Subba Rao: We should get constitutional recognition and rights

Only assurances will not work. We want representation. Dalits have representation, and so do Adivasis and OBCs. However, we are none of them. We are DNTs. We do not want a share in the facilities granted to the SCs, STs or OBCs. Here is a detailed interview with M. Subbarao, a social worker committed to the cause of the Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic tribes

The Balkrishna Renke Commission submitted its report to the Central government on 30 June 2008. In the preface to the report, the Commission wrote: “The people, who had been historically oppressed and disadvantaged, were put under different social categories, such as the SCs, STs, and OBCs. Each was accorded certain privileges to overcome its socio-economic disabilities. In this categorization, the communities that were earlier part of the Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes were also included in the lists of SC, ST, and OBC categories. However, their categorization was not logical or uniform. There are still a number of Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes which have not been included in any one of these categories. Instead, they are placed at par with the communities of the general category. These communities have a long history of marginalization, neglect, and oppression, first during the colonial rule, and subsequently, in independent India.”

This Commission had made many recommendations, but they were not accepted. Currently, another Commission is working on this issue. However, apart from Commissions, the primary concerns are the problems and challenges facing the Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic tribes. Forward Press talked to M. Subbarao, national secretary of ‘Forward Block’ on these issues. He is also associated with the ‘National Campaign for DNT Rights.’ This organization works for the social, political, economic and educational concerns of the DNTs.

M. Subba Rao, national secretary, Samajwadi Forward Block

DNTs are the tribes which have been denotified by the government. The members of these tribes are facing a crisis of identity in the country. The Union government has taken some initiatives in this regard. What’s your take on it?

The Balkrishna Renke Commission says that DNTs live in around 20 states of the country. However, a new commission – the Idate Commission – says there are nomadic tribes in north-east too. I do not have much faith in the Idate’s knowledge. Renke is one among us. He is a nomad. He has deep knowledge. So, I believe that our people live in 20 states. Look at Assam, the tribals who are working in tea estates. They all are migrants from Chhota Nagpur in Odisha. They all are from the Oraon community. They are now even counted among the STs in Assam. They are DNTs, but they are not aware of it.  

Denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes in India (Source: Renke Commission report, 2008)

The biggest question before the DNTs is of identity. At some places they are in OBCs, at other places, they are counted among the SCs or STs. Why is it so?

Yes. This problem is there. To understand this, we need to look at the past. In 1932, a list of depressed classes of the country was drawn up. It included the untouchables (now SCs) and the tribals were classified as Hill Tribes, and there were nomadic tribes under the head criminal tribes. There was a commission called Sharp Commission. Dr Ambedkar was part of it. He submitted an affidavit saying that only untouchables should be included among the depressed classes. Only untouchables!

Due to this, criminal tribes were dropped from the list of depressed classes. You must be knowing about the Poona Pact. It was a pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar. Ambedkar wanted separate electorate for Dalits. Gandhi told him that it was not possible, but they can get political reservations. Ambedkar accepted this, and since then, the Dalits started getting political reservations. Even tribals did not get it then. Thakkar Bappa asked Ambedkar, “Tribals are older residents of the country than the Dalits. Why don’t you demand reservations for them?” Ambekar said that it was a different issue. Thakkar Baba was a disciple of Gandhi. He got reservations for the tribals. But at that time there was no one to talk about the criminal tribes, no one to raise their issues. Hence, they were forgotten.

Criminal tribes was the name given by the British to itinerant, nomadic castes. There were such castes in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and other Hindi-speaking states. If I talk about Bihar, criminal castes were there too. People of that area know this. Among them, there are also some Dalit castes. For instance, there is caste called Dusadh (Paswan). Earlier, it was categorized as a criminal caste. Now, it is a scheduled caste. The DNT Act 1953 did provide some relief to the criminal castes. But the question of identity continues. Why was no serious consideration given to this issue? What is your view?

Everyone should know how the DNT Act came about. What is DNT? It means Denotified Tribes. What is denotified? The government had notified our people as criminal tribes in 1871. What you are talking about happened in 1952. The government denotified these tribes, i.e., removed them from the list. Thus, they became denotified. Kaka Kalelkar first gave this name. Since then, they are called denotified tribes.

It is a long time since 1952. These people are yet to get an identity. The questions remain. What is the reason?

