Though there has been no census of these tribes, their numbers are estimated to run into millions
Branded "criminal tribes" by the British, about 200 so-called Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (DNT), who are among the most poor and destitute and whose number run into millions, may finally get a chance to join the national mainstream.
The National Advisory Council (NAC), led by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, has asked the government to enumerate these tribes in the current socio-economic and caste census (SECC).
"DNTs should be given special focus in the SECC...and priority while issuing UID (unique identification) cards," the council said in its communication to the government that was shared said.
It said the home ministry should issue a special advisory to all state governments to develop a code of conduct in dealing with these tribes. The tribes, mostly nomadic communities who at one time were known to indulge in criminal acts for a living, were notified as "criminal tribes" under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, by the British government.
The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, included petty traders, story-tellers, acrobats, gymnasts, puppeteers, tightrope walkers, those who entertained public with performing animals such as bears, monkeys, snakes, owls, birds, pastoral groups and hunting, gathering and shifting cultivator communities within forests that traded in forest produce and animals.
After independence, India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru annulled the act, describing it as "a blot on the law book of free India". Since then, these communities are referred to as De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes.
Noting these tribes still suffer from the "criminal tribes" stigma, the council has stressed their de-criminalisation to address the development deficit due to lack of skills and capital.
"While the communities were de-notified from the list of criminal tribes several decades ago, DNTs continue to face deep-seated discrimination in the societal attitudes," it said.
Though there has been no census of these tribes, their numbers are estimated to run into millions, the council said. The tribes are present in almost all states and belong to the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class (OBC) categories.
Besides the element of "bondage" among such tribes still continues despite stringent measures under the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976, the council said. However, unlike settled communities, these nomadic communities are not entitled to subsidised foodgrains, job guarantee and pension schemes, schooling, child development services and healthcare, the council said.
Many states do not have a list of these tribes and their current status, as such, is not known. This has made these tribes among the most underprivileged and destitute communities in India, the council said.