I want to share one of the incidents that I encountered recently. But before that, I would like to set the context.
I am a student at IIM Ahmedabad (PGP 2). As a part of my curriculum, I have taken a course called TSM (Transformational Social Movement) where we have been taught about many social movements by our professor, Dr. Sandip Pandey, who himself is a popular activist. In this course only I came to know about a community called “Chharas” one of the denotified tribes of India. This was the first time I heard of them. In that class, Mr. Dakxin Bajrange shared how they are being harassed and how they have been discriminated from all the facilities provided by the government.
After listening to their story, we felt very shaken by the fact that though we are near our 73rd Independence Day, we are not yet free from the prejudice and the backdated mentality. Still, we cannot think a human to be a human. We try to associate caste and race with them. I wanted to learn more about their history to know why are they treated like this.
After searching about them on the internet, my classmate and I were keen to know more about them from them itself, so we planned to visit Chharanagar- a place in Ahmedabad where around 15000 Chharas lives. So we booked a cab to go to our destination. While traveling the first question that the cab driver asked us was why we were going to Chharanagar as thieves live there. He also started describing us about Chharas- “Daaru bohot pite hain, Chori bhi karte hain, Apse itne paayar se baat karenge ki aap samajh hi nahi paoge” – (They drink lots of alcohol, stealing is their profession, but they will talk with you with such politeness that you will not understand). These were the first level of information that we got. After listing to the cab driver, I was a little bit scared but our interest increase manifold.
DENOTIFIED AND NOMADIC TRIBES (DNTs):
Who are they?
Listed originally under Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 as Criminal Tribes and “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offenses”, also known as “Vimukta Jati”. Around 110 million people belonging to these tribes. CTA 1952, repealed the notification, i.e. ‘de-notified’ the tribal communities. They were replaced by a series of Habitual Offenders Acts, that asked the police to investigate a “suspect’s” “criminal tendencies“. They are one of the 198 communities that were labeled as born criminals by the British. They were confined to prison labour camps in 1933 and remained there until 1952. Though the Criminal Tribes act has been repealed, however, they are largely excluded from society. Arbitrary detention and extortion are commonly faced by the Chhara tribe, even today.
THE FIRST IMPRESSION:
When we reached there, it was late in the evening around 6.40 pm. The place was filthy and not hygienic; the condition of the road was pathetic. Though there were many shops open, they were also not up to the mark. And we saw many people sitting in front of their house and passing their time chitchatting with others.
After spending some time outside and looking around, we went to the room that they call “Library.” There were many books of different genres and different language inside the room. There we had a long discussion with on the Chharas Mr. Atish Indrekar. He is an activist and a graduate in dramatist too.
After a long and insightful discussion, we got to know that they are facing lots of problems.
Lack of Basic Civic Amenities: They do get proper drinking water. They only get water supply for 2 hours. 1 hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. But out of the 1 hour for the first 40 minutes, the water that comes out is foul and not drinkable. They do not have a proper drainage system and as Chharanagar is little bit low land area as compared to the surrounding, so even in case little rainfall water clogging happens in the whole city. There was very less street light in the area, and they were only on the main roads only. They were deprived of primary healthcare. There is no hospital or Anganwadi for the community. There was no community center or park or playground.
Lack of Educational Opportunities: Though there are two primary schools, only Dalits and Chhara go to the schools. Even there, they do not get proper education because of the lack of teacher, or the teacher being reluctant to teach lower cast student. There is no scope for higher education nearby. They cannot pursue Science streams due to expensive tuition fees. And coming to private school though they got admission to the schools through Right To Education act but they face discrimination from the teacher. They are asked to sit at last and their questions are not entertained.
Lack of Financing for Businesses: No bank provides them loan. Though they have a branch of State Bank of India in their area there too mostly Sindhi people work. And they do not co-operate with them in any of the banking services.
Lack of Employment Opportunities: Mr. Atish confessed that they make liquor as their livelihood, but the reason behind is that is lack of opportunity in the private job or the government job. So they are a force to do an illegal activity to provide for the family. He also mentioned that though their previous generation was more involved in the unlawful actions, but current generation tries to be far away from such activities.
Socio-Political Disturbances: We grant police as our saviour, but for them, the police is a threat as they are harassed by the policed and that in a regular basis. Police come for a raid in their house in the midnight. And this continues 20 out of 30 days. Mostly raids are arbitrary and without any warrant. It is just to harass them and to frighten them.
CURRENT MEASURES TAKEN BY THEM:
Chharas are trying to work together with DNT tribes in other states to fight for their rights and demands. They are using theatre, plays, exhibition, etc. to attract the attention of others and sensitize them. Currently, their language is about to become obsolete so they are trying to preserve their “Bhantu Language” in collaboration with CIIL, Mysore.
These are the suggestion that we have given them.
- Contribution from Successful Individuals: Successful members of the community should be encouraged to lead the cause of other community members
- De-addiction Centers: De-addiction centers should be started in the community to reduce alcohol and drug addiction
- Lobbying with the government: More effort should be put in lobbying with the government as structural changes are needed
After talking with Mr. Atish Indrekar, our view was completely changed. They are not like the one described by the cab driver. “We do not hide our identity and will never hide it ”- This is what he said at last. The kind of knowledge that he has, and I think many of them I do not believe they need to hide it to prove themselves. I think they can be a great contributor to build a greater India if the government provides them the necessary opportunity.
Rudrakar Mondal was a student of Jadavpur University and currently pursuing MBA in IIM AHMEDABAD.