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Mera Baap Chor nahi hai | My father is not a thief

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“A friend and I had gone shopping and were returning with many bags. Police stopped us and accused us of having stolen the things we had bought. We told them that we were students and that I was studying to become a doctor. They refused to listen to us only because we are from the Chhara community and kept us in custody for one night.” The Chharas have been traditionally associated with petty thievery….

“Mera baap chor nahin hai” emerged as a vociferous feeling amongst the members of a Ground Level Panel of representatives of Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNT) who had been brought together to discuss and deliberate their issues by National Alliance of DNT (NAG-DNT) and Praxis-Institute for Practices.

On 20 June, 2017, a group of these eleven representatives from eight denotified and nomadic tribes across from across five states of India, released a report “Mera Baap Chor Nahin Hai” (https://praxisindia.org/pdf/DNT-EventReport.pdf) which includes a list of recommendations for the Government and development sector agencies to take cognizance of.

“Denotified tribes in India were branded as “born criminals” during colonial times under the Criminal Tribes Act of of 18971 and despite denotification, they continue to suffer social and criminal stigma (“born criminal” or “habitual criminal”). People from the NT-DNTs have borne the most violent and repressive brunt of the stigma of criminalization, continued violations and arbitrary use of Habitual Offenders Act, societal non-acceptance and the failure of the polity to include them in the mainstream social and economic fabric of the country. This, despite their culturally rich and artistic traditional occupations”, says Mayank Sinha, Convenor of NAG-DNT.

Set against the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and its mandate to “leave no one behind” the network has initiated a process of community led research. Through the research, NAG-DNT along with Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices, have mapped access to critical infrastructure of the DNTs across 40 locations in five states. Some select community members from DNT-NT community who have participated in the data collection and some who have faced stigma and discrimination as a result of their DNT identity along with experts, came together to collectively analyse the findings in a ground level panel process as well as present their inferences and recommendations directly to the larger audience on 20th June 2017. Tom Thomas, CEO of Praxis shared that “Ground level panels are a way of getting people with the lived experience of stigma and discrimination to discuss, deliberate and comment on policy matters rather than have adademics and sector experts to do the same, because the ground level panel can generate a tremendously nuanced set of recommendations.

As they discussed the nature of stigma and discrimination they faced they shared how they talked about how they are labelled because of their traditional occupations- “We traditionally danced at entertainment programmes and wore full sleeve blouses without exposing an inch of skin but you called us names….and today, when skimpily clad girls are invited to parties to dance, they face no stigma and It is in fact encouraged on television shows and seen as entertainment.” In the context of their traditional occupations have been illegalised pushed them further into vulnerability they shared experiences. “My grandfather used to make medicines with antlers. With the arrival of allopathic medicines and the passing of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, his art was deemed illegal. He was forced to give up his work and eventually, my father had to support the family by rag picking.” There were many similar experiences shared from the fishing community in Gujarat. “With every “progressive” law that that you pass, law, our occupations get illegalised. When the law takes away our livelihood, you do it without any rehabilitation plan. They shared many instances of perpetual wrongful arrest and how that has made the “history sheeters”. When the criminal tribes act is abolished they questioned why it is still in the police academy syllabus.

Their four key demands are: 1) Freedom from criminality, suspicion and stigma; 2) Right for institutional protection and participation; 3) Enumeration and disaggregation of data by DNT and 4) Right to Budgetary provision. A report bearing these details was released at Sampoorna Vimukti, an event coinciding with World Refugee Day, to highlight how the community feels like refugees in their own community. A set of digital stories about the community experiences was also released.

The guests for the event included Honorable Dada Bhikuram Idate (Chairperson National Commission of semi-nomadic, Nomadic and Denotified tribe along with Balkrisna Ranke (Ex-chairperson, National Commission of semi-Nomadic, Nomadic and Denotified Tribe), Dr. Meena Radhakrishna (Ex-faculty, Ddelhi Univesity and former Director of research in National Commission of semi-nomadic, Nomadic and Denotified tribe), Prof Vijay Raghavan (Faculty, Tata Institute of Social Sciences), Amitabh Behar (NFI) and Representatives from Civil societies like Actionaid, CRY, CARE, Tata Trust, Sehgal Foundation etc.

The report can be accessed at: https://praxisindia.org/pdf/DNT-EventReport.pdf

For further details please contact: Mayank Sinha nag4dnt@gmail.com (+91-8080267769)

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