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Denotified but Pardhis still face institutionalised prejudice

Stigmatisation and poverty had forced most Pardhis (members of a denotified tribe) to migrate to Mumbai city but a new study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) concludes that they have not been able to shed the tag of criminals and they routinely face harassment,detention and humiliation at the hands of police.

Written by Mihika Basu |
July 25, 2012 3:48:33 am

Stigmatisation and poverty had forced most Pardhis (members of a denotified tribe) to migrate to Mumbai city but a new study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) concludes that they have not been able to shed the tag of criminals and they routinely face harassment,detention and humiliation at the hands of police. Denotified communities are social groups branded “criminal tribes” by the British government in India and later “denotified” by the Indian government.

According to TISS,the acute fragmentation of nomadic and denotified groups,their vast spread across the state,inability to access health,education,water,sanitation and public distribution system make them “highly vulnerable” to poverty and exclusion. The report — Status of Pardhis in Mumbai city — says though it focuses on urban poverty among Pardhis,the findings will be indicative of the nature of problems faced by members of other nomadic,denotified groups in urban areas.

It notes that lack of assets and occupational mobility,poverty,search for better employment opportunities and experience of routine harassment by police and villagers pushed Pardhis to migrate to Mumbai. “In case of many denotified and nomadic groups,there is an institutionalised prejudice against entire communities that brands them as criminals and this holds true for Pardhis. Our study reveals that they are routinely picked up by the police on account of suspicion and without preliminary investigation that is otherwise required to arrive at reasonable satisfaction to make an arrest,” says Mayank Sinha,principal author of the study from TISS Centre for Criminology and Justice.

“There have been cases of combing operations in which police have rounded up adult and teenage members of Pardhi community at night for making collective inquiries about crimes committed in the area or elsewhere. According to Pardhis,these acts of the police constitute ethnic discrimination.”

The study cites examples of the biggest Pardhi settlement in the western suburbs and a small Pardhi enclave under a flyover,and in both cases they are regularly detained on suspicion and interrogated.

It cites several police officers mentioning that their training manuals continue to characterise Pardhis and other denotified communities as “perpetual thieves and thugs”.

The researchers,however,found “little evidence” of organised Pardhi gangs in the context of Mumbai as against the popular image of such gangs engaged in robbery and theft.

Maintaining that Pardhis in Mumbai are at the bottom of economic and social hierarchies,the report says 70 per cent of the families stay in non-notified settlements without basic amenities.

“Regular demolition of their occupied spaces of residence leads to disruption of livelihood and education…In most Pardhi enclaves in Mumbai,it’s difficult to find even a single literate person.”

The picture is bleak in other areas too. “…36 per cent of families don’t have ration cards and only 20 per cent have access to Antyodaya (scheme for poor) support. These directly point to the drawbacks of the targeted public distribution system,” it concludes.

The study recommends introduction of specific housing schemes as public housing at subsidised rates is the foremost demand of Pardhis.

“Collective interrogation and public humiliation by police for eliciting information about so-called Pardhi gangs is inexcusable. There’s a need to revise the curricula for police training and conduct sensitisation programmes for encouraging a more meaningful understanding of the history of stigma attached to denotified groups,” it says.

The TISS Centre has also initiated a new field action project — Towards advocacy networking and developmental action or TANDA — among nomadic and denotified communities in Mumbai,Navi Mumbai,Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad municipal corporation areas.

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