“These are not just clothes or fashion, but a strong political statement. When young people, children, adolescents, openly wear the clothes of nomadic tribes, proudly show off their occupations that are culturally rich, speak in their languages in front of an audience of hundreds who view them with respect and as worthy to learn from, this is our challenge to the contempt, discrimination and outright violence these communities face from so-called mainstream society. Nomadic persons are marked out by their very clothes, occupations, food habits, languages, and targeted violently. Today, on occasion of our 71st Vimukt Din we reclaim our culture.”

These powerful words of founder and NT-DNT activist and leader Deepa Pawar resonated deeply with the over 150 strong crowd of youth, adolescents, artists, community leaders, and government officials at yesterday’s literary festival and cultural festival marking 71 years of liberation of NT-DNT communities from the hateful tag of ‘criminals’.

The day began with a panel with Hon. Sushma Bangar (Nayab Tehsildar, Kalyan) and Hon. Shrikant Nikule (Administration Officer, Kulgaon Badlapur Nagarparishad). Madam Sushma who also belongs to a NT community, gave her own example and exhorted the youth especially girls in the audience to never give up on education, since this is the right that will take them on the path to development no matter what. Similarly, Shrikant sir who belongs to a an Adivasi community, greatly appreciated the program organized here. He listed not only the sufferings of NT-DNT communities that he has observed in his many years of work, but also their strengths – for eg. the sign languages that many nomadic persons use among each other, but which remain secret to everyone else. He felt especially proud to see all the children proudly sitting wearing the clothes of different nomadic tribes among the participants.

We were honored to have NT-DNT leaders who are working for more than 20-25 years on ground, with their people for development, while expertly carrying out their traditional occupations, grace the day with their insights and presentations: Sita tai Jagtap, Bhaskar Shinde, Chhaban Shinde, Datta Chavhan, Ishwar Shinde, Uttam Choudhari, Ramesh Chougule, Shyam Shinde, Suresh Shinde and others.

The knowledge, culture, practices, beliefs, languages of nomadic and Denotified Tribes have been relegated as backward and superstitious for too long. This has deeply damaged not only these communities and their sense of self, but speaks very badly about national and global conditions of human rights and dignity. The first generations of these communities are reclaiming their place in intellectual, higher education, research, academic, movement spaces. This celebration on Vimukta Din was an effort towards this.

“We used to feel awkward to reveal our identity as nomadic and Denotified in school or college. Not because I thought there is anything wrong with us but because of the way the rest of society reacted. Today I felt the power that our communities posses – capacity for extreme hard work, such skilled occupations, so culturally rich. I felt proud to see so many in the audience reacting with respect and joy to our identity.” – a young woman from Vaidu (healer) community said after the cultural part of the day.

More than 25 nomadic communities were represented through Veshbhusha performance by adolescents – many belonging to those communities, and some from other backgrounds like Dalit and Adivasi who felt proud to represent NT-DNT occupations and skills. These included Vaidu, Nathpanthi Davri Gosavi, Pardhi, Banjara, Kaikadi, Kolhati, Makadwale, Saapwale, Bahurupia, Devdasi, Gondhali, Vasudev, Potraj and many others.

This was not simply a fashion show but a reclamation of nomadic cultures and occupations, building of pride in their youngsters, and showing of respect to their elders for the intellectual and cultural heritage they have given us.