The Legacy Of British Raj

Plight of Denotified Tribes

B K Lodhi

[The National Human Rights Commission organised an important Open House Discussion on 19 January 2024 for the protection of human rights of the communities rebelling against British rule, called 'Denotified Tribes'. The Author, Dr B K Lodhi, former Deputy Secretary, National Commission for DNTs delivered a speech as a guest Speaker. Following is an abridged version of the speech.]

The Idate Commission has prepared a state-wise list of Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes of 36 States/ Union Territories as per the Letter of Resolution (TOR) submitted by the Government of India. The Commission has identified a total of 425 Denotified Tribes, 810 Nomadic Tribes and 22 Semi-nomadic Tribes across all the states. Thus, the total number of DNTs (Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribes) is 1257. Out of these, 269 Communities are not in any category of reservation and 89 DNTs either converted their caste or hid their caste identity due to not getting the benefit of reservation and social stigma was still adhered to them. DNTs are the most backward and marginalised people of the society. During colonial rule, these communities were notified as hereditary Criminal Tribes under the series of CTA, 1871-1924.After independence, the Government of India repealed the CTA, 1924 on 31 August 1952. Since then these stigmatised communities were called Denotified Tribes.

Entire DNTs may be divided in 3 sections:

1.    Settled Denotified Tribes
2.    Nomadic Denotified Tribes. (These both are stigmatised communities).
3.    Non-stigmatised Nomadic tribes are also in India who have adopted a nomadic lifestyle due to culture and tradition.

Though after repeal of CTA, 1924 the legal stigma of criminals has been removed from Ex-Criminal Tribes but the social stigma still adheres to them. Because in place of CTA, Habitual Offenders Act was imposed on the so-called Ex-Criminal Tribes in the same year, when CTA was repealed i.e. in 1952 itself. Though many states also repealed the Habitual Offenders Act, but there is no change in the behaviour of society and administration. Due to the prejudices of society and bureaucrats towards these communities, no effective positive policies are made in their favour; even if policies are made, they are not followed.

Even today, these people are an additional source of income for the police administration and an easy way to arrest these innocent people and send them to jail instead of catching the real criminals. Most of DNTs are in the SC, ST& OBC but being extremely backward they could not compete with other SC, ST and OBC. DNTs' shares are exhausted by others. The Justice Rohini Commission was constituted to sub-classify the OBC quota and the commission has also submitted its report to the Hon'ble President of India. Similarly, for the DNTs; SC, ST and OBC quota should either be sub-classified in proportion to DNT’s population or a third 'Schedule for DNTs' should be created. Such a recommendation has already been made by the Idate Commission.

Government of India and State Governments are running various schemes for upliftment of DNTs. To avail benefits meant for them they need first Denotified Tribe Caste Certificates / Domicile or residence Certificates / Identity Cards / Voter ID / BPL card etc. Strangely enough the governments of U P and M P do not issue a VimuktaJati Certificate to the DNTs.

The DNTs are facing social discrimination and atrocity by the police and denial of legal documents by the administration. Most of them are voiceless, landless and homeless. Representation of Nomadic and Semi- nomadic Tribes in the parliament and in the state's legislative assemblies even in the local panchayats is almost zero.

Amalgamation of Denotified (both settled and nomadic) Tribes and non-stigmatised Nomadic Tribes in one class is impractical and against the will of each other. The Non-stigmatised Nomadic Tribes sadly say that their ancestors were innocent; they never committed crimes, so they should not be included amongst the Denotified Tribes; they raise the objection to being called Denotified Tribes.

On the other hand, stigmatised Nomadic Tribes and settled Denotified Tribes do not like to be included in the same category. Whereas both the communities were notified as criminal tribes by the colonial rulers. Nomadic Tribes fear that the entire benefit of government schemes will be taken away by the settled Denotified Tribes because they are comparatively more powerful. The Settled Denotified Tribes also believe that their ancestors were actually freedom fighters. They were fighting against British rule and not ordinary suspected criminals like the nomadic tribes.

The biggest challenge faced by DNTs is that there is no constitutional commission at the national level to hear their complaints and problems. Technical Advisory Group-2006, Renke Commission-2008, Idate Commission-2018 and NITI Aayog have recommended to the Government of India in June 2018 for the formation of a permanent and constitutional National Commission for DNTs. Since the Chairperson of NITI Aayog is the Hon'ble Prime Minister himself, DNTs hope that a National Commission will be constituted for them likewise NCSC, NCST, National Commission for Minorities, NCBC. At present, Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Community Development and Welfare Board (DWBDNC) has been constituted under the Society Registration Act 1861 under the Ministry of Department of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Till the formation of the National Commission which is pending, a separate powerful wing should be formed in the National Human Rights Commission to hear their cases on priority basis.

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Vol 56, No. 42, Apr 14 - 20, 2024