ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Denotified and Nomadic Tribes: A Nowhere Existence

The news of an angry mob lynching to death suspected thieves in Dhelpurwa village in Bihar’s Vaishali district was reported as yet another incident of instantaneous mob justice prevailing in the absence of the state and its visible symbols of authority. Subsequent official inquiries that doubted the veracity of the mob account, and the discovery of halfburnt bodies ignominiously dumped beside the river Ganga, belonging to the “victims” who were from the Nat community, led to the “news” metamorphosing into a sordid truth of contem porary India: as an abject reminder of the continued plight that remains the lot of India’s marginal communities, many of whom are now summarily classified, in post-independent India, as “denotified and nomadic tribes” (DNTs).

The Nats have historically led a peripatetic existence. Now engaged in honey-gathering and bird-catching, they were traditional entertainers, who roamed villages across large parts of rural India, performing at fairs and local gatherings. In this, they rendered valuable services as did other itinerant nomadic groups of traders, fortune-tellers, folk healers, genealogists, ironsmiths, cattle vendors, and numerous other pastoral and grazing communities. As historians have detailed, older, traditional rural markets often supported, sustained and even extended the circuits of national and international exchange that came to exist in the 19th century. They were thus part of an elaborate, if always, informal market hierarchy. Travelling entertainers and specialists were also an integral part of village life, supplying villagers with their ritual and cultural needs, with entertainment, news and rumours. The Nats were village acrobats, conjurers, jugglers and mimics but they claimed other “knowledges” and peddled those as well. Moving from village to village, these entertainers and performers forged a popular culture that in many ways, bonded rural communities across regions.

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