Why De-notified Tribes can be a fresh headache for Gujarat government
The recent assault by Ahmedabad Police on one of the most vulnerable and marginalised Chhara community has led to the predictable fallout of Chharas organising themselves and galvanising the support of the other De-notified Tribes (DNTs) for their common cause. The community has launched an initiative for a mass outreach programme among the DNTs.
The Chharas plan to take out a DNT Sampark Yatra from Kaleshwari in Lunawada to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad beginning August 12.
“We will be mainly moving on bikes but some distance prior to a DNT settlement we will cover on foot. We will cover ten districts of Gujarat in this Yatra and there will be participation of people from 15 districts of the state. We will have interactions with the DNT members at various settlement on the issues concerning them and what needs to be done to do away the social exclusion that the DNTs face,” said Dakxin Chhara, a theatre and social activist.
The Yatra is being held under the combined aegis of All India DNT Welfare Sangh, DNT Adhikar Manch and Budhan Theatre. The reason to start the event from Kaleshwari is that this is the venue where the DNTs held the first gathering in the form of a fair in 1999 following the advise of eminent writer and activist Mahasweta Devi. Since then it has become an annual event where DNTs from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and even the North East gather every year for a cultural exchange in the form of dances, songs poetry and theatre. Mahasweta Devi and eminent linguist Ganesh Devy have done a lot of work for the welfare of Chharas and the result has been the emergence of a cultural and legal leadership in the community that has produced theatre artists, photographers, film makers, journalists and lawyers. The two even helped set up a library in Chharanagar that despite being small has some of the rare books in its collection.
After the Yatra, the DNTs in Gujarat plan to confront the state government with their core demands. “Our first demand is about the state government closing down the scholarships a couple of months ago that was given to the DNT students studying in private institutions. No reasons have been given to us for closing down the incentive. There are at least 70 lakh people who belong to the 40 different DNTs like Madari, Dafer, Devipujak and Chhara communities in the state. Out of these at least 15 lakh to 20 lakh are students and all of these do not go to government institutions. A large number of them are enrolled in institutions that get grants from the government,” Daxkin added.
The second demand of the DNTs is about land rights. They say that hardly ten per cent of the DNTs have land holdings while the rest work as farm labourers or take land on lease for farming in the rural areas. This is a major reason for their marginalisation.
“Another demand of the DNTs is 11 per cent reservation in government educational institutions and jobs on the lines of Maharashtra. The children of the DNTs that live in poor settlements with not even basic amenities available to them cannot be expected to compete with the other communities. They need this facility,” Dakxin said.
Besides these issues the other key topic that will be discussed at the DNT settlements during the Yatra will be the denial of appropriate compensation to the victims of spate of lynchings who happen to come from the poorest of the poor. A case in point is the killing of Shanti Devi Madari who was attacked by a mob of 30 people in Vadaj area of Ahmedabad on 26 June.
The episode at Chharanagar last week where the Police created mayhem while not even sparing women and children has resulted in the Chharas carrying out a sustained agitation against their marginalization and exclusion from the social main stream. There are two theories for the Police resorting to violence and arson. The first is that it was sparked by a skirmish between two 'inebriated' Chhara youth and a cop. The second is that the cops were carrying out a rain against illicit distillation of liquor and the Chharas tried to stop them from carrying out their jobs.
The Chharas now plan to convert a successful online campaign into an off line one. “We have sought due permission following which 100 youngsters in groups of ten will descend on important crossroads in western Ahmedabad (the part that houses the well off). They will be carrying placards saying 'I am a Chhara, I am an engineer (writer, poet, film maker, journalist, lawyer, teacher, government servant, sales executive etc), I am not a criminal, Can you help me'. This is the best way to sensitise society about our plight. We plan to start this campaign from August 9,” said Dakxin.
The DNTs getting consolidated under one umbrella also has a political connotation. With around at least 40 lakh voters across Gujarat they can prove decisive at some places when it comes to electoral politics. This can be a new headache for the ruling BJP regime under Vijay Rupani after various other groups.