The Centre once again failed to speak with surety about reservation for nomadic and denotified tribes of India, despite the passing of a related Bill in the Lok Sabha on April 1, 2022.
BJP MP Nishikant Dubey on April 4 asked Tribal Affairs Minister of State Renuka Saruta about the details of tribal communities demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in India. Considering on Friday, MPs passed a Bill to include Gonds and associated tribes in the ST category for certain parts of Uttar Pradesh, it was expected that Saruta would acknowledge the demands of other tribes such as tea-tribes of Assam as well. However, far from acknowledging, Saruta said that only those communities who have been declared as ST by the President will be considered under this category.
“The Government of India on June 15, 1999 (further amended on June 25, 2002) has laid down the modalities for determining the claims for inclusion in, exclusion from, and other modifications in the Orders specifying lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. According to these modalities, only those proposals, which have been recommended and justified by the concerned state government and concurred with by the Registrar General of India (RGI) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), are to be considered for amendment of legislation,” she said.
The questions also failed to address the awkward implementation of the ST status where a tribe enjoying ST status in one state may not avail the same benefits in another state despite. Despite having a history of oppression, the community’s status for reservation is subject to change by each state’s list.
For example, the Santhal tribe was recognised in the ST category in recent years after persevering agitations in Jharkhand. However, a student from this tribe will lose this status – and by extension the reservation benefits – once they choose to step outside the state. The lack of ST status has often left these groups vulnerable with some families being forced to convert to religious minorities as a means to avail government subsidies and benefits. In Assam, there are tribes such as Moran, Matak, Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi and Chutiya who have been demanding ST status in the state. Further, the category fails to include tea tribes, denotified tribes (DNTs) and nomadic tribes (NTs).
What are tea tribes, DNTs and NTs?
Tea tribes are those members of Adivasi and tribal communities who were brought to Assam by the British to work in tea estates. The ancestors of modern day tea tribals hail from present day UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were made to work in 160 tea estates across Assam. Many of them continued to work in the tea estates even after Independence.
While these tribes came under the ST category in their home states after Independence, the families left in Assam came to be known as “tea tribes”. They were excluded from reservation due to their non-indigenous status in the state. Nowadays, there are over 8 lakh tea estate workers in Assam belonging to Tea Tribes. These Santhal, Kurukh, Munda, Gond, Kol and Tantis tribes have been demanding an ST status in Assam for many years. Around 2021 Assembly elections, the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam (AASAA) had questioned the BJP about the delay in this demand.
Similarly, denotified tribes are Adivasi groups that were dubbed as “criminal tribes” by the colonisers. During independence, these tribes were denotified but did not get the ST status required to avail social benefits and reservation. These tribes include Berad, Bestar, Bhatma, Kaikadi, Kankarbhat, Katabu, Lamani, Phase-Pardhi, Raj-Pardhi, Rajput-Bhatma, Ramoshi, Vadar, Waghari and Chhapparbandh.
Further, there are nomadic tribes in India such as Bawa, Beldar, Bharadi, Bhute, Chalwadi, Chitrakathi, Garudi, Ghisadi, Golla, Gondhali, Gopal, Helwe, Joshi, Kasi-Kapadi, Kolhati, Mairal, Masan-Jogi, Nandi-Wale, Pangul, Raval, Shikalgar, Thakar, Vaidu, Vasudeo and Wadar among others. These are considered among the most vulnerable and economically weak communities, yet they are not eligible for central quotas, as per what a Parliamentary Committee said on Monday. It asked the government to set a deadline by which to conduct an ethnographic survey of 269 denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes so as to categorise them as Dalits, tribals, OBCs and provide due subsidies and reservation.
These groups have been known to face multiple challenges even before pandemic years. They were called criminals by Britishers who mistook caste for profession and wished to compel the nomadic groups to settle. In 2017, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) wrote about the women of the Wadar community living along the peripheries of Mumbai and other cities.
Overall, there were 10.45 cr ST people living in India as per the Census 2011. The distribution of these tribes as per their ST status can be seen below:
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The Nowhere Women