Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nomadic and De-notified Tribe’s Struggle to become ‘Voters’

During Gujarat State Assembly elections last year, due to pro-active role of Chief Electoral Officer Shri Vinod Babbar over 5000 members of NT-DNT community were registered in the Voter’s list and were issues Photo-identity Cards. In July 2008, with the direction of CEO’s office, a state wide Voter’s Registration programme was organized. This was in context of the forthcoming Loksabha elections. However, Nomadic and De-notifies tribes were not covered under such programmes as their settlements are not considered as apart of the village, even after residing for more than 20-25 years in the particular village. When community requests the district authorities for allotting housing plots under government schemes, there has been a strong resistance from the villagers. In such scenario, initiative from CEO’s office of registering them as voter’s must be appreciated.

During Gujarat Assembly Elections the Dafer settlement (De-notified Tribe) from Adavaal, Kaneti and Godhavi villages of Sanand Block of Ahmedabad district were chased away when communities talk filing voter’s registration form. In Advaal village 30 families of Dafer community were residing in the settlement from 1980 and were working for protecting the farms of the villagers. Similar incident happened in other parts of the state too. Residents of Dhandhalpur village of Surendranagar districts asked Vaghri (Devipujak) community to leave the settlement immediately if they want to register as ‘voters’. To overcome these problems it was decided that the registration be done at Mamletdar level (block level). However, the process of taking photographs for the card is done at village-wise and NT-DNTs were not allowed by the villagers to enter into the premises, and could not get their photographs clicked for the cards. Such incidences happened with Vaadi community of Chotila block of Surendranagar district and also with Dafer community of Sargawada, Jakhada and Vataman villages of Dholka block of Ahmedabad district.

Basis of these experiences, we get to know the dos and don’ts in the voter’s Registration in context of NT-DNTs. It was decided that the form of registration be directly submitted at Mamletdar along with photographs. This was possible only because of the Pro-active role of the CEO office, and its concern of including NT-DNTS as ‘Voters’.

The ratio of education amongst Dafer, Saraniya, Gadaliya, Vaadi is negligible and it is not possible for them to fill up the forms (Form – 6) for the Voters Registrations. When community approached for getting form-6, they were asked to collect it locally. Villages do not want them to get registered as voters so required forms were not given. In Vasna village, Talati (revenue secretary) denied of filing up of the forms, saying they are permanently resided in the village. Lastly Sarpanch was made understood that; Voter’s registration does not have any relationship of being the permanent resident and can be changed when they leave the village. The problem was resolved for Vasna village. But in for Latifbhai’s, from Iyava village (Sanand block of Ahmedabad district) and his settlement, they had to give in writing that they will leave the settlement whenever villagers asks them to go. Recently Latifbhai and the entire settlement have been forced to leave and currently they are residing near Kargathan village, Viramgam block of Ahmedabad district.

We gave information regarding various settlements to CEO that has to be registered as voters. Based on this information Collector office asks their officer to complete the formalities of the voter’s registrations. When officers approached village Sarpanch or Talati, they were informed that no settlements of NT-DNTs exist near to their villages. Collector officer blamed us for giving misleading information. Lastly we took the collector to the settlement and they realized that no village wants to mention the settlement of NT-DNTs with the threat of their being permanent in the village.

We also tried to have dialogue with the village Panchayat in some of the villages. In Advaal village, we had meeting with village Sarpanch, who is women but her husband looks after all the Panchayat work on her behalf. He argued, “If we allow them to reside near our village we also have to give them land for the grave yard and Masjid. Though settlement in our village for last 40 years, they are not to be considered as permanent resident’s o four villages”. Sadikbhai from Advaal settlement and others were given work of protecting the farms for last many years. The contract of the protection was cancelled by the villages and they were forced to leave the village. Communities also did not get any remuneration for their work of three months. Allarakhanbhai from the settlement expressed his anguish, “Village’s have cheated us. We will not be able to get work in any other village at this time of the year. Will our hunger understand the reason? It will ask for food? And what can we do? The only way out is to rob. We don’t want to do this but is there any option left for us?” Lastly families settlements decided to divide into several groups and migrate to villages where their relatives were residing.

Five months back, villagers of Advaal village again made contract for crop protection with the Dafer families as their crops were badly affected without protection. But Dafers were not allowed to fill voter’s registration form even this year too.

In Malaniyar village of Halvad block of Surendranagar district, community members were invited to Mamletdar officer. When they visited the office, police arrested all of them. This was immediately informed to CEO office and the district collector and they all were released.

NT-DNTs like Dafer, Saraniya, Vaadi wants to reside permanently at one single location. But no village wants to have them as part of the village. Community understands that if they are settled at one single place, their children will be able to go to school regularly. Getting registered as ‘voter’ may be the first step towards getting permanent location, an address of their house. But society does not want to recognize them as VOTERs ……..

