Criminal Tribes Act 1871

Denying Dignity to Anti-British Rebels

B K Lodhi

Indian ‘lower castes and communities’, particularly those, who fought with arms against the British were treated by the English men as uncivilised and barbarous Tribes.

Rohilla war took place in 1773s, and an independent, peaceful Rohilkhand was taken by the British after a bloody war and brutal massacre of the local agrarian communities. As expected, many tribes and castes fled the country and became nomadic. Many might have become revengeful towards the British. Though some of them revolted with arms against British but could not stand. So they started fighting in guerrilla style in Rohilkhand. Thus, the Regulation Act No. XXII of 1793 was the first step taken by the British when they notified certain tribes of northern India as Criminals. (Mahasweta Devi, 1998)

After the Rohilla Revolt of Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand Revolt took place in 1842. This is also known as ‘Bundela Vidroh’, in which Lodhis, Gonds and Bundela played a vital role. It was spread in the entire central India i.e. the then united provinces of India. Since the rebellions could not be controlled by the army of the Company, the Governor General of Bundelkhand, Mr T H Medak, Political Agent as well as the Company Secretary announced that ‘those communities, who will abandon the Criminal tendency, the Governor General had promised to pardon them’. But Lodhis and Gonds continued their fighting, consequently, they were reckoned as habitual criminals in 1842 itself. (RakeshRatan Pal Singh, BundelkhandVidroh, and Mishra Jai Prakash, Bundela Rebellions–Mutiny, 1857)

There is historical evidence that a number of communities in the northern India were involved in rebellion against the British in 1857. These communities were used by the rebel princes and rajahs either directly to fight against the British, or were indirectly involved in a variety of ways in assisting their armies. As a result, these communities were brutally suppressed during 1857, and later declared Criminal Tribes under the Criminal Tribes ACT, 1871 (Ref. Renke commission).

After the failure of Mutiny of 1857, British Government passed Government of India Act, 1858 just after the revolution and thereby the entire administration of East India Company was taken over by the British Crown and appointed a secretary who was controlling and regulating the whole Country on the direction of the British Crown. The main reasons for enacting 1871 Act was revolt by the Tribal Communities against the British Empire.

Series of Criminal Tribes Act
*    In 1871, CTA, 1871 was enforced in North India.
*    In 1876, CTA, 1871 was enforced in Bengal Presidency.
*    In 1911, CTA, 1911 was enforced in Madras Presidency.
*    In 1924, CTA, 1924 was enforced in entire India.

Census of British India started in the year 1881, with main aim to identify the criminal tribes. As per census of British India, 1931 conducted for United Provinces (i.e. Northern India), the following Tribes were identified as Criminal Tribes: 1-Aheria* 2-Badak* (Badhik) 3-Bahelia* (Pasia) 4-Banjara 5-Bamyar* 6-Beria* 7-Bhar* 8-Bhawapuria 9-Bauria* 10-Chamar 11-Dom*12-Gandhila 13-Ghosi (Hindu) 14-Gujar 15-Habura* 16-Kevat 17-Khatik* 18-Kisan 19-Lodh 20-Mallah 21-Meo, Mevati, Mina or Mina Meo 22-Musahar* 23-Nat* 24-Ondhia 25-Palwar Dusadh*26-Pasi* 27-Rajput Muslim 28-Ranghar 29-Rind 30-Sawaurhiya* 31-Sansia* 32-Taga Bhat.

[Note-Those with an asterisk are also included under the untouchable and depressed classes. All can safely be regarded as backward classes.]

Repeal of the CT Act, 1924 in 1952
The CTA, 1924 was repealed by the Criminal Tribes Laws (Repeal) Act, 1952 on the recommendations of Criminal Enquiry Committee, headed by Shri Ananthasaynam Ayyangar. As a result, the tribes notified earlier as Criminal Tribes, stood Denotified, and the name ‘Denotified Tribes or VimuktJati’ is being used for them since then.

Even today so-called civilised society treats them as criminals. Stigma of criminality still remains till date; as a result, they are deprived of the human dignity and minimum basic rights.

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Vol 56, No. 33, Feb 11 - 17, 2024