CHANDIGARH: Given the fact that they have been the target of a series of lynchings and assaults in the last couple of years it does not come as a surprise that the De-Notified Tribes (DNTs), Nomadic Tribes (NTs) and Semi Nomadic Tribes (SNTs) are opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run up to the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

A Large number of them have thrown their weight behind the Congress as the party has given space to their key concerns in its manifesto.

Activists from these communities that include tribes like Chharas, Nats, Madaris, Dafers etc. have been engaged in working among 125 communities spread over 14 states mobilizing support against the BJP.

One of the key concerns aired by these communities is reservation benefits as a compartmentalized sub group.

Although the present government under the BJP had on February 20 this year approved the constitution of a permanent welfare and development board for DNTs, NTs and SNTs, the tribes are not happy with the manner in which the central government has moved ahead.

The Union Cabinet has reportedly approved setting up of a committee under the chairpersonship of Vice-Chairman of NITI Aayog that will complete the process of identification of the communities that have not yet been formally classified. The government had constituted a committee in 2014 that was supposed to identify these communities and prepare a state wise list within three years.

“The government wants to list those DNTs, NTs and SNTs who are not falling under the category of Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) or Other Backward Tribes (OBC). But since majority of these tribes are already in these categories and are the most disadvantaged, we are seeking benefits under a separate schedule or compartmentalized category. This itself shows how confused the government is,” said Dakxin Chhara, a senior functionary of the DNT Adhikar Manch.

“While there are 200 such communities listed since 1952, the present government claims there are 400 plus tribes. We see it as an attempt to reach out to new groups that the BJP wants to allure while denying benefits to the originally identified tribes that are already listed as SC, ST or OBC like Chharas, Dafer and Pardis. We see it as another design of the Brahminical Model that is in place,” he added.

He pointed that these communities have been at the receiving end of the right wing polarising forces in the last more than a year. There have been lynchings of the poorest of the poor across many states following rumours of child lifting and other such crimes. Some of these acts were recorded in Gujarat where the worst instance was the killing of Shanti Devi Madari who along with two other women was attacked in broad daylight by a mob very close to a Police Post in the busy Vadaj area of Ahmedabad last year.

“The BJP cannot be seen as a party of the marginalized. It has been trying to destroy the very idea of a welfare state,” Dakxin added.

The locality of Chharanagar had also witnessed assault by the police last year where even women and children were not spared. There were two theories for the police resorting to violence and arson. The first was that the episode was sparked by a skirmish between two 'inebriated' Chhara youth and a policeman. The second was that the police were carrying out an operation against illicit distillation of liquor and the Chharas tried to stop them from doing this.

This had Chharas galvanizing support of the other DNTs for their common cause and carrying out a DNT Sampark Yatra from Kaleshwari in Lunawada to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad.

Vikram Nat, an activist working among the Nat community in Rajasthan told The Citizen, “The Nat women continue to be looked down upon as prostitutes. Nothing has been done to remove this tag that they got from being Dasis of the royalty in the past or for their past profession of being singers and dancers in the royal courts.”

“The previous Congress government had constituted a separate board for Nomadic Tribes but the subsequent BJP government had paid no attention to it,” he added.

Nat underlined that the Kalbeliya community in Jalore, Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer is still denied cremations in several common cremation grounds and have to cremate the dead near their homes.

Dakxin said that over the last few months, the activists have been using, theatre, films and other folk arts to make the voters among these communities aware of their political states. “We have introduced our concerns into the folk songs, sayings and dances to make the message more effective,” he added. Carrying home the message to the largely illiterate and semi literate communities has been a major challenge.

Various organizations like the Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch and DNT Adhikar Manch have been demanding that one fifth of the National Skill Development Fund be utilized for developing traditional and non traditional skills among Muslims, DNTs and NTs.

They have also been seeking a campaign for providing essential documents like ration cards, Aadhar Card, caste certificates and bank accounts to these communities.

The DNT, NT and SNT communities have been demanding open spaces for performing their traditional and folk arts along with budgetary allocation for training and development of their cultural heritage.

Another important demand has been about a review of certain laws like Beggary Prevention Act, Forest Rights Act and Wildlife Protection Act in context of these communities.

These communities want that special component be included for them in all the government schemes aimed at housing, rehabilitation, education and scholarships. The National Urban Livelihood Mission and National Rural Livelihood Mission should have a special component and budget for these tribes reserved in these programmes.

These communities have also been looking towards land ownership as they feel that land is the most precious resource that can guarantee their upliftment.

Dakxin said that following their representation to the Congress leadership, their key concerns have been addressed in the party’s manifesto with a promise to address them when it comes to power.