The problem is that whenever foreigners attacked India, there was one community which hit back with the same force. And that community was Adivasis. They fought for their water, forests, and land. The struggle of the Dalits is nothing before their (Adivasis) struggle. DNTs also did not struggle that much. But no one did anything for them. Who took the initiative about the DNTs? The upper class struggled for them, the Brahmins did, and Communists did. There are some leaders of DNTs, but they are new. The government has no scheme, no programme for the DNTs. Thus, nothing has happened.

One great atrocity committed under the ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ was that our people were kept in open jails. Iyengar Commission gave a critical report on this. It was after the report that the denotification was done. The Government of India did talk about initiating a series of measures for their welfare and development. However, nothing happened. That is because in our democracy unless the people get united and launch a movement, nothing happens. No government does anything out of mercy. If you are in trouble, merely talking about it won’t bring you any relief.

In a democracy, till you don’t unite, you don’t organize, till you don’t struggle, nothing would happen. You can get an idea of our miserable state from the fact that we don’t find mention in the Constitution. We are called DNTs, NTs, and SNTs. We are included among the SCs, the STs, and the minorities. People counted under minority are nomads of the Muslim community – the Qalandars, the Saperas. They all are tribals. The Muslims do not allow them to enter their home. They don’t even recognize them as Muslims, let alone dining or having marital relations with them. They are not even seen as humans. Our people visit dargahs, but the dargah committees have no representative from the nomadic communities. Only upper caste Muslims and Savarna Hindus are in these communities. Our people have to beg to fill their stomachs.

Look at the Sikh religion. There are our people in Sikh religion too. They visit Gurdwaras, but no one allows them to enter their homes. That is untouchability – pure and simple. Dr Ambedkar never considered this untouchability. They are Sikhs, they are Muslims, but they are only known as DNTs.

How much does the India of today, its political parties, understand the issues of the DNTs?

(Laughing) The first Commission was appointed when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. At that time, the ‘Dhangan’ community of Maharashtra had felicitated him. He was a gentleman. He appointed a commission for us. But he appointed Motilal Nayak of Hyderabad to the Commission for six months. Our men did tell him that this should not be done. Then, BJP lost the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress came to power. It knew nothing about the nomads and the DNTs. But Bengal’s Mahashweta Devi Ji and Gujarat’s Ganesh Devi Ji talked to Manmohan Singh (the then Prime Minister) and got a commission appointed. The commission gave its recommendations, but they were neither accepted nor rejected.

Who was the chairman of this commission?

His name was Balkrishna Renke. He belonged to the Gondhali community of Maharashtra, which begs on streets beating drums. He said that he used to beg in Mumbai with his father. He did excellent work as chairman, made 70 recommendations, but nothing happened. Then, Congress lost, and BJP came, and it appointed another commission. An RSS man was named its chief. He knows nothing. He will do what the BJP people will ask him to, what the RSS will ask him to do. The commission has given its report. But it is yet to be made public. No one knows what it says.  

The home of a Gadia Lohar family

But the report was submitted, and recommendations were made. What do you have to say?

Only recommendations were made. No one has got to see the report till now. The ministry of social justice and empowerment says it has the report. If they have accepted it, they could have put in on the website, made it public. However, they have done nothing.

Why don’t you tell what your demands are? What do you want the government to do?

The demands are many. The first thing is that we should be given a place in the Constitution. The words Nomadic Tribes, Denotified Tribes, and Semi-Nomadic Tribes should be added to the Constitution. The second demand is that we should be counted. Let us know how many of us are there and where do we live. We have not even been counted. There are no schemes for us. There are schemes for SCs, STs, and OBCs but we are getting nothing from them. There should be separate schemes for us. What is the present situation? Just go to any road junction, any red signal, you will find women and children selling flowers, etc. Of them, 80-90 percent are our people – they are DNTs. They make a living by doing odd jobs. They don’t even have a place to call their home.

Is landlessness a big problem for the nomads?

Yes, it is because of the Criminal Tribes Act. It did not allow us to buy property.  

An old man of Nandiwala tribe.

This Act?

Yes, this Act. We could not buy property. Today, we have nothing, and we have no resources. I have talked about these issues with Forward Press managing editor Pramod Ranjan so that our issues can find a place in Bahujan journalism. The communities I am talking about had left forests long back. They are nomads. They move from place to place. They have no home. Who is a nomad and who is not? I will tell you how to identify this. You will find that Dalits are a bit dark-complexioned. But the nomads among the Dalits are a bit fairer, like Doms. Our people have nothing to do. They either beg or do cleaning work. There is a Dom Raja in Kashi. What does he do? He helps lit the funeral pyres and cleans the place. Do you know the comb, which we use to put our hair in place is the invention of a Dom woman? She built it with the bone of an animal. Kajal, bindi and other such things are also our inventions. We were good at such things.

