Coming together for the first time as a community to erase the stigma of a “criminal tribe”, leaders of various colonies of denotified Dafer community in Gujarat, on Tuesday, resolved to pass on information of any of their member who indulges in criminal activities to police or to help surrender a community member who is absconding in a criminal case.
The community members assembled in Ahmedabad at a function organised under the aegis of Vicharata Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM), a voluntary organisation working for the welfare of various nomadic tribes and denotified tribes (NT-DNT) in the state, who are deprived of housing or even identity proofs to avail benefits of government schemes.
Dafer community people were in the Provincial Army but eventually lost their traditional occupation and started indulging in criminal activities like robbery as a tool of livelihood due to poverty. Before independence, the British notified them as a “criminal tribe”. After independence, they were denotified in 1952, though the stigma of a criminal tribe continues to haunt them.
According to Mittal Patel, Managing Trustee of VSSM, the population of Dafers is around 18,000 in Gujarat. “They live in all the parts of the state other than South Gujarat. Their makeshift colonies are known as ‘Danga’. Due to the stigma of a criminal tribe associated with them, the community members are facing a lot of harassment at the hands of people and police in particular. Whenever, an offence of robbery is committed, nearby Dafer colony gets targeted by police.”
“Not all the community people are into criminal acts but because of a very few, the entire community is facing this problem. Therefore, this initiative was taken to bring the community together and take certain decisions,” she added.
Following the meeting, a decision was taken to form a committee of around 15 people to take decisions regarding alleged criminal acts by the community members.
In Gujarat, there are around 45-50 ‘Danga’ or colonies of Dafer community and leaders from all those colonies participated in the programme on Tuesday. The members, including Rehman Ismail Dafer, Hayat Dawood Khari, Kesarben Khari, Lakhabhai Dafer and Allarakh Dafer, interacted with the media and presented alleged atrocities and difficulties they face because of the stigma associated with the community.
Rehman Ismail Dafer from Bhojva village near Viramgam of Ahmedabad district said that he has helped surrender around six of his community members who were involved in various criminal acts. Citing the decision, they have taken Tuesday, Rehman said that now we will communicate to all the community members not to indulge in any criminal activity. He added that if they come to know about any member violating this decision, they will not only be socially boycotted, but information about his/her criminal act will also be given to police.
Mittal said that the community members have also unanimously taken this decision of social boycott of anybody who violates the resolve not to indulge in criminal acts. She also said that the community leaders have also decided to surrender any weapons like ‘tamancha’ (handmade unlicensed guns) they possess to police.
“Right now, all the community leaders have vowed to adhere to this resolve,” she added.
Mittal further said that while the community has been taking such efforts to erase the stigma, they also expect the state authorities to make sure that innocent members from the community are not harassed without substantial evidence. She also said that during training, police personnel should be taught to have a humane approach towards such communities. She also lauded initiatives of district authorities of Surendranagar and Patan to provide housing plots for the community members.
Recently, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani interacted with people of NT-DNT communities during his monthly Mukhya Mantri Sathe, Mokla Mane (At Ease with the Chief Minister) initiative. During the interaction, a few members from Dafer community told the CM about the harassment they face from police. In response, the CM said that while care should be taken that entire community is not clubbed to criminality, it is also the responsibility of the community to isolate such people who indulge in criminal acts.