Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Parishad rehabilitates over one lakh nomads in Maharashtra
A person can be black, white, fat, thin or even physically challenged by birth, but not a criminal at all. It may not happen anywhere in the world, but happens in India. Though the British-enacted Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 was abolished way back in 1952, the police in many states still treat many nomadic communities criminal by birth. The life for Pardhis in Maharashtra has been the same since generations. Anywhere a crime is committed, the police come to Pardhi locality and take some Pardhis dragging like animals. Shri Girish Prabhune of Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Parishad stood against this inhuman practice in 1991 and played a key role in changing the mindset of police and rest of the society. He also rehabilitated over one lakh Pardhis by helping them getting ration cards, enrolling in voters list or getting education. It is the result of Shri Prabhune’s efforts that hundreds of Pardhis are now doing respectable jobs in the state.
Imagine, one sets up a small shop with his life’s savings, and is suddenly thrown into a police lock-up merely on suspicion. What would one do in that situation—probably would think of running away from the scene and lose everything. This is what was the routine life of Pardhis and many other nomadic communities in Maharashtra till one decade back. The reason these communities were branded as ‘habitual criminals’, in spite of their first-rate contribution to the society throughout history with their artisan and fighting skills. With the system out to haunt them rather than help, they were perpetually forced to lead a life of begging and crime. Since they had no home or land to call their own and their parents or family members may be in a lock-up, the children remained deprived of education.
The people of 22 nomadic communities in Maharashtra (about one crore population today) have been living the similar horrorific life since 1871 when the British Government notified them as ‘habitual criminals’. Though the Act was abolished in 1952, the public and administrative mindset continued to treat them ‘criminal’. If one wants to visualise the inhuman atrocities on these people he/she must read Paradhi, a Marathi book by Shri Girish Prabhune, who is sharing their sorrows and happiness and colliding with the authorities for their rights.
Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Parishad (BVVP) took up the challenge of transforming the lives of the nomadic communities in 1991. First a Yamgarwadi (hostel) was started in Sholapur district in 1993, where today about 400 students excel in education. Later, the similar work began in Anasarwada in Latur, Chinchwad in Pune and at some other places, where around 4,000 students from nomadic tribes are studying. “The biggest achievement of all the activities is that the social mindset towards the nomadic communities has changed and a kind of self-confidence and a glorious feeling has developed among these people towards their past associated with Shivaji, Rana Pratap, Prithivraj Chauhan,” says Shri Girish Prabhune adding that these people also played a key role in the battles against invaders like Mahmud Ghazni and Alauddin Khilji for defending the Somnath Temple in Gujarat. The presence of Vagadis (Pardhis) in about 40 villages near Somnath Temple proves it. But since the day they were branded as ‘criminals’ by British government they were pushed out from the mainstream and their entire social and family structure collapsed.
After 22 years sustained efforts by the BVVP, the media has now stopped mentioning the entire Pardhi community as criminals. Rather their plight is given extensive coverage today. The mentality of police personnel and officers too has changed to the extent that some policemen near Pune have started rehabilitating the nomadic communities. The credit for this amazing change also goes to Shri Girish Prabhune who during the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government in 1990s persuaded the government to issue clear instructions to remove the list of criminal tribes installed in all police stations. It was only then the process of counting them in census, enrolling in voters’ lists and making their ration cards began. Till now over one lakh ration cards have been issued to them.
Since their regular source of earning from forest produce is becoming harder everyday and talents like singing, street plays, acrobatics, etc are also dying slowly, the only option left is to educate them, imbibe their children with good values and train them for the challenges of new life. This work has perfectly been done by Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Parishad. “Many of the girls studying in our hostels are now working as nurses, police officer, constable, etc in different parts of the State. Many boys are also working as constables and advocates and over 50 are working as government employees. There are two professors, while some are working as writers, teachers also,” adds Shri Prabhune. The Parishad has started another unique project, Punrutthan Samarasata Gurukulam, for reshaping their traditional skills at Chinchwad in 2006. “It is well known fact that Godolia Lohars are expert in iron work, Wadars have expertise in stone carving, some are expert in forest herbs and Otaris have marvelous knowledge in casting. Therefore, a special curriculum from 1st to 12th standard has been designed to teach them Ayurveda, technology, farming, Govigyan, art, culture, dance, singing, music, science and four languages—Marathi, Sanskrit, Hindi and English right from 1st standard. About 200 Pardhi students and 100 from other nomadic communities like Wadar, Kekadi, Gadia Lohar, Ghishadi, Laman are being imparted education there. This project has earned laurels from one and all.
It is to be noted that in order to keep the 22 notified tribes away from the mainstream society the British government, after 1871, had started creating their special settlements (open jails) from Karachi to Hyderabad. A total of 52 settlements were then created where they were housed along with their family members. The population of nomads in Marathwada (bordering Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh) is higher because the largest settlement was created in Sholapur district only with more than one lakh nomads.
The BVVP has prominently focused on Pardhis, because this community was the most neglected. Since because of roaming nature many boys and girls cannot study in regular schools, the BVVP took the school itself to them. With this thought a highly flexible schooling system was devised and now such schools are being run at many places.
The experiment by BVVP has set an example for rehabilitation of nomadic communities all over the country. As prisoners of traditions and neglected since generations, these brave people have suffered the most. It is the collective responsibility of all to help them live a dignified life.