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Violence against Nomadic Tribes

Crimes against people belonging to nomadic tribes cannot be assumed simplistically as coming under the category of anti-dalit violence. Violence against nomadic tribes constitutes a social context unique to the community's existence as marginalised people outside the purview of the hierarchical caste system and sedentary people.

DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 2008569Violence against Nomadic Tribessanjay kolekarSanjay Kolekar ( is at the department of sociology, University of Pune.Crimes against people belonging to nomadic tribes cannot be assumed simplistically as comingunder the category of anti-dalit violence. Violence against nomadic tribes constitutes a social context unique to the community’s existence as marginalised people outside the purview of the hierarchical caste system and sedentary people.Violence has become an important question for marginal sections of Indian society seeking social jus-tice from the state. In this context, Prakash Louis has discussed one of the most seri-ous cases of lynching in recent times, in his article ‘Lynchings in Bihar: Reasser-tion of Dominant Castes’ (November 3, 2007). He has analysed the lynching of 10 persons in Bihar in the context of contem-porary social forces there. The article talks about the lynchings of kurariars in Bihar and terms them as killing of dalits. Fur-ther, it argues that unlike the dalits in other parts of India, the kurariars are nei-ther socially nor politically organised to raise their voice against atrocities. Thus underlining the absence of a strong socio-political organisation of dalits as the rea-son for the kurariars’ inability to protect themselves; the Bihar lynching is com-pared with Khairlanji. Louis criticises the role of state, political parties and media; the entire discussion focusing on the rela-tion between caste system, dalit organisa-tion and social justice.Categorisation of Marginal CommunitiesSeveral issues raised by Louis are debata-ble and suggest that we need to think through afresh the question of violence against marginal sections in general and kurariars in particular. Kurariar is a semi-nomadic community whose livelihood rests on collecting honey and herbs, trap-ping birds and small animals. Louis, analysing the Bihar lynching as violence against dalits, follows the rather arbi-trarycategorisation by the state of the kurariar as a scheduled caste (SC) in Bihar. This raises questions for an engaged socialscientist – must he/she take the official gazetteers, reports and categorisa-tion as a given? In this case if, as per sociological-anthropological sources, the kurariars would be designated as semi-nomadic, should we categorise them as SCjust because they are so categorised by Bihar?This question assumes importance because it has implications for under-standing and grappling with the killings of kurariars. Was this lynching of dalits or of nomadics? Dalits as we know are those castes who have historically been subjected to the stigma of untouchability and are “in-caste” people, i e, settled com-munities who constitute a section of the caste system. Nomadic tribes (NTs) are neither untouchables nor scheduled tribes. Nomadic tribes are outcaste people. The nomadic tribes in India are of three types – pastoralist, foragers/hunter-gatherers and peripatetic. These communities survive through economic interaction with sedentary caste communities and their social status in society remains am-biguous. There are regional variations; but broadly their status is either lower than SCs or they occupy middle ranks between Scs and the aryan castes. Modern production systems have ruined their means of livelihood and survival making their labour redundant. Today most of the NTs are landless agricultural labourers and in the process of settlement and inter-action, they have adopted many of the cul-tural traits of the people of the castes. However, most of the communities have not succeeded in escaping from the nomadic identity [Rao and Casimir 2003].Some of the communities are ex- criminal tribes – those who were in colonial India notified as criminal in 1871 under the Criminal Tribes Act. After inde-pendence, the Act was repealed and they came to be called denotified tribes. Legally they are denotified tribes, but socially they still remain stigmatised as criminals. In India there are close to 313 nomadic and 198 denotified tribes. Most of them may be characterised as economically backward, illiterate and faraway from the process of development [Devy 2006]. Indeed, these communities are not part of caste system, yet came to function within the caste order getting designated as strat-ified as lower castes. Thus, these commu-nities came to be subjected to ex-treme social discrimination and dis-entitlement in ways similar to dalits.
DISCUSSIONjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly570Violence against dalits is in most cases a backlash by the feudal dominant castes against the dalits’ assertion of self-respect, identity and engagement in processes of development. The violence against nomadic tribes, who are probably the most economically and socially backward among marginal sections and are strug-gling for survival and sedentary life, must be located in the context of the stigma of criminality. The lack of trust from the set-tled and sedentary society which is reluc-tant to accommodate them in the main-stream society has posed serious questions for their survival. Neither the state nor the socio-political organisations have given serious consideration to this issue of crim-inality and distrust which naturalises the violence against nomadic tribes.Perception of Violence against Nomadic CommunityThe case of lynching of kurariars shows the prejudiced approach of state, civil society and even media towards nomadic tribes. The media has referred to the lynched persons as “nuts”. Without any confirmation, the media as well as so-called civil society have labelled the victims as nuts; “nut” being an ex-criminal tribe. This is not limited to the Bihar lynching, several times in the cases of rob-bery the nomadic tribes and particularly paradhis (ex-criminal tribe) become the natural suspects of the media, police and civil society [Prabhune 2006; Mane 1984]. One general stereotype that has deep roots in society is that thieves are always paradhis or nuts. It shows the skewed and prejudiced approach towards nomadic tribes. Social stigma of criminality over-rides the perception of nomadic tribes and this obstructs their efforts to settle and engage in the process of development. Such efforts are not brought to the fore when atrocities against nomadic tribes are dealt with.Louis has argued that kurariars are a minority among the dalits and do not constitute a significant group in politics. Hence, they are not considered significant enough either by mainstream politicians or by dalit politicians. Actually, this is the fate of all nomadic tribes all over India. Nomadic tribes are scattered across and within regions due to the compulsions of occupation and livelihood, thus lacking political organisation. Dalits in Mahara-shtra protested against the gruesome in-cidents in Khairlanji. Academicians, me-dia and several social organisations and even politicians came out in the streets to protest against the Khairlanji incidents. This was a marker of the consciousness of dalit communities about their right to social justice, commitment to democracy and Phule-Ambedkar philosophy. How-ever, there are several incidents of atro-cities against nomadic tribes and particu-larly against paradhis in Maharashtra in which such public protests were absent.In December 2007, Subhash Bhosle of Arabali village, Solapur district suspi-ciously died in a police raid. Some local newspapers such asPudhariand Lokamat, SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKS1857Essays from Economic and Political WeeklyA compilation of essays that were first published in the EPW in a special issue in May 2007. Held together with an introduction by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, the essays – that range in theme andsubject from historiography and military engagements, to the dalit viranganas idealised in traditional songs and the “unconventional protagonists” in mutiny novels – converge on one common goal: toenrich the existing national debates on the 1857 Uprising.The volume has 18 essays by well known historians who include Biswamoy Pati, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Robb and Michael Fisher. The articles are grouped under five sections: ‘Then and Now’, ‘Sepoys and Soldiers’, ‘The Margins’, ‘Fictional Representations’ and ‘The Arts and 1857’.Pp viii + 364 2008 Rs 295Available fromOrient Longman LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact:
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 2008571raised this case. Afterward the case was forwarded to the criminal investigation department of the police for further investigation. In another case, Vikas Desai Kale of Nipani Adagaon village was marked as a thief by villagers and was stoned to death on May 18, 2007 (Samrat, May 29, 2007).¹ In May 2007, villagers of Lonawala accused Sidheshwer Shinde of being a thief and cut off his hand and legs (Samrat, May 8, 2007).² In all these cases the victims belonged to the paradhi community.In another case, in February 1995, the police suspected paradhis in Kotol village of Nagpur district of robbery and the huts of paradhis were subjected to arson by po-lice and even the paradhi women were tortured. On September 29, 2001, in Kalamb village of Usmanabad district, paradhis were suspected in a robbery case, and frenzied mobs burnt their homes and displaced them completely from their settlements. Raja Bhau Pawar, ex-corpora-tor belonging to the paradhi community, was also not spared in this incident by the local people [Prabhune 2006].In June 1998, Humanscape had reported the killing of Phanse paradhi in Vithal-wadi village of Satara district of Maha-rashtra. According to the report, Limbu Jayaram Bhosle, a Phanse paradhi, living in Vithalwadi village was stoned to death by the zamindar’s (landlord) men. Limbu was stealing a few pomegranates for his pregnant wife. For a few pomegranates, he lost his life. The police filed the case against Limbu’s brother Salia Jayaram Bhosle instead of the zamindar (Human-scape, June 1998).