‘We Also Exist’ – A mega convention by Nomadic and De-Notified Communities

A glorious life full of color, reverence, honor, prosperity and abundance now reduced to extreme poverty, shambles and sheer deprivation is certainly how we can describe the current condition of the Nomadic and De-notified communities across Gujarat.  It has been a continuous down-fall for the communities that were once respected for their loyalty, fearlessness, skills and art. Since more than a decade, VSSM has been trying to make the policy makers aware of the plight of these communities and the need for some immediate and concrete measures to help them achieve a dignified standard of living. However, everyday continues to be a struggle for these communities whose, collective population is more than 50 lakhs and for organization like our who is trying really hard to ensure the nomads realize their fundamental rights to lead a life free from the shackles of poverty and exclusion.

The issues these communities face are very complex and manifold, the struggle is not just about addressing one particular problem but to tick many boxes at a time. These families need food, place to settle, education for their children, access to water, livelihood, healthcare and above all acceptance from the society of which they should have been such an integral part of. Unfortunately, all their applications to are dragged for a minimum of 7-8 years. Imagine waiting for a ration card or water connection or getting enlisted to a BPL list for so long yet, there are no guarantees that their applications will see the light of day!  The snail-paced progress on their applications and neglecting the need to rehabilitate these skilled communities have reduced them to beggars. Apart from the long waits there are communities like Dafer, who face continuous unlawful harassment and abuse from police, there are nomads who find it difficult to work because the police keep bothering them asking their license to work or ID cards?? Time and again we have tried to highlight the living conditions and expected some compassionate and empathetic approach from the law makers but, things have hardly moved forward.

The nomadic and de-notified communities are fed up with these never-ending delays in addressing their basic needs.  Most of them do not see an end to it in their life-time.  If such a huge chunk of population is denied their right to a dignified life, it would be difficult to pull their children out of the chronic cycle of poverty and marginalization.

VSSM has been feeling the need to make the administration and government understand the mammoth numbers of these population. It is not about few thousand families but lakhs and lakhs of families. The government needed to see these numbers and recognize the fact that these population cannot be neglected. These faceless, address-less and nameless communities on the other-hand needed to let the world especially, the administration and government know they existed, to send across this strong message, a mega convention was organized on 14th October 2017 at Palanpur.  The objective was, nomads delivering the message “We Also Exist” and letting the society know about their everyday plight to survival and provide a list of demands to the government.

The nomads are a sizable chunk of the total population of Gujarat and it is high time they get noticed and their basic demands be met. A compiled list of the demands that came from each of these community is as listed:

  1. Allotment of plots to homeless and landless families.
  2. Increase the amount provided for construction of house.
  3. Include the names of families living in shanties in the BPL list.
  4. Ease the process of obtaining caste certificate.
  5.  Issue Antyoday ration cards to families living in huts and shanties.
  6. Issue a profession defining identity cards.
  7. Special provisions for nomadic and de-notified tribes under 27% OBC reservations.
  8.  Equal participation and representation of all nomadic and de-notified tribes in the Board for Nomadic and De-Notified tribes. An advisory group can also be appointed.
  9. Appropriate rehabilitation of Vadee and Madaree
  10. Reframe the almost obsolete official list of Nomadic and De-notified communities. Include Meerbarot and Fakir in it.
  11. Solve this never-ending issue of police harassment of Dafer.
  12. Formation of district committees headed by the district Collector to address the issues of nomadic and de-notified communities. Bi-monthly follow up meeting, chaired by the Collector.
  13. Increase the scope of   Boards for nomadic and de-notified communities. Its involvement and work have to go beyond loan sanctions. The Gujarat chapter can draw example for the corporation launched by Haryana Government.
  14. Make special provisions to enable the illiterate individuals acquire driving license. Most of the nomadic individuals are illiterate and cannot pass the written test.
  15. Budget allocations should be in tune with the population size of the community and the government needs to take proactive measures to ensure the budget is spent accordingly.
  16. Make cooperative societies of families desiring to farm the government wastelands and allot them land to cultivate.
  17. Protect the nomadic and de-notified families renting the land to farm against the crop failures resulting due to natural calamities.
  18. Create spaces for urban nomadic and de-notified families to carry out their business of selling vegetables and likes.
  19. Priority to Oad and Vanzara communities for sand mining on river beds.
  20. Approve the Devipujak and Rawal landless families farming on the riverbeds.
  21. Allot Ma Amrutam cards that allows access to health facilities to nomadic and de-notified families.
  22. To protect and encourage the traditional art forms of Bhavai and Acrobatics, make provisions to train the Bhavaiya, Turi, Barot and Nat. If required open an institute that works towards conservation and contemporizing of these traditional folk-art forms.

At the convention, the prepared list of demands was finalized, it was unanimously decided to hand over the list to Shri P. K. Laheir, Ex. Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat who would present it to the government. It was also decided that these demands will be shared with the leading political parties to get them included in the party manifesto for the upcoming assembly elections.  There is strength in numbers and the nomadic and de-notified communities have a huge presence, it is important for the political parties to recognize this fact and act quickly to address the issues of basic needs of these poorest of poor sections of our country.

A few days after the convention, the dates of Gujarat Assembly Elections were announced and VSSM requested appointments to the party presidents of both the leading political parties of Gujarat. It is determined to get these issues included in the election manifesto of these parties.

To our great delight both the leading political parties the BJP and Congress included our demands in their election manifesto. While Congress included each and every demand we had put forward, the ruling BJP remained selective and picked few.  We were expecting more to be included however, are glad with whatever has been included. Atleast the parties are aware of the existence of these communities.

The nomadic communities are so visible yet ignored by one and all. This development has brought  joy in lives of nomads and people who have been striving for their rights. The congregation of  nomadic and de‐notified tribes on 14th October 2017 at  Palanpur to tell the world  WE ALSO EXIST  succeeded in bringing attention to the plight and woes of everyday!!