Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch is a non-profit organisation working to empower the nomadic and de-notified communities while striving to create an inclusive society as well as government policies for these extremely marginalised sections of our society.
Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch, abbreviated as VSSM came into being in 2005 in a quest to find the whereabouts of various Nomadic and De-Notified Tribes (NT-DNTs) of Gujarat. The questions it struggled to find answers included “why don’t we see them around us anymore”, “where are they now” and “what had happened to them?” This quest revealed some uncomfortable truths. The plight of these communities forced us to design some concrete and focused interventions which required us to become a legal entity. Consequently, VSSM was formally registered as an organization in the year 2010, with the vision to give social identity, dignity and voice to the suffering and hardships these communities faced and to find solutions to their unvoiced challenges. VSSM, through its various initiatives endeavours to enable the NT-DNTs get access to citizenry rights, education, health facilities, housing and livelihood support. It has taken up the challenge to bring about a holistic change in the lives of NT-DNTs by questioning stereotypes both at the grassroots as well as policy levels.
The Nomadic and De-notified tribes attain identity and live a dignified life
VSSM strives to create an empathetic social and political environment that is willing to enable inclusive growth of the Nomadic and de-notified communities. Simultaneously, design community-based interventions that triggers a progressive change from within.
The Nomads of Gujarat
VSSM works with the Peripatetic nomads of Gujarat. They are the Saraniyaa, Gadaliyaa, Luhariya, Vadee, Madaree, Nat, Vanzara, Bajaniyaa, Devipujak and many more. The peripatetic nomads have never been part of any village or contained societies. The nature of their work required them to be on constant move. They were the traders, entertainers, artists, fortune tellers, essential service providers and much more. Until some 50-60 years back they were an essential part of our existence as their presence ensured that the society functioned like a well-oiled machine. However, the advent of an industrial society rendered the dexterous and skilled livelihoods of these communities futile and has led to a gradual obsolescence. Since these communities were never a part of any settled society and now that their skills were no longer required, they began vanishing from the memory of the civil society, law makers and planners. The nomads stay in make-shift settlements away from a revenue villages or hamlet or town as a result their names were never a part of any census study nor was their existence ever accounted for!!
The term Nomad derives from a French word Nomdae meaning people without fixed habitation. Nomads are known as a group of communities who travel from place to place for their livelihood. The nomadic communities in India can be broadly divided into three groups hunter gatherers, pastoralists and the peripatetic or non-food producing groups. Among these, peripatetic nomads are the most neglected and discriminated social group in India. They have lost their livelihood niche because of drastic changes in transport, industries, production, entertainment and distribution systems.
Decoding the De-Notified tribes (DNTs)
In the past, some of the Nomadic Tribes were also part of the royal armies. They were the brave soldiers from the impermanent armies of the kings who matched their steps with the state army. They fought battles with equal gallantry and readiness to be martyrs. The warriors from these impermanent armies were not paid any remuneration. Instead they were given unrestricted rights to loot the neighbouring states as much as they wished. With the advent of the British the rights of the kingdoms diminished and such tribes became jobless. But, their image remained intact. The British saw them as habitual offenders and communities that needed to be closely monitored and regulated. Thus, under the Criminal Tribes Act (Act XXVII of 1871) they made it mandatory for all including the elderly and women from such communities to attend a roll call (notify) twice a day, every day at the local police station. If, in case they travelled they had to inform the police station at their destination. The Act armed the police with wide ranging powers. It was not until 1952, when the Act was repealed that these communities were liberated from such a Criminal Tribes Act. They no longer need to notify the police and thus began to be known as De-notified tribes.
The communities were liberated from the government’s punishment but the social punishment of neglect has, till date, remained intact. In Gujarat, 12 communities including Vaghari (Devi Pujak), Dafer, Sandhi, Miyanaa, Vagher, Dheba, Mey, Chara, Chuvaliya Koli (of Kutchh’s Rapar block) Bafra, Hingora are listed as De-Notified tribes.