Who are the nomads?

The British Raj promulgated an oppressive law in 1871, called Criminal Tribes Act to suppress the then rising rebellions of various Tribal people against the British Raj. It is these tribal people who were driven out if their inhabitation and wandering for their survival,   by the British forces were called nomads and semi-nomads later.

In Tamil Nadu these nomads are scattered in many districts and live as small caste groups viz Kal oddars(who mend the stones for house-hold purposes), Thombars and Koravars are other caste groups.

The continuing harassments in Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu there are about 2000 families from these caste groups spread in various districts including Virudhunagar, Tutiocorin, Tirunelveli, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram & parts of Thanjavur.

Among them, only a handful have reached college education. Similarly, only a few have just started their school education.

Despite 73 years of Indian Independence education is still a dream for this section of the people.

After 1947, although many states of India began to ban the Criminal Tribe Act of 1871, the Union Government repealed this Act only in 1952. Whereas, the criminal cases foisted on these people have not stopped or dwindled.

Tamil Nadu Police Department continues to perceive these nomads as only hardcore criminals. The people, in general also perceive them as such. Therefore the Police wield their oppressive power against these nomads and harass them, indiscriminately. There are hundreds of criminal cases registered against them without rhyme or reason.

In 2016, 17 nomads from Madurai Dist (Motta hill tribes), including five children and women, who went to Kanyakumari district in search of their livelihood, were incarcerated and tortured for no reason.

The Women and Children were released under the direction of the Madurai High Court, only after Peoples’ Watch, a Human Rights Forum from Madurai intervened in the matter. Later NHRC, which held its sitting at Chennai in 2019, ordered for a compensation of Rs. One Lakh each to the victims and recommended to the Government to initiate appropriate action against the Police officials concerned. This is the status, by and large of the nomads in our society.

Livelihood & Government’s Welfare measure:

The nomads who were primarily into stone mending traditionally are into many sundry jobs like stove repairing wandering in the city lanes and rural areas without any shelter. They have no Ration cards, which are indispensible for availing any welfare measures announced by the Central & State Governments, from time to time. Hence no welfare measure reaches them.

As they are never a part of farming activity they are not eligible for protection under MGNREGA Scheme.

Under the Corona Lockdown, these nomads are literally starving.

Even the philanthropic gestures extended by some NGOs and voluntary groups have been stopped by the Tamil Nadu Government and the volunteers have been harassed by the Police, despite bringing these to the notice of the Authorities concerned by the Human Rights groups like Peoples’ Watch.

While the Criminal Tribe Act is still haunting them depriving them of the justified welfare measures they are undergoing inexplicable suffering particularly under Corona Lockdown.

Its a pity that Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act which should have been invoked sumoto against the authorities concerned by the Judiciary and the Executive is speechless at this time of crisis.

<Thanks to the detailed reports on the issue reported in Keetru.com, the  Tamil Web Portal.. and Reports of Peoples’ Watch, Madurai compiled by Pon Chandran>


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