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DNTs Rally Behind Congress Following Promises in Manifesto

The Congress party’s manifesto says that the party will study social and educational backwardness of the DNTs and will give separate reservation like that to the SCs and STs.
DNTs Rally Behind Congress

Image for representational use only.Image Courtesy : Firstpost

Pune: De-notified and nomadic tribes (DNT) across the 14 states have decided to rally behind Congress after the party’s promise to fulfil their decades-old demands regarding separate census and repealing of the Habitual Offenders Act.

As per Dada Bhiku Idate Commission – constituted in 2015 to survey the DNTs – 260 tribes fall under the DNTs category across India. In Maharashtra, 42 tribes are DNTs. The number of people belonging to the DNTs across India is expected to be about 15 crores, while in Maharashtra, it comes to about 1.5 crore.

Bharat Vitkar, president of DNT Adhikar Manch, an umbrella body of the DNT communities from 14 states, said, “DNTs still create an image of people staying on the roads or selling something at the traffic signals. They live in poverty. No attempt has been made to merge them with the mainstream.”

He added, “All DNTs have been demanding separate caste-based census, as there are different nomadic and de-notified tribes. They are also not together. It is important to understand their financial condition, education, whether they have houses or not, whether they still go from one village to the other and so many other factors. Otherwise, no policy or scheme can be formulated for their welfare.”

He added, “We met a team that was developing manifesto for the Congress party in February, and we shared with them all the suggestions. We were not really hopeful that our demands will be included in the manifesto, as we have faced betrayals from all the parties. Butwhen we saw that our demands have been included by the Congress, we have become hopeful that the party will implement them as well.”

Also read: Life of a Chhara: Plagued by Prejudice and Unimaginable Stigma

Another major demand that the Congress has considered is to repeal the Habitual Offenders Act.

In 1971, the British had implemented the Criminal Tribes Act under which many tribes were labelled as ‘criminals’ by birth. Those tribes were kept in the fences outside villages. In 1952, after five years of independence, India repealed the Criminal Tribes Act, but replaced it with the Habitual Offenders Act.

However, this Act was no relief to the DNTs, as the police and administration continued arresting or detaining them under this law. As per Vijay Chougule, member of DNT Adhikar Manch, “Over 30% inmates and under-trials in Yerawada Central Jail near Pune are from DNTs. One can understand that the condition in the other jails would not be any different.”

Vitkar said, “If any crime takes place, police detain or arrest the people from the DNTs in that area. Many times, the police make DNTs criminal when they don’t get real criminals. This Act has deterred many families from getting settled or doing any progress. We welcome this announcement by the Congress to repeal the Act. This will be helpful for hundreds of DNTs.”

Vikram Nat, a member of DNT Adhikar Manch from Rajasthan, too has welcomed this promise by the Congress. The party manifesto says that the party will study social and educational backwardness of the DNTs and will give separate reservation like that to the SCs and STs. Nat said, “In 1952, the Indian government gave the states freedom to give reservation to DNTs. Only Maharashtra has given 4% reservation by creating separate category for the DNTs. But other states included them in the SCs and STs.”

Dilip Pardeshi, another member of the DNT Adhikar Manch said, “The manifesto also mentions that DNT youth will be given vocational training to make them financially strong. This step is important as majority of the DNTs live in absolute poverty without having social and financial security.”

This reporter asked Vitkar whether the DNTs will vote for the BJP if it imitates these promises. “We no longer trust BJP. Instead of implementing recommendations by the Renake Commission constituted during UPA II to study the DNTs, BJP came up with a new commission under Dada Bhiku Idate. Idate commission gave its report in 2018, but BJP is yet to act on it. Besides, Idate Commission never met many organisations that have been at the forefront, raising issues of the DNTs. We don’t trust its report.”

He said, “Besides, during the BJP rule, Dalits and minorities are witnessing the worst of the times, as many lose lives to the spate of lynchings. DNTs are vulnerable to this. For example, two DNT youths have died in Police custody in Karad and Pune during the BJP rule. I don’t blame BJP for the deaths, but the state could have taken proactive measures to stop it. There were attempts at covering up the Pune incident. When we were looking for the kin of the victim, his family disappeared suddenly. This very system kept us outside the villages for centuries. How can it now give us justice?”

Mukari Algude, ex deputy mayor of Pune, told Newsclick, “During the last elections, many DNTs did vote for the BJP due to the promises given by Modi ji, but we have seen that no promise has been fulfilled. Hence, we will vote for Congress.”

Also read: How Caste Plays Out in the Criminal Justice System

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