“Janunaath, what is your age ?”

We visited 40 settlements in various districts in Gujarat, to facilitate voter’s registration of nomadic and de-notified tribes. In most of the settlements, there was not a single person who could read or write. In some, children have just started going to school from this year. Members of ‘Dafer’ community had learnt to write their name in jails while members of ‘Vadi’, ‘Saraniya’, ‘Gadaliya’, ‘Madari’ had learnt to sign only to show off amongst others.
In Tharad (Banaskantha district) settlement of ‘Naathvadi’ community more than 80 families are residing for years. But not a single family had voter’s ID card. We started filling up forms for the registration. All the people in the settlement gathered and set in a row. Youth from the row came foreword to narrate his details.
“What’s your name?”
“Father’s Name?”
“Rumalnaath” he answered.
“Place of birth?”
Janunaath didn’t answer. I repeated, “What was your birth place?”
“I don’t know”, he answered.
“Then ask your mother”
He looked at a lady sitting in a row. She looked blanked and she again looked at one person, who was her husband; but all three looked confused. They come to me and said, “God knows where his birth had taken place”
“But try if you can tell approximately” I pushed. They consulted the oldest person in the settlement and a lady replied, “Ben[1], write what you feel appropriate”.
“Tell me the name of any village where you migrate during the year, to write” I asked
“Ben, we roam all over the state, you write what you feel right in your heart”
I wrote, Place of Birth – ‘Diyodar’, district - Banaskantha !!!!!
The next field in the form was of ‘age’. “Janunaath, your age?”
“18 years”, he promptly answered.
I was amazed, as Janunaath looked quite elder. I said, “You must be elder. Your age doesn’t seems to be 18, are you married?
“Yes. I have four children”
His mother came to our help and said, “He only looks elder, but he is the youngest son amongst 6 children of mine”.
Now we were confused. I was feeling hesitated to approximately write his age as we did for ‘place of birth’. My fellow worker Sandeepbhai asked his mother, “what is your age”, the idea was to judge Janunaath’s age based on his mothers age. “40 years she said” We were more confused.
Sadeepbhai asked Janunaath to call his eldest child. Devnaath, came running to his father. He was approximately of 14 years. And we estimated age of Janunaath and filled the form. And then we estimated age of each applicant by looking at her or his eldest child.

The campaign of Voter’s Registration amongst Nomadic and e-notified tribes was done in association with State Chief Electoral Officer’s Office. There was special recommendation made for NT-DNTS settlements from CEO office. Thus local administration pro-actively visited some of the settlements to fill up registration forms. However they asked to produce Birth certificate.
In some of the settlements community didn’t not disclose the fact they did not have the one. While in some, community told about not having any proof of birth. Officers advised then to approach government hospital for getting such proof. People were disappointed as they were not having money to travel up to Government hospital at block level. While Dafer community members from Rajula block (Bhavnagar district) reached the government hospital. They moved from table to table and room to room till afternoon, only to know that government hospital will not be able to issue them a birth Certificate!!!

When they telephoned us in the office, we informed CEO office about the issue and it was resolved.

In nomadic and de-notified community, even today, deliveries are in the settlement and community is totally unaware about the birth registration procedure. The fact is that these settlements are not covered under ICDS. Where community is aware and they approach nearest Panchayat for registration, Panchayat refuse as they feel threat that community may take share from village common resources. Vicharata Samudaay Samarthan Manch has now started working with women but there is long way to go!!! The major challenge non-acceptance of NT-DNT’s in the society. Every little activity, programme or effort we do, we put maximum efforts for sensitization and involvement of the society. We do see changes in the society’s approach. But the process is extremely slow, painful and requires lot of patience that we tend to loose at times!!
[1] Ben means sister in local language, a lady with respect is called as “Ben”


In June 2007, Vicharata Samudaay Samarthan Manch initiated campaign for school enrollment of nomadic children in the Ashram Shalas and residential schools run with government support. Around 700 children were enrolled in various schools. However retention of the children in schools was big challenge. The children of nomadic communities find it very much difficult to adjust with the environment in the residential schools. Children were finding it difficult to sleep inside rooms as they are accustomed to sleep outside in open. Their eating habits were also different. On the other hand, it was very much difficult for teachers to understand living habit of these children. Their food intake was much higher then that of the other children. Many amongst those were having habit of chewing tobacco. Children were feeling excluded. Thus they left the school. The experience was disheartening and disappointing. Nomadic and de-notified communities are still out of the reach of education. The experience of first year gave us a feeling that challenges are tough then we have expected.
In 2008, we started well in advance. Community leaders were given responsibility of making list of children. The experiences of first year were shared with various schools and teachers. We also decided to put maximum effort for enrolling the child in nearest school instead of residential school. Children who were ready stay in residential schools were sent to Ashram Shalas where we have initiated continuous dialogue process with teachers. Still around 20% of the children could not be retained.

Women from Vadia settlement of Banaskantha district have been engage in prostitution for earning their livelihood. It is very important that children from this settlement go to school so that they are not trapped in the vicious viscous circle. 16 children from this settlement were enrolled in the Asharm Shala near Ahmedabad. Children from Vadia settlement are exposed to the occupation in which their family is involved in. Severe behavioral problems were observed with these children. Teachers gave punishment to the child and 4 girl children left the school.
In Parevada settlement of Rajkot district, children from 80 families of Vaadi community were denied school enrollment in the nearest village school. When representation was done to Education department of the state, a teacher visited the settlement and invited children to school. When women from the settlement took children to village schools for enrolling their names, villages pelted stones towards children. Two children were severely injured. Children were not enrolled in the village school. Lastly government started tent school in Parevada Settlement.

We observed that children of nomadic communities could not follow the discipline and rules that are to be obeyed in the residential schools. This was mainly because; they are used to live free life without restrictions in their settlement. Thus it was realized that facilitation process before school enrollment is necessary for increasing retention rate. These experiences were continuously shared with associated organizations like Sarvaday Trust and many others. Kantibhai from Sarvoday Trust agreed for support to start these facilitation centers in 5 selected settlements.
Children from these settlements except at Advaal (Ahmedabad) are child labours. However in most of the cases, parents were ready to send their children to school. In Tharad, parents were happy and immediately engaged themselves in preparing a class room for children. In nearby settlement, Vadia houses are being constructed and there were lots of empty cement bags. Women collected those bags and stitched together to form a large sheet that was used as roof of the school. Rohitbhai Nai, a local youth has been selected as teacher. Community takes care of the school, teacher and children.

In Vijapur settlement, most of children go for work. Due to scarcity of drinking water, girl children are engaged in fetching water. Children also work in BT cotton seed plot for 2-3 months also in other related work. School has been started almost a month ago. Slowly more and more children are attending school. Teacher Jaswantbhai Parmar, has been successful in retaining the interest o the children in school through recreational activities. Women from the settlement have done a raised platform of mud as seating arrangement for children.

It was very difficult to start school in Saraniya Settlement in Prantij block of Sabarkantha district. Community did not agree for sending their children to school. A group of women took initiative and school was started. Most of the children are child laboures and work either on tea-stall or other places. Parents do not have trust on the education system and does not feel importance of education. Two local teachers left the school within a week. Recently a third teacher, Shahinben Pathan has agreed to take up the task and we hope for better results. Another school has been started in Bajania and Bharathari settlement. Here too children go for work, however co-operation from parents is better then the earlier settlement. Damayantiben Vankar has been selected as Teacher, and we anticipate that it will be comparatively easier to work here.

In Surendranagar schools will commence after Diwali Vacation. Rekhaben Solanki has been selected as Teacher.

In Advaal, near Ahmedabad, it is difficult to find teachers to run a school. Village youth are reluctant to work with Dafer community. However a search of teacher is on and soon school will be started. All the above mentioned settlements are big and have contacts in several other districts. Thus it will be easier to start schools elsewhere once we are successful in these settlements.
Monitoring and local support is given by community leaders. For ex. In Prantij, Natubhai Barot has accepted voluntarily responsibility of monitoring and providing local co-ordination support. Mrs. Sharadaban, Tharad and Mrs.Truptiben in Surendranagar have taken this responsibility respectively.

Sarvoday Trust, Pindawal has agreed for payment of teachers @Rs.2000/month.
Other educational material like slate, charts and other educational material was given by Navneet Prakashan
Parent association in contact with Sanjaybhai Dave (Charakha – a’ bad) gave contribution for purchase of pen, pencil, book, drawing book, duster, pen, chowk etc. The accounts will be directly submitted to the each of the donors. These will also be circulated to all associated stakeholders.