³The Bihar lynching happened on September 13, 2007. In the same month on September 11, in Chothia village of Madhya Pradesh, villagers set on fire all the houses of paradhis and destroyed their property with the help of a bulldozer. This incident was caused by the rape and kill-ing of a ‘kunabi’ woman by a paradhi. In Madhya Pradesh, paradhis are categorised asSCs in some districts and STs in some other [NCDNT 2007]. Neither did any dalit organisation nor any scheduled tribe outfit protest against this incident. These incidents of brutal atrocity against nomadic tribes are only the tip of an iceberg, as several facts and conditions of their living are yet to come to the forefront. Politicians, media, aca-demicians, activists and organisations have protested similar kinds of atrocities against Muslims, dalits and other minori-ties, but they seem to remain numb to the issues faced by nomadic tribes. Across India nomadic tribes are classified as scheduled castes or scheduled tribes and remain a minority within that category and their voices are not considered by either mainstream politicians or dalit organisations.ConclusionsAn engaged social scientist must make dif-ferentiations between state categorisation of marginal sections and socio-anthropo-logical classification of marginal sections. Political, economical, regional interests and tensions influence categorisation of marginal sections as scheduled castes or scheduled tribes. One must be critical about the construction of such schedules because diverse peoples, occupations and ethnic groups are often included into a single category. In this context, Louis’ analysis of the Bihar lynching is too monolithic and does not engage with the complex reality. In putting all the marginals in a single basket called “dalit”, Louis is no doubt optimistic but overlooks facts that differentiate the nomadic tribes’ everyday lives and vio-lence that they endure. Louis himself evinces that kurariars whose population numbers around 4,449 persons have no significance in vote bank politics. Most of nomadic tribes who do not have docu-mented proof of their residence are not listed in voter lists and any kind of political organisation is a mirage for them. Comparatively dalits have built strong political organisations whose im-portance is considerable in vote bank poli-tics for mainstream politicians. It is the social responsibility of acade-micians and policymakers to identify the issues of nomadic tribes in the context of the specificities of their socio-economic life. Their social interaction with seden-tary people through food exchange, trade, transport services, hunting and en-tertainment is the base of their hierarchi-cal position in the caste system and atroc-ities against them. Engaged academicians could contribute to the directions of welfare policies of state by problematis-ing the designated categorisation of com-munities. Louis’ solicitude for social jus-tice is appreciable but one must come out from the misconception of the existence of a singular dalit community, to under-stand the specificities of the brutal atroci-ties against nomadic communities.NOTES1 News reported in dailySamrat (Marathi) on May 29, 2007.2 News reported in daily Samrat (Marathi) on May 8, 2007. 3 News report on Limbu Bhosle’s death inHuman-scape, June 1998. ReferencesDevy, Ganesh (2006):A Nomad Called Thief, Orient Longman, New Delhi.Mane, Laxman (1984): Upara (Marathi), Granthali Prakashan, Mumbai.National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (2007): ‘Report on the Incident Involving Pardhis, Madhya Pradesh’, October 19.Prabhune, Girish (2006): Paradhi(Marathi), Rajhans Prakashan, Pune.Rao, Aparna and Casimir Michael J (ed) (2003): Nomadism in South Asia, Oxford, New Delhi.CorrigendumThe Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd.On page 61 of this issue, in Profit & Loss Account, item IV. Appropriations – Transfer to Statutory Reserve as on March 2008 should read as Rs.210,242 thousands instead of Rs. 210,240 thousands and Balance carried over to Balance Sheet should read as Rs. 630,726 thousands instead of Rs. 630,728 thousands.On page 62 in schedule 2 – Reserves and Surplus, I. Statutory Reserve: Additions during the year should read as Rs. 210,242 thousands instead of Rs. 210,240 thousands. Therefore the total should read as Rs. 1,478,682 thousands instead of Rs. 1,478,680 thousands. Point No. IV Balance in Profit and Loss Account should read as Rs. 630,726 thousands instead of Rs. 630,728 thousands.

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