In colonial India, through the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, some tribal communities came to be unjustly “notified” as “criminal tribes”. This act of stigmatisation led to their socio-economic marginalisation and abuse. On August 31, 1952, five years after India’s Independence, the Criminal Tribes Act was repealed, thereby “de-notifying” these communities. Since then, August 31 has been observed as Vimukti Diwas (Liberation Day) every year.
Even after 70 years of “de-notification” of the erstwhile “criminal tribes”, the agenda of the liberation of these communities remains unfulfilled. Nomadic Tribes and De-Notified Tribes (NT-DNTs) across the country continue to carry the stigma of criminality and routinely face oppression. Their lives witness denials of fundamental rights and access to livelihood opportunities, housing, social security, education and healthcare. In addition, women and girls from these communities face harassment and violence.
ActionAid Association has been striving to secure rights and a life of dignity for NT-DNT communities. Vimukti Diwas is an opportune occasion to amplify voices from the grassroots and to call for policy action to address the causes of structural barriers that adversely affect these vulnerable communities. In Rajasthan, together with the State Alliance Group for De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes and Ghumantu Sajha Manch, we organised a state-level convention of NT-DNT communities on August 31 in Jaipur. Community members spoke about the issues they faced, including those related to land rights, rehabilitation and resettlement, education and social security, among other entitlements. They called for the constitution of an NT-DNT Board and a Special Component Plan for NT-DNT communities with adequate budget allocation. Sh. Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, Honourable Cabinet Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Government of Rajasthan, graced the programme. The Hon’ble Minister assured that his ministry would take urgent steps to address the issues faced by NT-DNT communities and enable their access to rights and entitlements. More than 2,000 people belonging to NT-DNT communities from across the state participated in this convention.
We also organised a programme in Tonk, Rajasthan, on Vimukti Diwas with Ghumantu Sajha Manch, Tonk. Community members used the medium of songs and plays to highlight their concerns and demands, including calling for reservations for members from NT-DNT communities. As part of this event, the girls from NT-DNT communities who have passed Classes X and XII were also felicitated to promote girls’ education. Officials from the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Department of Child Rights were also present at the programme.
On this occasion, our team in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, facilitated meetings of the marginalised Karori community. Similar programmes were organised in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with the most vulnerable NT-DNT communities – Banjara, Davari Gosavi, Ghisadi, Gosavi, Nandiwale, Pardhi, Sapera and Wadar – to highlight the need to promote their rights and entitlements. Community members shared about the incidents of discrimination and abuse they faced and re-emphasised their demands on social protection, healthcare, education and livelihood.