Nomadic Tribes and Denotified Nomadic Tribe (NT/DNT) communities form 15% of India’s population, yet they remain the most under-represented and marginalised in almost all spheres of – political representation, education, heath, social status, democratic process etc. Anubhuti, because our founder Deepa Pawar is herself from a nomadic community, recognized the specific and deep impacts of the pandemic and lockdown on these communities. We were the first and perhaps only NT woman led organization to carry out relief activities with NT-DNT families across 15 Districts of Maharashtra.

Taking this ahead, Anubhuti has also carried out various awareness activities to combat offensive and stigmatized myths about these communities.

Bhatke Vimukt Mahila Mahacharcha: We took part on 15th August, on the occasion of India’s independence, in an online conference which was held to brainstorm and deliberate on strengthening the NT/DNT Women’s Movement. The event was organized by Bhatke Vimukt Mahila Hakk Parishad, and Anubhuti provided technical support as well as Deepa moderated the session. With such a powerful motive in mind, women activists, social workers, political leaders etc across boundaries joined-in. Maharashtra MLC Neelam Gorhe, the leading figure of Narmada Bachao Andolan Medha Patkar, NT-DNT activists Pallavi Renke and Priyanka Rathod, MAVIM chairperson Jyoti Thakare and few other women presented their opinion.

The aim of this initiative as spoken by Pallavi and Deepa was to brainstorm an action plan for all to contribute towards encouraging NT/DNT Women’s education, empowerment, leadership and their socio-political representation. While giving opening remarks, Deepa Pawar pointed out that even the Literature has ignored the existence and efforts of NT/DNT community in history. The community faces stigma due to its oppressive history which has in turn disabled the society to know their true identity and struggles. Deepa emphasized that –

“Community problems when represented at state/ national level by people from the community itself weigh more as it is then backed by their personal experiences and community perspectives.”

Hence, she demanded definite political representation for the community. Pallavi Renke, pointed out an important issue when she said that NT/DNT women face dual marginalisation and deprivation due to her gender and caste identity. In the discussion, Neelamtai Gorhe put forth her thoughts and gave a step by step action plan for social workers and activists to follow which will contribute to NT/DNT Women’s political empowerment. Staying within the Constitutional framework, Gorhe encouraged training for stakeholders like police, local political leaders, local self-governing bodies etc. As all women leaders presented their views, a strong message of unity and education was given out. Across political parties, ideas, sectors, communities etc, all women came together on a common platform to speak on NT/DNT women empowerment.

Lecture with students of St. Andrew’s College, Bandra: Anubhuti has been pointing out how the meainstream literature ignores the existence and efforts of NT/DNT community – be it their contribution to Indian freedom struggle, or their unjust criminalization due to their freedom fight. Furthermore, even college textbooks mention them offensively and illegally as ‘criminal’ tribes. For this reason, St. Andrews College approached Anubhuti to break certain stereotypes, myths and notions about NT-DNT identity with their students and also teachers who shared that they too did not know much. On the occasion of then upcoming NT-DNT Independence Day on 31 August, an online lecture was arranged on 21st August in which Deepa Pawar, talked about community lives, their challenges in day-to-day life and the persistent stigma and discrimation that the community has been facing since centuries! The session empowered the college students with factful knowledge and reality, and also encouraged them to be socially aware and sensitive in any profession they enter in order to give justice to diverse identities and communities. 

Online Webinar by Adv. Asim Sarode: Celebrating NT-DNT Vimukt Din on 31st August (when the unjust Criminal Tribes Act 1871 was repealed in 1951), an online webinar was organised by Anubhuti where Advocate Asim Sarode was invited to talk on NT-DNTs from Gender, Youth, Child Rights and legal angles. He began his talk by defining a democratic situation as a fearless environment, without which rights cannot be exercised. He emphasized that understanding diversity is essential in order to bring equality of heterogeneity. Further on, he linked the concepts of Human Rights, Human Development with our Constitutional rights. He said,

“लोकतंत्र का  प्रत्यक्ष संबंध ये मानव विकास से है और मानव विकास किस तरह से हो यह सोचने की बुद्धिमत्ता शिक्षा से आती है।” (Democracy is directly related to human development and the process of this human development can be known through education). Adv. Sarode traced the historical background of how the status of the NT/DNT community has changed in legal and social terms, across Indian states. He asserted that NT/DNT community has been and are still majorly facing systematic discrimination & violence at the hands of police, forest officers, local authorities etc. 

“ये संघर्ष करनेवाला समुदाय है। उन्हे मदत चाहिए पर आपके उपकार नही। सबसे प्रथम उनको खुदके अधिकार चाहिए।” (This community known struggle closely. They might need help but not your charity. Primarily, they want their rights.)

A very important point was made by Adv Sarode when he said that even though National commissions & committees are formed to identify NT-DNT groups and study their status, this study shouldn’t be repetitive. Every initiative taken or efforts made must be a step ahead of the existing knowledge resource, this will help us to reach a just society sooner.