Born Victims – the plight of a tribe

Sat, Feb 6, 2010

Social Issues

Born Victims – the plight of a tribe

Before they fought with the British for the freedom of their country and now, when the country is free, they are fighting for their own freedom!

What an irony!!

Let us focus our attention on the infamous and less blessed Paradhi Tribe. Instead of celebrating the heroic heritage of those designated ‘criminal tribes’ by the British rulers, Independent India continues to ill-treat them. The irony is that it is this harassment by our very own people that drives some of them to crime.

Phase Paradhi (or Phasse Paradhi) is a tribe in India. The tribe is an indigenous to Maharashtra and can also be found in parts of Madhya Pradesh. The Phasse are a sub tribe of the Paradhi caste, which includes sub-castes like Gav-Paradhi, Berad-Paradhi, Gay-Paradhi and Chita-Paradhi. The word ‘Paradhi’ originally means ‘hunter’ and that is what they were until the British took over the forests for commercial purposes.  Their history shows that their ancestors were either forest inhabitants or wandering tribes who had distinct cultural identities. Up to the Mughal period the forests on which these communities were dependent were so vast, remote and inaccessible that these areas yielded little or no income to the state treasuries. The scenario changed with the advent of the East India Company. More and more forests were brought under its control for commercial exploitation. With their lives thus threatened, many from these communities took to rebellion against the foreigners. In fact, many from these communities had taken part in and been martyred in the first war of independence against the British in 1857.

As the British tightened their grip over the forests, the Paradhi’s were no longer able to rely on it. They were left with no land and no means of livelihood and had to make their living any way they could. Unsurprisingly, some of the Paradhi’s also resorted to theft whenever the opportunity presented itself. The reason that these people had no work attracted others, who consequently started using this tribe to accomplish their ulterior motives. Lack of education and their laid-back attitude towards work made them an easy pawn at the hands of politicians and mafia gangs. When the freedom struggle began, freedom fighters used people from this clan to get rid of British representatives because being khaadi-wearers themselves, the idea of tarnishing their own hands was somehow unbecoming. After freedom, the Paradhis were blissfully forgotten, and so this community was left with no other occupation except fishing, hunting, collecting honey, brewing & selling illicit liquor, robbery, dacoity and money lending.

In 1871, the British passed the Criminal Tribes Act, which said that just being born into the Paradhi Tribe was a criminal offence. Imagine being born with a tag. Police were given absolute, rather sweeping powers to arrest them and watch over their movements. The British felt that branding the tribe as criminal was the only way to guarantee ‘public peace’ and made their decisions based on anecdotal evidence from the police. By the late nineteenth century, these so-called criminal tribes became convenient scapegoats. By acting against them, the state could keep up the pretence of law enforcement, even if a lot more criminal activities occurred and remained unpunished.
Without doubt, there are Paradhi’s who commit crimes. But there are reasons for such crimes, and each such case deserves careful consideration. Take what Stephen Fuchs wrote in The Aboriginal Tribes of India (1973): “A number of such tribes are passionately nomadic, and since food gathering and hunting in the jungle, in the traditional manner, is often impossible, they have switched over to the rather dangerous … life of foraging in the fields, villages and towns. … This has gained them a bad reputation and in the British times some of them were branded criminal and held under close police supervision. Since Independence this stigma has been taken from them, but the watch over them by the police has not much relaxed. … They are forced by the prevailing adverse circumstances to practice subsistence thieving.”
Paradhi’s continue to be seen as criminals.The police continue to round them up every time there is an incident of a petty crime. This usually results in sound thrashing in the police station. That is what happened to a Pardhi called Pinya Hari Kale at the Baramati (Satara District, Maharashtra) police station, on June 8 1998.

Like many Paradhis in Satara, 35 – year-old Kale was a landless agricultural labourer. His 1000 rupees-a-month income was the only means of sustenance available to support his wife and five children. Late on June 8, three constables picked up Kale in Baramati. Now since the arrest of Pardhis on suspicion is a purely normal thing, Kale’s wife Chandrasena was not particularly perturbed when he did not return home that night. As she told the Bombay High Court in a petition, she “expected him to be detained and released.”

That did not happen. When she went to the police station to ask after him the next day, two constables showed her his dead body.

A local magistrate and a doctor at Baramati’s Golden Jubilee Hospital produced an extraordinary post-mortem report that absolved the police altogether, corroborating their claim that Kale “fell down” while trying to run away from the constables and died soon after. A second post-mortem, at Chandrasena’s insistence, found “evidence of multiple concussions” (14 in number). It concluded that Kale had died “due to multiple blunt injuries with an evidence of a head injury.”

Because of these conflicting post-mortem reports, an official of the Pune Criminal Investigation Department, BN Mane, was asked to investigate Kale’s death. He found that at the police station, the three constables and a sub-inspector had beaten Kale with sticks and belts. Because of this, Kale died early on June 9. The sub-inspector’s report about the incident said Kale died accidentally; Mane terms this as a “false and concocted story.”

Mane has filed complaints against all four men. They are under suspension, while a further investigation takes place.

Clearly, given Mane’s findings, the state itself has concluded that Kale was killed in police custody. Yet, for months, it did not pay his family any compensation, let alone show that it intends to punish the four policemen. Chandrasena’s petition, now making slow progress through the courts, asks for both these measures.

