History Of Exclusion

Criminal Tribes and Denotified Tribes

B K Lodhi

The historical journey of categorising and including or excluding various groups in the constitutional framework of India is a complex and evolving narrative. In 1919, the Government of India Act introduced the concept of the "Depressed Class", encompassing Criminal Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, Forest Tribes, Untouchables, and backward Hindus. This classification aimed to reserve seats for these communities in state and central assemblies through nomination.

However, when the Simon Commission reviewed the consequences of the enactment of this Act, 10 years later, on the advocacy of B R Ambedkar, only untouchable Hindus were included in the Depressed Class for reservation. Criminal Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, Forest Tribes, and 'Touchable backward Hindus' (later termed OBC) were excluded from this category. Over time, the 'Depressed Class' evolved into what people now know as the 'Scheduled Caste’. However, the efforts of Thakkar Bapa, a prominent social activist for Tribals, played a crucial role in recognising the unique challenges faced by different types of indigenous tribal groups i.e. Criminal Tribes, Nomadic Tribes and Forest Tribes. The Government of India Act in 1935, influenced by a report by a Joint Select Committee led by Lord Linlithgow, granted constitutional status as Scheduled Tribes to these groups. This marked a significant shift, acknowledging their distinct identities and concerns.

Criminal Tribes were initially categorised as communities not adhering to any religion, enumerated separately from Hindus in the 1911 Census. In 1935, the British government identified a 'Schedule of Tribes' comprising diverse indigenous tribal groups, including Criminal Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, and forest dwellers. By 1937, both Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were granted affirmative action rights and political representation.

 Post-independence in 1947, the Indian Constitution continued affirmative action for the now designated 'Scheduled Castes' and 'Scheduled Tribes.' However, Criminal Tribes and Nomadic Tribes were unfortunately deprived of constitutional status and excluded from the Schedule of Tribes, on the basis of this fallacy that since the Criminal Tribes are more backward than the scheduled Castes, Forest Tribes and hill Tribes, hence by including them in the Scheduled Tribes, they will not be able to get the benefit of reservation.

Despite meeting the criteria for SCs, STs, and OBCs, 269 De-notified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs) were left off the list. Recognising this gap, the NITI Aayog initiated an ethnographic survey through the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) to include these overlooked communities in appropriate categories of reservation.

In summary, the historical trajectory reveals the intricate interplay of societal classifications and constitutional amendments, reflecting the evolving understanding of inclusivity and the ongoing efforts to address historical inequities and provide representation and opportunities for marginalised communities in India.

[Author is the National Coordinator, Intellectual Cell of Vimukt, Ghumantu Janjati Parishad–AI]

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Vol 56, No. 28, Jan 7 - 13, 2024