Manikaka is fond of social service. He belongs to Bajaniya Community and lives in settlement near Chhaniyar village of detroj block of Ahmedabad district in Gujarat. For past many years Manikaka is visiting Mamletdar and Collectors office for asking for housing plots for his village mates as well as Bajaniyas residing in nearby villages. Manikaka has studied till std 7th and can read and write applications. Manikaka never misses an opportunity to represent their issues and demands in any of the meeting held by Minister or leaders.
Manikaka has not even reached his 60’s but struggles for survivals has made him little older than his actual age and he looks beyond 70’s. Manikaka strongly believes in social service and involved himself in every little work that would benefit fellow community members. He is suffering injustice against his own family members by Patel. He and his wife work as daily labour and put their children into schools. Elder Jagdish went upto S.S.C, younger Kiran 8th Std and daughter Jyotsna upto 6th. Manikaka is working as labour for years in the farm that belongs to Patel. As Jagdish turned 16, as per traditions of Bajaniya Community[1], he was of the age of getting married. Manikaka borrowed Rs.40,000/- from the Patel by agreeing to the condition that after marriage, Jagdish and his wife would also join with Manikaka and his wife to work on the Patel’s Farm. Jagdish left his school after marriage. 4 people from Manikaka’s family started going as farm labour in Patel’s Farm. After five years of their work, they were informed that more than 50% of their debt is still to be paid, a younger Kiran also joined to Patel farm by leaving his school. With time Kiran too got married, again some money was borrowed from Patel and one labour was added to Patel’s farm after his marriage.

In these areas of Ahmedabad, a farm labour is paid Rs.15,000 to 20,000/- a year with grains to feed his family. Engaging an entire family as farm labour is not the usual practice in this area. But Manikaka’s family and many others from Bajaniya community are engaged for generations with exploitative conditions and low wages. At times, when Manikaka asked for some money to meet his daily needs. He was asked to mortgage his ration card. Two year back, Manikaka could pay back the entire loan borrowed from. His sons are working GIDC as labour in Kadi, Mehsana district. Their children go to school. Manikaka stays and his wife stays in his settlement near Chhaniyar village. His sons send his Rs. 200 to 300 monthly. Manikaka has to struggle to survive. This time, when I visited his settlement, he talked about his struggle, “After monsoon, there were Kankoda[2] grown near the river bank, which I sell that and earn some money. I went to Rampara village around 3 km from Chhaniyar to sell my kankoda to the president of one Gandhina organization working there. I remember we also had one meeting in the same organization and the president has talked about supporting us. But when I reached there I found that president has changed. I approached new president, and he asked for price of one Kg of Kankoda. I said Rs.30 a kg. He bargained for Rs.10 per kg. What can I say to him? I refuse to sell. People working in Gandhian organization didn’t understand our struggle? If he would have gone to big mall, he would have given whatever price is being asked by them without bargaining. But when question comes of us getting some extra money, people feel of being cheated.”

In spite of his daily struggle Manikaka thinks beyond to work for betterment for his community. There are five more such Bajaniya settlements in Detroj block of Ahmedabad viz. Karannagar, Ghatisana, Visatpura, Ranchhodpura, Nani Kadi. All these settlements are not part of the adjacent village. These settlements have no water, electricity, road or sanitation services. Average distance form nearby village in 3 to 3.5 km. Gajarakaki, an old women from Chhaniyar settlement said, “When I came here after my marriage, since then I have been struggling to fetch daily water. See I have lost my hair by daily lifting vessels of water on my head for years. Still my settlement has not got drinking water facility.” Eight year old Mukesh lost his life last year by snake bite. Snake was inside their small hut! Sanjay resides in settlement near Ghatisana village and studies in 9th Std. He scored 80% marks and stood 4th in the class. As his settlement does not have electricity connection, he studies in Street Lights of the village which is quite far from his place. His parents are worried as he comes in the night from dark, lonely lane after finishing his studies.

Bajaniya community hardly gets regular work. Thus they had to face food un-security. Their children are malnourished. Every settlement has one or two physically challenged person. The ratio of addiction to smoking and tobacco is high. Communities were not aware of NREGA, but they all have applied to village secretary for getting some work. Village secretary has given them pass book saying that their accounts have been opened in the post office, but they are still to get their Job Cards.

Most of the Bajaniya families stay in small mud hut/house which is given support with wood poles. They don’t have capacity to repair their house even. Kantibhai, one of the resident from the settlement urged, “We are not in the list of the government for backward classes, Please ask government to include us in backward classes list.”

Vikasati Jati Kalyan Khatu of the state government is meant for upliftment and welfare of Nomadic and de-notified tribes. The Director of the department Mr. Vanzara says that his department is giving priority to nomadic tribes out in their list of Other Backward Class (144 casts). There are special provisions for Nomadic and de-notified tribes. But question is why Bajaniya’s of Kadi, Detroj, Patan, Sami, Harij districts don’t even know about such provisions for them?

Mittal Patel (09099936011 - M)
Vicharata Samudaay Samarthan Manch
(An initiative promoted and hosted by JANPATH, a state level network of voluntary organizations in Gujarat.)
[1] Bajaniya is one amongst 40 nomadic communities residing in Gujarat. These communities usually reside outside the main village in settlement. As traditionally these were nomadic communities, till today, they are not considered as part of the village and are does not have permanent house to stay.
[2] a type of vegetable popularly eaten in Gujarat