ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Criminalisation of Vimukta Communities: The Role of Police and Judiciary

In this episode, we speak to Nikita Sonavane and Srujana Bej​ about the criminalisation and policing of Vimukt communities in India.

Criminalisation and Political Mobilisation of Nomadic Tribes in Uttar Pradesh

This article aims to historicise the experiences of nomadic and denotified communities with respect to their encounter with colonialism, and maps their attempt at gaining political visibility and representation in Uttar Pradesh. Based on archival material and ethnographic accounts from various districts of UP, the article delineates the ways in which DNT communities have been stigmatised and excluded historically. The politics of appropriation is at work and they are being lured by the Hindutva and welfare politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Unveiling the World of the Nomadic Tribes and Denotified Tribes: An Introduction

31 August 2021 marks the 69th year of the repeal of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871. This act was the most draconian law passed by the British colonial state, under which millions of nomadic and semi-nomadic communities were declared criminals and put under continuous surveillance, making their lives impossible. 31 August is celebrated as Vimukta Jatis day in India by the de-notified tribal communities. After denotification in 1952, about 200 communities were included in Scheduled Tribe (ST), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Other Backward Caste lists because they come from diverse social backgrounds. While they mainly come from nomadic communities, these communities are not homogeneous. All nomadic tribes (NTs) are not de-notified tribes (DNTs), but all DNTs are NTs. Given the historically embedded diversities between the NTs and DNTs, it is difficult to treat them as a homogeneous social group or an analytical category (Renke 2008: 8–20). They are fluid categories which often cross boundaries from one social group to another.

Construction(s) of Female Criminality: Gender, Caste and State Violence

The narrative of a criminal woman finds its bearings within the caste system in India. During British colonial rule, the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 classified several tribes as hereditary, habitual criminals who by nature were predisposed to committing petty offences. Their alleged likelihood to commit crime at any moment justified blanket surveillance against them at all times. The hereditary caste system was the primary sociological paradigm through which the colonial state understood and perceived criminality. It framed specific “deceitful” crimes as the ascribed occupations of communities that were outside the order of the caste system and pursued impure, unspecific or non-traditional occupations, sometimes without residing in permanent shelters. This article explores the gendered nature of the colonial construction of criminality attributed to women belonging to Vimukta jatis (denotified nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes) through an analysis of criminal law. The first section of this article outlines the influence of caste in the construction of women’s criminality through the CTA. The second section locates Adivasi and Vimukta women’s bodies as sites of casteist state repression through criminal law and the criminal justice system, even as custodial violence against Vimukta women by the state has been erased and made invisible. The structural underpinning of this violence is negated in “mainstream” discourse. The third section details how narratives of criminality further aid and abet repression, by analysing arrest data for excise offences in Madhya Pradesh and bail orders passed against women from the Vimukta Kuchbandhiya community in MP.

Status of Denotified Tribes

A study on the socio-economic and educational status of denotified tribes reveals that members of these tribes are plagued by chronic poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, health complications, and substandard living conditions, apart from the label of ex-criminals. They face an identity crisis in the absence of statutory documents and therefore, need special policies for their welfare and upliftment.

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