Maharashtra’s Bizarre Address Rule Leaves Its Nomadic Tribes Out in the Cold

42 nomadic and de-notified tribes in Maharashtra that has been migrating from one village to other for livelihood are not being able to produce address proof of 1961 to get caste certificate as per the act and hence want the condition to be revoked.

Huts in which Domabari community in Anthurne village reside in.

Huts in which Domabari community in Anthurne village reside in.

Pune: Chetan Ramchandra Pawar, 23, works as a labourer 125 kms away from Pune in the farms of Sansar village. That is, if he is lucky enough to get work. Pawar, who belongs to the Vadar community – a nomadic tribe – otherwise has no other option but to sit at home.

In 2011 he did a course in welding from a private centre that cost him Rs 40,000, but he could not get a job. His mother is still paying instalments for the money she borrowed from a neighbour. He had secured a free seat in a local Industrial Training Institute reserved for nomadic and denotified tribes or the Bhatke Vimukta Jatis that he belongs to. But he could not produce a caste certificate and hence had to lose a free seat.

As per the Maharashtra Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes, Denotified tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic tribes, Other Backward Classes, and Special Backward Category (Regulations of Issuance and Verification of) Caste Certificate Act, 2000 (Maha XXIII of 2001), the competent authority may issue a caste certificate to the applicant who is permanent resident of the concerned area on deemed date that is 1961 for nomadic and denotified tribes.

If the said person is born after the deemed date, then he must produce address proof of permanent address of his father or grandfather or great grandfather on the deemed date.

Chetan Pawar along with his mother in front of their one room house

Chetan Pawar along with his mother in front of their one room house

Pawar is unfortunately not aware of the birthplace of his father, who died when he was ten years old. Since then, he has been residing with his maternal grandparents. Besides, since they belonged to a nomadic tribe, his father and grandfather used to migrate from one village to another and were not fortunate enough to attend school. His is the first generation in the family to attend school. The family does not have an address proof from 1961 at all and hence cannot obtain a caste certificate.

Suman Shinde, 45, stays in a 10×10 feet hut made of wooden branches. When it rains, she, along with her family of seven, have to take shelter in a nearby community temple. If she had a caste certificate, the state government would have built her home under its Gharkul Yojana, for which she qualified.

Shinde’s is among the 25 families of the Dombari community – a nomadic tribe, in the Anthurne village of the Indapur Taluka of Pune district – with the same story. Members of the Domabari community used to earn their living by tightrope walking and by performing other such stunts to entertain people. Now the community earns wages by working on farms or construction sites. Shinde and several others from her community are unaware of where their ancestors used to stay in 1961 and hence it is impossible for them to produce an address proof from then.

Suman Shinde

Suman Shinde

Pawar and Shinde are two of the numerous victims of the flawed resolution. Denotified tribes and nomadic tribes in general have to undergo this ordeal ever since the law came into existence in 2012. Most of them are unaware that it should obtain the caste certificates in order to avail benefits of government schemes. Whoever tries to obtain these caste certificates has to go through further hurdles. If they do not receive the certificates, they have no other option but to stay quiet.

In July 2016, a few orginisations working for nomadic and denotified tribes had given representation to Bhiku Idate, chairman of National Commission of Nomadic and Denotified Tribes of Union Ministry of Social Justice. In turn Idate approached the Maharashtra government to ask them to rethink the condition of address proof.

Last month, a couple of orginisations working for D and NTs conducted a two day seminar to discuss problems they face. They handed out representations demanding revoking the condition of address proof to Bhiku Idate, chairman of National Commission of Nomadic and De-notified Tribes of Union Ministry of Social Justice at seminar.  In turn he approached the Maharashtra Government to rethink its policies about the insistence of proof of address.

Dinesh Dingale, deputy secretary of Maharashtra’s social justice ministry, however, said, “If people do not have address proof then they can appeal to the concerned officials. The officials in turn will enquire about applicants in neighbourhood to check about their castes and can give the certificate.”

Social worker Santosh Jadhav, part of the Ramoshi tribe, who works for the betterment of such nomadic and denotified tribes through his organisation Nirman, said, “First of all, denotified and nomadic tribes are backward people like Dalits. But after independence, governments tried to look after Dalits, that are scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, by reservations and various welfare schemes. Denotified and nomadic tribes remained where they were before independence.”

Talking about the regressive government resolution, he said, “Though the government has availed opportunity to get address proof through enquiry in neighbourhood, the idea is not practical. For instance 252 out of 412 applications for castes certificate got rejected due to non availability of address proof. We did request to officials about enquiry but they did not pay attention. The nature of act is itself complex. Most of the population is not aware about caste certificate. Organisations and NGOs like us approach these people to get caste certificate done. Hardly 3-4% can get address proof and in other cases we have to request government officials. If officials are cooperative or keen for these tribes’ welfare, they help. Otherwise people do not get address proof.”

Even though no official census was carried out for nomadic and denotified tribes in Maharashtra, as per reservation estimates, their population is more than one crore.

Government officials also agree that problems exist. Tushar Thombare, deputy collector of Satara district, listed the problems that these communities face while applying for caste certificate. “They need to produce birth certificate or school leaving certificate or revenue certificates of 1961 as address proof. But people from these 42 nomadic and denotified tribes in Maharashtra were poor and had no agriculture land to have revenue certificate. As they were migrating and illiterate, nobody was aware to have birth certificate. There is no reason to have school leaving certificate and generation born in 1970-80 started to go to school. Earlier they used to migrate for livelihood. ”

Bharat Vidkar of Bandhilaki, an organisation that works for the Vadar community, said, “Population of Vadar tribe in Maharashtra is more than 30 lakh and only 4-5 % among [of] them are literate. As per government report, less than 10,000 have caste certificates. Major population does not have caste certificate as they do not have address proof of 1961. We have been demanding that the condition of producing address proof of 1961 should be cancelled.”

Jadhav is himself a victim of the complex nature of the Act. “I have address proof of 1961 that is of my grandfather’s. But my grandfather belongs to Karnataka and the Act says I will be granted as a resident of Karnataka and will not get benefits of schemes reserved for these two communities. I am born and brought up in Maharashtra.”

The Act further states ‘caste certificate holder if for education or employment has migrated from other state to Maharashtra then he will be considered as holder of the state where he belongs to (not of Maharashtra) and should get benefits of all schemes from that state and Centre government, but he will not get benefits from Maharashtra state.’

The organisations have appealed several times to the government to drop the condition of the 1961 address proof, but to no avail. Jadhav said, “Act is designed without considering ground realities. Not more than 10% people from these one crore population have caste certificate. Government should come up with practical solution.”

Along with these hurdles, these tribes also face prejudice. Recently, Kiran Bedi, a former police chief and now Lt. Governor of Puducherry, tweeted: ‘Ex criminal tribes are known to be very cruel. They are hardcore professionals in committing crimes. Rarely caught and/or convicted. Government schemes and policies can free them from the clutches of poverty and this criminal tag. For that they need castes certificates, which are becoming increasingly difficult to get.