at Madhi a village in Nagar district of Maharashtra state, in annual fair where the sessions held by the Jat Panchayats of each tribe sort out various issues pertaining to individual and social problems.
Distinct Cultural Identity
The Nomadic and Denotified tribes have a rich heritage of culture that is distinctly different from other social groups and can be easily identified by their dress, dialect, folklore, customs and practices. Their life style and the profession display these characteristics in every social encounter.
From generation after generation, these tribes have had wandering traditions and they have hardly been integrated in the society. In fact, the society has always looked at them with mistrust and suspicion due to the stigma of criminality attached with them. In that sense they have been living a life of isolation from the rest of the society. Some of these tribes still prefer to stay near jungle, away from the villages. Their temporary settlements are known as pal or pada.
The Nomadic and Denotified tribals have no means of production and livelihood as a result of which they have to move from village to village in the form of a caravan. Also, the children are deprived of education. They cannot take education through regular school systems in a settled society due to this unstable life style. They are left away from the mainstream of life and their life is fossilized in poverty, superstition and ignorance. They have remained backward economically and socially. Apart from the criteria mentioned above there are two other criteria which make these tribes eligible for having constitutional safeguards which are enjoyed by the Scheduled Tribes.
Nomadic Way of Life
As already mentioned these tribes have wandering traditions. In absence of any means of survival and lack of education to fit into the settled society they are forced to continue with this tradition for bare survival in the most degrading and sub human conditions. Thousands of families belonging to these tribes wander from place to place and stay in temporary structures rarely fit for humans beings to stay. Unless they settle at one place or another, unless they are provided with opportunities of education and employment they will never be in a position to integrate themselves in the society and avail of the benefits of modern civil life.
Stigma and Criminality
Though Criminal Tribes Act was repealed in 1952 the stigma of criminality is still attached with them. Due to this stigma they are the victims of persecution and torture at the hands of the British and the state machinery. Anywhere an act of theft or robbery takes place persons belonging to these tribes in the surrounding area are arrested and subjected to various forms of torture. In the eyes of the society they are still criminals, and a wide gulf exists between them and the rest of the society.
Historical Perspective of the Problem
In the year 1950, the list of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was released. The Criminal Tribes Act was repealed in 1952. Though the Criminal Tribes Act Enquiry committee had categorically made the recommendations to the Central Government regarding these tribes they were deprived of the Constitutional safeguards due to both the acts of commission and omission. Thereafter the issue was swept aside due to the conflicts of the state formation on the linguistic pattern and these tribes in Maharashtra became victims in the process.
Following the linguistic pattern of state formation the territory of the early Nizam state was shared by Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. While the tribes in the territory included in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka enjoy the constitutional status and priviliedges, the same tribes in the territory of Marathwada region included in Maharashtra are deprived of it for no fault of theirs. Similarly, it is ironical that tribes like the Kaikadi and Pardhi in Vidarbha, which was previously a part of Madhya Pradesh, enjoy the constitutional status, in the rest of Maharashtra they are deprived of it. Since the Nomadic and the Denotified tribes which form the lowest rungs of the society fulfill all the criteria applicable to the ST they enjoy the constitutional status in most other states. Unfortunately, their counterparts in Maharashtra, though they share the same dialect, life style, cultural practices, social customs and blood relations they are deprived of the status of the Schedule Tribes. Instead of doing away with the injustice, the government went on including more and more castes and tribes in the Schedule of the NT's and DNT's pushing the original tribe against the wall.
A Brief History of Movement
The Nomadic and Denotified tribes have been fighting for justice since 1972. Unfortunately, no attention has been paid by the Government to this just and rightful demand. Following is a brief summary of the efforts that have been on this issue.
On 14th November 1985, a statewide Rasta Roko agitation.
On 14th November 1986, Birhad Morcha on Nasik jail. About 10,000 families belonging to these tribes took out a morcha in Nasik jail demanding arrest and imprisonment if the Government fails to provide Constitutional safeguards.
In June 1987, organized Pardhi Parishad making similar demand.
In Oct 1987, Birhad Morcha was organized at Chalisgaon.
On 25th April 1988, Manifesto of demands was submitted to the Governor of Maharashtra and filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court for their demands.
On 31st March 1989, a memorandum was submitted to the late Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister through Sharad Pawar, the Chief minister of Maharashtra.
On the 10th and 11th of November 1990, the attention of the State government was again drawn to the age old demand of these tribes by going on a fast on the eve of a winter session of Maharashtra assembly in Nagpur.
The present Chief Minister is well aware of the problems and the demands of these tribes and also about the history of the movements of these tribes on the issue. Now the time has come for these tribes to put the Chief Minister to test and launch a decisive fight against the discrimination and injustice meted out against the tribes.
The Government of Maharashtra, has already declared its decision of implementation of recommendations of Mandal commission. Since the Nomadic and Denotified tribes have been clubbed with other advanced sections of the society in the Mandal Commission Report, they will never be in a position to avail any benefit out of it. On the contrary, it has done a lot of injustice to the tribes in the original Schedule of NT's and DNT's.
In these circumstances the NT's and DNT's are left with no alternative but to prepare themselves for protracted struggle against the injustice to secure their demand of classification equivalent to Schedule Tribes. The NT's and DNT's have no intention of cutting into the share of the present Schedule Tribes. On the other hand, they demand that they should be included in a separate schedule having a constitutional status equal to the ST's. The ST's are not their foes but their allies in the struggle. It is possible to classify these tribes as Schedule tribes by a notification issued by the President of India. We may quote here that a similar act of omission in respect of certain tribes in Nagaland was corrected by the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in a similar fashion. The Nomadic and Denotified Tribes are National tribes. They have no place of their own. Hitherto, their life is a long tale of suffering and persecution due to the absence of a means of livelihood and the stigma of criminality attached to them by the sedentary society. While it may take years and years to remove this stigma, the injustice meted out to them due to the act of omission and neglect could well be corrected without any further delay. It will be impossible for these tribes to enjoy human rights or the civil rights available to the citizens of India unless there is a positive intervention of the government in the form of Constitutional safeguards.
A List of NT's and DNT's in the original schedule:
It is seen from the above table that the constitutional rights available to the NTs and DNTs in many states are not available to those in Maharashtra. According to sections 19, 20, and 21 the citizens are guaranteed with the right to settle in any part of the country. However, the members of these tribes can do so only at the cost of their constitutional safeguards which amounts to a gross injustice to them.
Tribewise classification in different states: Some examples