By Aravindha Raj R*
Denotified Tribes (DNTs) are the tribes which were listed by British under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 which notified certain tribes as “criminals,” regardless of the activities of individual members. The DNTs being a nomadic group have remained outside the Indian constitution and have not received any constitution rights and welfare activities. The Criminals Tribe Act was revoked, and Habitual offenders act was implemented on 31st August 1952. The significant difference between the previous act and new act was that the later targeted individuals and not communities. But on the reality, the same procedure was followed till date.
Rights in Independent India:
Even though these tribes were denotified in 1952, they were obligated to give attendance at the police station, their mobility was restricted, and advance permission for any long-distance travel. Penalties were severe, and the police regularly gathered members of these tribes upon mere suspicion. Even in the 21st century, they face severe harassment by government officials and enforcement agencies. Since most of the tribes are nomadic/ semi-nomadic, they don’t pose any residential proof due to which they were not in official records and don’t receive any government’s development and welfare scheme.
In 2005, after 58 years of independence, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment commissioned NCDNT (National Commission for Denotified tribes [DNT], Nomadic tribes (NT) and Semi-Nomadic Tribes[SNT]) to study various development aspects of DNT in India.
The Balkrishna Renke Commission (2008) and Bhiku Ramji Idate Commission(2018) revealed that even after Independence, these tribes continue to fare poorly in literacy, housing, employment, or living conditions. It also revealed that 89 percent of the denotified communities and 98 percent communities did not own any land.
The recommendation from Renke commission found and echo in Idate commission. The primary recommendation was as follows:
- Based on a survey in 29 states and seven Union Territories, there are 1,658 denotified tribes having a population of 15 crores, and most of them miss out on social benefits.
- Government to conduct a community-wide census to gather specific data about nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and denotified tribes.
- Reservation extension in education and job to Denotified, Nomadic/ semi-nomadic tribe categories.
- Extension of SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act to DNT.
- A Minimum Land Holding Act that guarantees land for settlement and agricultural and other development activities.
- Suitable training to develop their existing skills and develop livelihood options.
- Pre- and Post-matric Scholarship to DNT students.
- Construction of separate Hostels for DNT students.
In 2014-15, the government implemented two schemes, namely Pre- and Post- matric scholarship and construction of hostels for DNT students. And The Union Cabinet approved the constitution of permanent welfare and development board for denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes in 2019.
Although there have been various instances in which DNTs and nomadic tribes fought for their rights, these battles were few and far between. Some DNTs like the Vadda or Vaddars in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Bhars in Uttar Pradesh are politically influential; they represent only their community and not DNT as a whole. Various leaders/ activists such as Mahasweta Devi, Dakxin Bajrange, Mittal Patel, etc. worked issues related to academics and social activism for the denotified tribes.
Even though the Idate commission roughly estimated the population of DNT to be about 10% of the population (15 crores), unlike the Dalits and other marginalized communities, they never had the scope to represent themselves in the formation of the Constitution and thus have remained unrepresented in the national level. DNT’s realized the importance of constitutional reservation and thus formed the National Alliance Group (NAG) for Denotified Tribes. It concerns are social, developmental, cultural, and even literary with new and throbbing current political zeal.
DNT’s future objective should be as follows:
- The Idate Commission report to be made public and they should focus on initiatives suggested by both the commissions.
- With the formation of permanent welfare and development board for Denotified, nomadic, and semi-nomadic tribes, the DNT rights will be reserved and will be able to receive government welfare and development schemes.
- There is a need for establishing society-wide changes for DNTs to gain access to political-social-economic welfare.
- Their nomadic lifestyle requires development policies that cater to the specific needs of the community.
- Legal reforms to be introduced addressing the multitude of issues that DNT faces.
- Apart from social activism and educational reform, they should focus on reservation political representation for DNT’s so that their requirement/ concerns will be addressed in the parliament and better reforms will be implemented for the betterment of the communities.
- They should make the government conduct a community-wide survey to gather specific data about 1,500 nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and 150 denotified tribes. Based on the report, the board will work on a plan to extend reservation to these communities.
- Bring all the DNT people under the Indian constitution and providing them welfare and development.
- Introducing change in the constitution regarding the Denotified tribes and protecting them from the abuses and harassment from the police and officials.
- The government should introduce a programme with the goal of development of Denotified Tribes.
Even though the constitution and the government were able to maintain the fundamental rights for the majority of the population in India, the law won’t be complete without providing the rights for all of the people. The celebration of almost 13 crore people on 31st August (day of enactment of Habitual Offenders Act [HAO], 1952) provides the sense of the problem. Thus with the measures mentioned above, all the constitutional and democratic rights will be instilled throughout India without any discrimination.
*PGP2, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, Class of 2020; B Tech Mechanical Engineering, NIT Tiruchirappalli, Class of 2015