For nearly 20 years now,45-year-old Venkatesh Masanjogi has been living with his wife and two children on the footpath outside the Children Aid Society in Mankhurd. Tarpaulin sheets and bamboo sticks provide them shelter.
Part of a nomadic tribe,he and 58 other families who had migrated from Andhra Pradesh to Mumbai,now fear eviction. The community has so far managed to survive by doing menial jobs at the nearby Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).
We have lived here for several years,but the nearby marriage hall owner wants us to leave as people do not want to have ceremonies here because of the many shanties in the area, Venkatesh said,during an Independence Day event organised at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on August 31. The event marked 62 years of the de-criminalisation of denotified and nomadic communities.
Masanjogi reflected on the condition of nearly 10 crore people who belong to nomadic and denotified tribes,who live in extreme poverty without basic amenities like shelter,clean water,health and educational facilities.
Denotified tribes are those communities which were notified as criminal tribes by the British. In 1952,the community was denotified and declared independent by the Indian government. Though the tribes were de-criminalised,the community continues to be targeted by the police and other law enforcement authorities.
Bhangya Bhukya,a professor of the social exclusion studies department at English and Foreign Language University,Hyderabad,said,The community has been de-criminalised only on paper. While the Constitution guarantees certain rights to marginalised sections,denotified and nomadic tribes have never been included in any government policy or scheme.
According to estimates by researchers and activists,there are roughly 10-12 crore nomads in the country. Bhukya said that the government does not have any official data.
Bhukya,who belongs to the Banjara community,has conducted extensive research on the condition of his community and has mooted the idea to include them under scheduled tribes. There is absolutely no consistency. Some states have brought the community under other backward classes and others have categorised them as SC/ST. Unless there is some uniformity,this highly fragmented community will not be able sustain itself, he said.
A commission headed by Balkrishna Renke set up in 2006 identified 150 denotified tribes and 500 nomadic tribes. Although it made around 76 recommendations in its report submitted in 2008,none have been implemented so far.
In its budget last year,Maharashtra had proposed a Rs 100-crore welfare plan for the community. Not a penny has been spent so far, says Kalidas Shinde,a PhD student from TISS,who is researching on madari (snake charmer) and kunchikorve (the monkey handlers) tribes and their condition since the Forest Act was implemented.
While the Act ensured that one does not handle animals in an inhuman fashion,very little was done by the government to rehabilitate the community,which earned its livelihood through the century-old tradition, Shinde added.