It is important to understand that what happened to Kale is entirely typical of what happens to a denotified tribe like the one in question. Police harassment happens solely because these tribes are seen as criminal: quite often, such harassment results in death. The TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) survey found that 40 per cent of Paradhi’s had been picked up at least once; of these, only 9.5 per cent had cases filed against them. That is the terrifying spectre India’s ex-criminal tribes face every day.

Unfortunately, a negative attitude towards this tribe has long outlived the British administration in India. Even though a newly independent India repealed the Criminal Tribes Act in 1952, in the same year, a new act was passed by the name “Habitual Offenders Act“. As fate had it, things did not change for this tribe. Now the police use this act to harass the community. Even the use of the term ‘denotified’ is like branding them – Once a criminal tribe, now an ex-criminal tribe. Public pressure in villages often prevents the nomadic community from settling in villages. Paradhi’s continue to be referred to as criminal by government officials and reporters. The caste system in India means that Paradhi are not allowed to attend school, own land, and if they are dying, you can’t call an ambulance. With no running water or toilet facilities for the homeless, it’s not surprising that most Paradhi’s suffer from extremely poor health. They give birth on polluted pavements and after a lifetime of begging and struggling, most of them die on the streets.

There are, nevertheless, some signs of hope. DNT-RAG (De-notified and Nomadic Tribes- Rights Action Group) informed the National Human Rights Commission about Pinya Kale’s death. The NHRC’s response got far less attention than it deserved. On December 22, 1998, it ruled that “for the limited purpose of awarding interim relief,” it is not necessary to wait for charges against the four policemen to be proved in a criminal court. A “strong prima facie case” is sufficient; and BN Mane’s investigation clearly makes just such a case.

The NHRC directed the State of Maharashtra to pay Kale’s family Rs 2, 00,000 in compensation. It also directed the State to consider action against the magistrate and the doctor who conducted the first post-mortem, for “doctoring the inquest report to suit the offenders.” The punitive action has not happened yet. But in February 1999, the Government of Maharashtra responded to the NHRC’s direction by issuing instructions to pay the Rs 2 lakh compensation. On April 9, a police inspector at the Baramati Police Station handed over the money to the Kale family: Rs 25,000 was in cash and the rest was invested in three-year term deposits in the names of Pinya’s wife and children.

Cases like this may be the first signs of a small turn in the tide. In awarding compensation and recommending that police officers be punished, the state implicitly recognized the rights of such tribes, & the injustice that they live under daily. These cases offer some hope that one day, India’s ex-criminal tribes will no longer suffer the stigma of being so labeled; that they will no longer be a convenient target via which the police can pretend that they are fighting crime.

Despite being exonerated by the Indian government, the community is still perceived to be indulging in criminal activities. This has not changed public perception of the tribe, and they continue to be stigmatized and live as outcasts, further aggravating their backwardness and economic hardships. There is an urgent need to work amongst these communities, to organize them to liberate themselves from their present-day social and economic miseries. There is an urgent need not only to document but to reclaim their militant and heroic heritage. Last but not the least, there is an urgent need to link their struggles to the revolutionary struggles for a new democratic India.

For Paradhi’s there is a little hope that they will ever be seen as ordinary Indians. The best gift that we, as a responsible citizen and a more blessed human being, can give to this tribe is something that they never had before a future!


Venkatesh N. Pandey

(Venkatesh is an Associate Consultant in a leading IT firm in Bangalore, and likes to write on contemporary issues.)

13 Responses to “Born Victims – the plight of a tribe”

  1. Abhishek Kumarr Says:

    Real Cool Blog Dude …

  2. Mayank Gupta Says:

    Dear Sir,
    It was a wonderful effort.

  3. Rahul Gupta Says:

    keep going venky,

    dont stop writing..i love to read your articles

  4. hemant Says:

    Hi Venky urf venkatesh narayan pandey….It is good to see your performance on contemporary issues…keep it up…

  5. Replica louis vuitton Says:

    Even when you feel as though there isn’t a lot you can do to change unhappiness or problems, you can always do a little—and a little at a time eventually makes a big difference.

  6. Attorney Says:

    What a tragedy that Kale was killed while in police custody. Even more so that this is common and typical of what happens to a denotified tribe. Without people like you bringing this to public attention, how would this ever be corrected? Thank you for what you are doing.

  7. venkatesh Says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments and encouragement !

  8. Anonymous Says:

    That’s a very good and deeply moving article on the subject that we, Europeans, have little knowledge about. Do not stop writing and keep us informed about the current situation in India!

  9. währungsrechner Says:

    There are, nevertheless, some signs of hope. DNT-RAG (De-notified and Nomadic Tribes- Rights Action Group) informed the National Human Rights Commission about Pinya Kale’s death. The NHRC’s response got far less attention than it deserved. On December 22, 1998, it ruled that “for the limited purpose of awarding interim relief,” it is not necessary to wait for charges against the four policemen to be proved in a criminal court. A “strong prima facie case” is sufficient; and BN Mane’s investigation clearly makes just such a case.

  10. psychic Says:

    this is like the plight that the kenyans had when they were under british rule as well. It is sad to see.

  11. Sarah Says:

    One of the most insightful blog posts I’ve ever read..Keep it up, venkatesh!

  12. psychicjim Says:

    Born Victims – the plight of a tribe got my attention from the start. It is riveting what you said about the Paradhi Tribe, and the difficulties that they encounter. This is what happens when others try to suppress you. It is very harmful in many ways, and how society turns a blind eye is of concern to the soul of a human being.

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