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As a child, Darshan Ingole (35) always dreamt of a job that would give him power. A member of the Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi community, one of the nomadic tribes in Maharashtra, Ingole says it resulted out of years of fear from being marginalised. “Due to the oppression the community faced, power became an obvious aspiration. Among those with access to education, a majority chose to join the police force,” says Ingole, who is a lawyer and a social activist.
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The community’s history goes back to over 500 years, with members known to have travelled to different parts of the country spreading their religious belief as worshippers of Kalbhairavnath. The members would wander along with their cattle, halting at one place only for a few days before moving on in search of livelihood, which included begging and acrobatics. They earned respect from the agricultural communities for singing ballads of historical heroes.
Members say that while a part of the community is still employed in these occupations, many have settled in Mumbai, Marathwada and Vidarbha in Maharashtra, in Delhi, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and in Gujarat.
Ingole’s father also travelled across the country, eventually settling down in Mumbai in 1980 in search of permanent livelihood. After a few odd jobs, he began working as a mason. The community’s nomadic living ensured access to formal education was not easy. For Ingole, a neighbour’s insistence on education landed him in school.
The community, with a 10-lakh population in the state, has only a few educated till the post-graduate level, says Kalidas Shinde, who is pursuing his PhD at TISS. Shinde says that the community had been classified as a nomadic tribe since the British rule, and members formed part of the religious tradition in the state, including of Gondhal, a religious folk art.
“The community members, dressed in saffron, would go from door-to-door in villages seeking alms. While they were respected and included in the village community when it came to religious traditions, there was no intermingling in other social aspects, including in allowing them access to basic facilities,” Shinde says. He adds that the effects of social exclusion continue till today, with a majority not included in education and employment.
“Many in rural areas have access to education till the primary level. Many continue to seek alms like their parents owing to lack of opportunity,” Shinde says.
The category of nomadic tribes entitles the community to reservation of 2.5 quota in education and jobs, but the benefit has not reached the grassroot level, says Shinde. He adds that no political representation has hurt the community at all levels.
Members, including Ingole, are now working towards starting a group called Action for Nomadic Tribes . “The plan is to create a network of all community members who are educated and have steady jobs to help in capacity building of the others. Many members come together in Abapuri in Satara district for an annual zatra (fair),” Ingole says.