After the Maharashtra government last week approved 16 per cent reservation for Marathas and 5 per cent for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions, the Dhangar community has once again raised the pitch for its inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category.
The community, which is currently a Nomadic Tribe, is expecting a decision at the state cabinet meeting in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Dhangar leaders and activists had launched a massive protest last November when they held agitations outside the residence of MLAs.
They also met NCP chief Sharad Pawar recently and apparently received positive signals. Raising the demand since 1960, they community now believes there is a strong chance of its demand getting accepted by the government ahead of the Assembly elections.
“In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Dhangar votes in 60 Assembly constituencies proved crucial in deciding the fate of candidates. If the Congress-NCP government does not do justice this time, they will surely be voted out of power as we will vote en masse for the NDA,” said a leader.
The Dhangar leaders believe Pawar might push for their inclusion in the ST category because of what happened in Baramati. “In Baramati, a stronghold of the Pawar family, the 4.5 lakh strong Dhangar community voted against his daughter. Obviously, Pawar wouldn’t like to lose his citadel. The NCP will be worried about its fate in the Assembly elections,” said another leader.
Anna Dange, who founded Maharashtra Rajya Dhangar Mahasangh in 1995, said: “Time and again the Dhangar community has raised the point that replacing of the alphabet ‘r’ with ‘d’ has kept the community away from the Scheduled Tribe list. While the ST list includes Dhangad community, Dhangar has been kept out and included in the Nomadic Tribe (VJNT) category instead, which is entitled to 3.5 per cent reservation.”
Dange said the anomaly in Dhangar becoming Dhangad in the ST list had been raised in Parliament and commissions set up in this regard had also pointed out the need to make the correction. “As per our information, there is only one Dhangad family in the state. What point does it make to have reservation for one family in ST category,” he added.
Dange said the state government had done nothing in this regard.
“The state government can make the correction by just issuing a notification,” said Sanjay Sonwane, a historian who has done extensive research on the community.
Throwing more light on the subject, Ravindra Talpe, president of the Maharasthra Rajya Adivasi Sanghatna Federation, said the issue related to Dhangar and Dhangad communities was raised in Parliament by former MP Pradeep Rawat in 2002. “Rawat had said there was a spelling mistake and the correct Scheduled Tribe is Dhangar. The ministry concerned refused to correct the same,” he said.
Talpe added: “It was also observed that in Maharashtra there are two distinct communities having similar nomenclature — one is Dhangad, which is a sub-group of Oraon, a Scheduled Tribe appearing at S No 36 on the list of Scheduled Tribes. The traditional occupation of this community is cultivation. The other community is known as ‘Dhangar’ whose traditional occupation is cattle rearing and weaving of woollens. The Dhangads and Dhangars are two distinct communities… The Dhangars, who are shepherds, have been notified as Nomadic Tribe in the State of Maharashtra. Therefore, there is no printing mistake in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Amendment) Act, 1976, through which the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 was amended.”
While Talpe said the demand for inclusion of Dhangars in ST category had already been rejected at the highest level, the reason the community is raising it again and again is not difficult to guess. “The reason is simple. Nomadic Tribe is not recognised by the Central government. So, this community is deprived of reservation in education institutions and Central government jobs. There is no reservation in politics means no constituency has been reserved for the community,” said Sonawane.