Now, let us come back to a political question. What is the status of DNTs in southern states?

The problem is that we have a presence in 20 states, but nothing is being done at the national level. There is no movement of the nomadic communities and the DNTs in north India. They do not even know that they are DNTs. Till we do not get active politically, no one will do anything. The governments take action only when there are movements when demands are made. But how will anyone raise a demand when he does not know that he is a DNT. We do not figure in history. We have no place in the Constitution.

For this, books need to be written. But before that, small booklets should be written. That will create a demand. The root problem is of identity. I am an Od (Vadar). I am an OBC in Andhra Pradesh, SC in Karnataka, upper caste in Rajasthan, SC in Haryana. So, on what basis would I do politics?  

When we say Dalit, it is a brand name. Then name helps in doing politics. Everywhere there is identity politics. So, whenever someone calls me SC, ST or OBC, I say, “Cut the crap. I am DNT.” We are taking DNT politics forward. Those doing Dalit politics say that they all are Dalits, they are deprived and oppressed. Dalits ask the Communists how many Communist leaders are Dalits. I ask them how many Dalit leaders are DNT.

This question is natural

Just talking will not solve any problem. We want representation. Dalits have representation, and so do STs and OBCs. However, we are none of these. We are not Hindus. We are DNTs. We do not want a share in the facilities being provided to SCs, STs or OBCs.

What do you consider yourselves?

We are from the Nath community. We all are Lokayats.

Tell us something about the traditions and values of the DNTs.

We are straight-talking people. For us, nature is supreme. When we sow a seed in the field, we tell the god, “I am sowing this seed by taking your name. If it doesn’t grow, I won’t get food and neither will you.” Similarly, when someone dies, we tell the god, “You gave him life, you took it away. He came from the earth and had become one with it.”  

Our priests are not from any other caste. Members of our community are the priests. We don’t need Brahmins to conduct puja. As I said earlier, we are not Hindus. If we were Hindus, our god would not be eating meat like us. If I eat meat, why can’t my god eat meat? If I speak in Telugu, why won’t my god speak in Telugu? Why will he speak in Sanskrit? Out history is oral. The history of tribals is also oral. Nature is our god.

We understand humanity. We understand its values. There is a tradition amongst us that we don’t drink water from the same pond or well for two days in a row — one day from one well, the next day from another well.

Does this culture persist? Is it being followed?

The nomads are still following it. We have been opposing Hinduism from the very outset. We have been called as Kapalia Kalamukha. Now, Hindus come and tell us that we are evil, and we are rebels. Now, what does Kapalika mean? It means the human skull. We used to eat from it because we didn’t have the money to buy plates. So we ate from skulls. We called it Kapalika. Brahmins say there is no record of Kapalika-Kalamukha. What is this? Before the emergence of Hath community, it was like Hatha Yoga. Brahmins know nothing. This Patanjali-Vatanjali is rubbish. We taught Yoga to the world. Today, the women who teach Yoga – the Brahmakumaris – it is a Brahmanical tradition. They took our Yoga, prepared a syllabus of spirituality and Ravi Shankar formed a corporate. They began selling our Yoga through corporate. Leave this aside. Today, we are in five states – Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and we are in different communities in all these states. And in north Indian states, our men are under the influence of Brahmins. The case of Maharashtra is different. The movement of the nomads began from there due to Ambedkar’s influence. It was good that a movement began. But one bad thing also happened. It also got divided into so many factions – like Dalit movement. DNT movement got fragmented. Nothing happened. Every person wanted his organization and his party. There are around 10 DNT political parties. But they have nothing to do with DNTs. There is Jitan Ram Manjhi – a former chief minister of Bihar. His party (Hindustani Awam Morcha) has done nothing for DNTs. It worked for Dalits. In Bihar, they are called Mahadalits. In Uttar Pradesh, Omprakash Rajbhar is not DNTs. He is Kshatriya. He has become a king. His party has become a king’s party.

Are you talking about Raja Suheldev?

Yes, Suheldev. The RSS made him Raja Suheldev. Recently, a man won from Yogi Aditynath’s constituency Gorakhpur. His name is Dr Shravan Kumar Nishad. He is our man.

There should be research on where we live and as of which caste. But upper caste people won’t do this research. We will have to do it.  

Translation: Amrish Herdenia, copy-editing: Lokesh

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