The tide is turn­ing for these tribes

While sev­eral schemes ex­ist to aid de­no­ti­fied tribes, they are un­able to reap ben­e­fits due to the lack of ID cards. A 20­year bat­tle in Gu­jarat changed this

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Indiaunseen - Gay­a­tri Ja­yara­man let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

In 2004, Mit­tal Pa­tel hopped off a state trans­port bus at Neck­naam, a non­de­script in­ter­sec­tion an hour away from Ra­jkot, where her par­ents be­lieved she was work­ing with a lo­cal NGO. It was the site of a large basti of no­madic tribes. Then a 20-year-old jour­nal­ist and as­pir­ing civil ser­vant who thought the only dif­fer­ence be­tween ur­ban liv­ing and no­madic liv­ing would be the use of tents, she had brought just two changes of clothes.

As she stepped into the set­tle­ment, two blood­ied men ran in. They were fa­ther and son. They had been beaten by two men on a mo­tor­cy­cle, who had ab­ducted the man’s wife.

There was chaos and un­cer­tainty in the set­tle­ment. Mit­tal says she kept wait­ing for the po­lice to be called, an FIR to be reg­is­tered, and the cul­prits to be found. But the tribe was too afraid to go to the po­lice, and hav­ing no iden­tity cards to prove who they were, be­lieved they would be locked up in­stead. So ev­ery­one re­turned to their homes to wait help­lessly. The woman came back the next morn­ing, raped and as­saulted. And that’s where the mat­ter ended.

Hor­ri­fied, Mit­tal who had ini­tially thought of go­ing home the next day, made giv­ing trib­als iden­tity cards and mak­ing them a vote bank that mat­tered her life’s mis­sion. She stayed in the set­tle­ment for the next two months, in one of the tents, eat­ing what food was avail­able, bathing in the dirty gut­ter water they used. To­day ‘Mit­tal­ben’ – Ashoka Fel­low and mul­ti­ple award-win­ner — is a ma­jor in­flu­ence on the de­no­ti­fied tribes of Gu­jarat. For the first time, in De­cem­ber 2017 prior to the Gu­jarat as­sem­bly elec­tions, the lead­er­ships of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress held meet­ings with the de­no­ti­fied tribes to seek their votes. “For the first time, there were enough of them reg­is­tered as vot­ers to swing an elec­tion,” Mit­tal Pa­tel said. The de­no­ti­fied tribes had fi­nally started to count.

It was not been easy get­ting here. Pa­tel’s first step was to in­sist that the then chief elec­toral of­fi­cer Vinod Ku­mar Bab­bar ac­com­pany her to the bastis. On see­ing how many peo­ple lived un­doc­u­mented, with no ac­cess to ra­tions and not part of any Cen­sus, Bab­bar was moved enough to sug­gest re­lax­ing strin­gent ad­dress-proof norms for the trib­als. How­ever, for cards to be is­sued, they still needed to show a place of res­i­dence, a con­stituency in which to cast votes. As no­mads, they had none and were prone to re­peated evic­tions.

Bab­bar agreed to start the process on the ba­sis of a let­ter is­sued by a gram pan­chayat that stated these trib­als camped in the vicin­ity of their vil­lages or were known to the vil­lagers. Most pan­chay­ats re­fused out of fear that the land would be usurped and tem­po­rary bastis would be­come per­ma­nent ones. Pa­tel went back to Bab­bar, who mod­i­fied the norms to say that any­one who knew the trib­als could vouch for them through a let­ter say­ing they knew they lived in a cer­tain area.

Pa­tel per­son­ally signed over 20,000 let­ters over the next decade, she says. Even so, she quickly re­alised that when sub­mit­ted at the gram level, of­fice bear­ers from the lo­cal pan­chay­ats held the pa­per­work up. When she moved to get the trib­als Be­low Poverty Line (BPL) ra­tion cards, on the ba­sis of what­ever voter cards had come through, get­ting ap­provals from pan­chay­ats proved to be an ob­sta­cle as well.

In 2009, the state govern­ment em­pow­ered dis­trict col­lec­tors to as­sign plots for tribal set­tle­ments. Bab­bar had re­signed in 2008, but Anita Kar­wal, who re­placed him, con­tin­ued to sup­port the cause. By then, of­fi­cials such as the dis­trict col­lec­tor of Mehsana, Ajay Ba­hadur, had stepped in to en­sure all the trib­als in his dis­trict were found and doc­u­mented. Within the govern­ment, IAS of­fi­cers such as Raj Ku­mar be­gan to move to is­sue per­ma­nent res­i­den­tial plots to the no­mads. There was slow but sys­temic change.

Ten years af­ter the fight be­gan, how­ever, the process was still painstak­ing. You could force pa­per­work on vil­lages but, Pa­tel found, you could not en­force ac­cep­tance. The trib­als, al­lo­cated plots and voter cards, were of­ten shunned by pan­chay­ats and banned from us­ing any­thing from water to shops to trans­port. When a nine-year-old boy died be­cause none of the vil­lage auto-rick­shaws would take him to the hos­pi­tal, Mit­tal re­alised the fight needed to be a dif­fer­ent one – for in­clu­sion, not en­force­ment.

