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Denotified & Criminal Tribes of India

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Denotified & Criminal Tribes of India

Denotified & Criminal Tribes

The Denotified tribes are found across the length and breadth of India, these diverse communities are brought together by a shared history of marginalization and stigma. Within living memory, their livelihoods were once an important part of the vibrant landscape of India. These nomads lived on the road for much of the year. As they passed through villages, they would sell their wares and bring much-welcomed entertainment to rural communities. However, as the British colonial government increasingly encroached upon Indian society from the mid-eighteenth century, this traditional way of life was slowly destroyed.  They were portrayed as vagrants, uncivilized, and in need of reformation. Eventually, their traditional patrons ostracized them and ultimately, in 1871, the colonial government officially declared them as hereditary criminals under the Criminal Tribes Act. This single signed act meant that whole communities – men, women and children – were placed under strict supervision and had to report daily to the local police. By the time India gained her independence from the British on August 15, 1947, approximately three million people were labeled as criminals by birth. They had to wait an additional five years, until 31 August 1952, for their Vimukti Diwas (liberation day) when the Criminal Tribes Act was finally repealed and they were denotified as criminals – hence the present-day moniker.  August 2017 marks 70 years of Indian independence and 65 years since the repeal of the Criminal Tribes Act. Yet in many ways, these communities are yet to receive freedom at all. With the help of community leaders some tribes are beginning to recognize what their rights are but knowing them and accessing them is a huge challenge. 

Denotified & Criminal Tribes

The Denotified tribes are found across the length and breadth of India, these diverse communities are brought together by a shared history of marginalization and stigma. Within living memory, their livelihoods were once an important part of the vibrant landscape of India. These nomads lived on the road for much of the year. As they passed through villages, they would sell their wares and bring much-welcomed entertainment to rural communities. However, as the British colonial government increasingly encroached upon Indian society from the mid-eighteenth century, this traditional way of life was slowly destroyed.

They were portrayed as vagrants, uncivilized, and in need of reformation. Eventually, their traditional patrons ostracized them and ultimately, in 1871, the colonial government officially declared them as hereditary criminals under the Criminal Tribes Act. This single signed act meant that whole communities – men, women and children – were placed under strict supervision and had to report daily to the local police

By the time India gained her independence from the British on August 15, 1947, approximately three million people were labeled as criminals by birth. They had to wait an additional five years, until 31 August 1952, for their Vimukti Diwas (liberation day) when the Criminal Tribes Act was finally repealed and they were denotified as criminals – hence the present-day moniker.

August 2017 marks 70 years of Indian independence and 65 years since the repeal of the Criminal Tribes Act. Yet in many ways, these communities are yet to receive freedom at all. With the help of community leaders some tribes are beginning to recognize what their rights are but knowing them and accessing them is a huge challenge.

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