Birth of National Alliance Group for  Denotified and Nomadic Tribes

A series of regional consultations was organised from September, 2013 to January, 2014 in Ahmadabad (Gujarat), Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), Kota (Rajasthan), Gauhati (Assam) and Delhi to identify future strategies for the erstwhileDNT-Rights Action Group. The discussions resulted in a report named “Waiting for Freedom: Recommendations from Regional Meeting on Nomadic, De-notified and Semi-Nomadic Tribes in India”. Based on the consultations, a five point future strategy was decided:-

  1. Need to develop leadership among youth with focus on women;
  2. Need to address the developmental issues with focus on decriminalization;
  3. Need to build national forum for DNT which can be engaged in policy advocacy and building alliance with different stakeholders;
  4. Need to developed model of field intervention with the community.; and
  5. Need to developed DNT literature.

Keeping in line with the five point future strategy it was decided that the focus of the DNT-Rights Action Group should be on building alliance with state and non-state actors, therefore DNT-RAG was renamed as National Alliance Group for Semi-nomadic, Nomadic and De-notified Tribes (NAG-DNT).

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DNT-Rights Action Group

The movement fighting for the rights of DNT in India began with the death of Budhan Sabar, a tribal belonging to Kheria Sabar community of West Bengal, who was brutally murdered in police custody. The news of this cold blooded murder led the prominent Bengali writer, Smt. Mahasweta Devi, prominent linguistic Prof. Ganesh N. Devy and Sahitya Academy award winner for his book uchalya, Mr. Laxman Gaikwad to file a petition in the High Court of Kolkatta to investigate the death of Budhan, where the High Court ordered the CBI to institute an inquiry and granted a compensation of Rs. 1 Lakh to the family of Budhan Sabar. The case is currently undergoing trial in the Purulia court in West Bengal. Due to the involvement of luminaries such as Smt. Devi, Mr. Laxman Gaikwad and Prof. Ganesh Devi, the issue of SNDT (Semi-nomadic, Nomadic and Denotified Tribe) was highlighted at the national level for the first time.

Thereafter, the De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes – Rights Action Group (DNT-RAG), was founded in June 1998 by Smt. Mahasweta Devi, Prof. Ganesh N. Devy and Mr. Laxman Gaikwad. Different initiatives in various states was started by DNT-RAG, the earliest of them being Budhan Theatre. Budhan Theatre was an initiative started by the SNDT youth of Chharanagar in Ahmadabad (Gujarat). The first play they performed was titled “Budhan” based on the custodial death of Budhan Sabar. The play was widely performed and appreciated across the state of Gujarat. Budhan Theatre in the last 15 years has produced 43 plays on various issues of Nomadic and De-Notified Tribes and has been successful in creating a nationwide awareness about this most neglected section of society. Through theatre, Budhan Theatre has reached out to a cross-country audience and in 2007; they were invited by the United Nations to speak about India’s Nomadic and De-Notified Tribes. Budhan Theatre also runs a community library and children’s centre at Chharanagar in Ahmedabad (Gujarat).

The DNT-RAG was instrumental in setting up the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribe. On 14th January, 2006, Prof. Ganesh Devy along with Smt. Mahasweta Devi and Mr. Uday Narayan Singh, IAS met the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh at his invitation, to discuss the issues pertaining to SNDTs. At the request of Dr. Devy and Smt. Mahasweta Devi, Dr. Singh agreed to appoint a National Commission on SNDT. On 25th January, 2006, the UPA-1 Government announced the formation of the National Commission for Semi-nomadic, Nomadic and Denotified Tribe to study the problems and recommend schemes to address the issues of SNDTs. Mr. Balkrishna Renke was appointed as the first Chairperson of the Commission with two other members.

The Commission submitted its report to the government after three years in July, 2008. At the request of Dr. Devy, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also appointed a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to advise the Commission in matters incidental to the issue. A Report was prepared and submitted to the Commission by the TAG. Later NAC (National Advisory Council) also submitted its report to Government of India in 2011. But despite the recommendations of the Commission and the Reports submitted by various authorities, no concrete steps were taken by the Government of India to ameliorate the conditions of the DNTs.

The DNT-RAG also filed various cases in National Human Right Commission (NHRC) during the tenure of Honorable Justice J.S. Verma. Justice Verma as a chairperson of the commission also passed a set of recommendations for decriminalization and development of DNT communities and for conducting a census for these communities. However the process had to be stopped mid way as the government had announced the constitution of a National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribe.