On 31 August 2022, the Congress party issued a White Paper demanding 10 per cent reservations for De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic tribes. Social activist Suresh Mahla played a key role in bringing this White Paper to fruition. Here, he talks about the issues confronting this community.
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Suresh Mahla. I live in Delhi. Our organization is called the Supreme Democratic Alliance of India. A large number of intellectuals and educated, brilliant people from the De-Notified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribes are associated with this organization. These communities were included in the list of criminal tribes. The colonial Criminal Tribes Act stated that all members of these communities were born criminals. The country became independent in 1947, but Independence did not bring freedom to these communities.
Which community do you come from?
I am from the Saahsi community – a De-Notified tribe. I originally hail from Mawana in Meerut district, Uttar Pradesh.
What was your role in the Congress party issuing this White Paper on these communities? Has 31 August been celebrated as Rashtriya Swabhiman Mukti Diwas in the past?
It was on August 31, 1952 that the then Congress government freed us from the Criminal Tribes Act. In remembrance of that momentous day, our community has been celebrating August 31 as Swabhiman Diwas at the district and block levels all over the country. I was in touch with some Congress leaders. I told them why the “Titanic” of Congress was sinking. It was in power when the Kaka Kalelkar Commission, Lokur Committee and Iyengar Committee were appointed. At the time, our community was largely illiterate. But that is not so now. In 2005, the Congress government appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Balkrishna Renke. The Renke Commission, as it has been popularly known, submitted its report to the government in 2008. But the Congress did not implement it. Many sit-ins were held, demonstrations were staged and warnings were issued but nothing happened. On 7 February 2014, we laid siege to the Parliament House. I was on hunger strike from 19 to 21 February 2014. On February 26-27, when the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was nearing its end, we warned them that before relinquishing power, they should implement the Renke Commission report. It was an issue affecting 15 crore people. Since then, the numbers have, of course, grown. But the Congress simply ignored us. When they did that, we told our community about it. “Brother, they are ignoring us,” we told our people. We then decided to teach the Congress a lesson. The De-Notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic tribes shunned the Congress in the elections. During the last elections in Uttar Pradesh, I happened to meet Rajesh Lilothia. I told him that he couldn’t afford to ignore a big population. He arranged my meeting with K. Raju [the Congress’ national coordinator of SC, OBC, Minority and Adivasi departments]. Lilothia was then appointed national president of the Congress’ De-Notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes Cell. I gave him a copy of the Renke Commission report and asked him to see what the report said. I told him that he was working for castes that were not interested in his party and that he was ignoring our 666 communities and 20 crore people. I told him It would be better if he worked for us. He realized that my argument had merit. As a result, Rajinder Kaur Rajpura, who belongs to the Bazigar community, was nominated as the party’s candidate from the Balluana constituency in Punjab’s Fazilka district in the last assembly elections. Then the Rajasthan government sanctioned a hundred crore rupees for our community and activated the Nomadic, Semi-Nomadic Tribes Welfare Board, which had been dormant, setting aside another hundred crores for it. So, they gave us some importance. We showed them the way ahead. That was how they issued the White Paper. Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is doing what the Congress did earlier. If Congress is talking about our community, it is because it needs our votes. The BJP is not ready to listen to our demands because it enjoys a majority.
What issues do you have with the 2017 report of the Idate Commission?
We have no issues with the Idate Commission. It has submitted its report to the government and it has also talked about the need for implementing the recommendations of Balkrishna Renke, with only minor variations. Broadly speaking, there is no difference between the reports of the Idate and Renke commissions. Like the Congress government, the BJP government, too, constituted a commission – the Idate Commission. The Commission worked for two-three years. The Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry allocated Rs 200 crore for the development of our community. But the money was meant for specific schemes like Ayushman and Mudra. Also, there was a condition that only individuals who have a De-Notified Tribe (DNT) certificate will get the benefits. DNT certificates are not being issued. It is like placing two rasgullas in a huge bag and saying that the one who wants the rasgullas will have to eat the bag too. These are the issues. One day I met Mr Idate and told him that if he wants his recommendations implemented, he should come to Jantar-Mantar. He said that he won’t go against the government. I told him that he may not go but we are revolutionaries, we will.
The White Paper alleges that of the 201 days for which the commission worked, Idate spent 186 days in Maharashtra?
I am not saying this. The White Paper has been issued by the Congress. We only briefed them about the history of our community and our demands.
So, you are not associated with the Congress?
No. I am not associated with the Congress, nor am I associated with the BJP. I am a social worker. I make the people of my community aware through my organization.
The White Paper says that the DNTs and the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes should be given 10 per cent reservations as has been done with the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in government jobs and higher educational institutions. Your take?
This is a just demand. The Renke Commission had also recommended 10 per cent reservations. And so has Idate. But they were talking about a separate quota. That will be a long process. Our demand is that we should be included among the Scheduled Tribes or we should be given a separate 10 per cent quota. We should also get reservation in legislatures.
What are your plans for the future?
We are fighting our battle. Leaders of almost all the parties, including Ramdas Athawale, attended the programme held on 31 August. Athawale has contacted the Prime Minister’s Office. We plan to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in November. We will put our demands before them.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia)
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