Though not par­tic­u­larly de­vout, she de­cided to use re­li­gion, and ap­proached the fa­mous Gu­jarati preacher Mo­rari Bapu. She briefed him about the plight of the de­no­ti­fied tribes, and took him to var­i­ous sites through the state. Moved by what he saw, he be­gan to men­tions the tribes in his dis­courses. In 2011, Mo­rari Bapu did an en­tire se­ries on the de­no­ti­fied tribes. Given his large TV au­di­ence, pub­lic em­pa­thy be­gan to grow. What was a trickle be­came a flow.

The bat­tle for the en­fran­chise­ment of the de­no­ti­fied tribes in Gu­jarat is con­sid­ered a land­mark in elec­toral in­clu­sion. For­mer chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner SY Qureshi says that it re­in­forces the “dharma of in­clu­sive democ­racy”. “Not one per­son should be left out is our ef­fort. It’s not easy to lo­cate de­no­ti­fied tribes but spe­cial ef­forts have been taken by the com­mis­sion to main­stream them in the elec­toral process,” Qureshi said.

In his book, ‘An Un­doc­u­mented Won­der: The Mak­ing of the Great In­dian Elec­tion’, he writes how the state elec­tion com­mis­sion co­or­di­nated with Gu­jarat’s so­cial jus­tice min­istry to en­sure that wel­fare of­fi­cers ac­com­pa­nied dis­trict elec­tion of­fi­cers to reg­is­ter de­no­ti­fied tribes where they could be found. “A sys­tem was de­vised un­der the di­rec­tions of the com­mis­sion for ful­fill­ing the re­quire­ment of be­ing an ‘or­di­nar­ily res­i­dent’ of a place to be en­rolled as a voter. Grass­roots-level of­fi­cers were em­pow­ered to do panch­na­mas of such per­sons wher­ever lo­cated on the day this ex­er­cise was done,” he said. Just be­fore the 2007 elec­tions, says Qureshi, 3,393 mem­bers were reg­is­tered as vot­ers. In 2011, when about five thou­sand as­sem­bled for a Ram Katha, they were all reg­is­tered too.

The process, how­ever, is lim­ited in the hands of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia (ECI), which does not record caste, com­mu­nity or tribe data. Since the last cen­sus of de­no­ti­fied tribes was done as far back as 1931, the govern­ment does not know how many de­no­ti­fied trib­als there are in any given state, and the ECI can­not know how many have been ex­cluded. With the 2018 Idate Com­mis­sion Re­port es­ti­mat­ing 15 crore de­no­ti­fied trib­als in In­dia, sev­eral of whom have never been en­fran­chised or counted in a cen­sus, it means an es­ti­mated 12 per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion may de­prived of ba­sic rights.

What hap­pened in Gu­jarat in­spired oth­ers in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. In Delhi in 2013, chief elec­toral of­fi­cer Vijay Dev worked with lo­cal NGOs to en­sure the home­less had a method­ol­ogy

that would al­low them to get their names on the elec­toral lists -- elec­tion of­fi­cers could iden­tify their be­long­ings in any pub­lic space. The rule was then ex­tended to in­clude the home­less across In­dia.

To­day Pa­tel is us­ing a quid-pro-quo sys­tem to give eight vil­lages what they need in ex­change for ac­cept­ing de­no­ti­fied tribal bastis in the vicin­ity.

In Gu­jarat’s Banaskan­tha dis­trict, where the al­leged mis­use of the Nar­mada river has left lakes and ponds dry, Mit­tal’s or­gan­i­sa­tion has in­vested ₹1.5 crore in build­ing water man­age­ment reser­voirs for vil­lages in ex­change for the pa­per­work and so­cial in­clu­sion that will al­low the tribes set­tled on their out­skirts to be­come an in­te­gral part of the vil­lage ecosys­tem.

The Supreme Court in 2017 asked the Unique Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Au­thor­ity of In­dia (UIDAI) to ex­plain how the home­less would get Aad­har cards. In Gu­jarat, an es­ti­mated 60 lakh trib­als, are bet­ter pre­pared than most thanks to two decades of work done by the ECI. The voter cards have opened the doors to BPL ra­tion cards, and no­madic ra­tion cards that give them grain and aid, along with ac­cess to the pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem and other wel­fare schemes.

In most other parts of the coun­try, the tribes re­main at the mercy of lo­cal pan­chay­ats, tehsils and the po­lice. Haryana has now an­nounced ra­tion cards unique to no­mads, but un­less the tribes have a sys­tem by which they can es­tab­lish their iden­tity, and be­come a valid vote bank, they will never quite count.

It may not be a bad idea to repli­cate the Gu­jarat model, at least in this in­stance, across the coun­try.

Not one per­son should be left out... It’s not easy to lo­cate de­no­ti­fied tribes but spe­cial ef­forts have been taken by the com­mis­sion to main­stream them in the elec­toral process.

SY QURESHI , For­mer chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner


Mit­tal Pa­tel

(left) with a mem­ber of a de­no­ti­fied tribe. The bat­tle for the en­fran­chise­ment of the tribes in Gu­jarat is a land­mark in elec­toral in­clu­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.