Back in 1871, during the British rule in India, the ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ branded the members of the Pardhi community along with around 150 other tribal communities as criminals. These were all tribes that had supported the Indian Mutiny of 1857. This law gave sweeping powers to the police to arrest and watch over these tribal communities.
In 1952, the tribe was ‘denotified’ and labeled a nomadic tribe by independent India. The stigma however remains to this day and plays itself out at various levels. Many in the community spend a lifetime being harassed and being called criminals. Being deemed as outcasts further aggravates their socio-economic weaknesses.
Community Correspondent Alka Mate, from Nagpur district is relentless in her efforts to help them claim their rights as citizens of India. And she reports today one small victory for the community in Champa Village:
“In Champa Village, Nagpur district there are close to 300 households of the Pardhi Community. I was shocked to know that despite having a ration card, close to 250 Pardhi families were denied from getting ration from the village ration shop. They have been living in the same village for 22 years but only once have they been able to access the ration they are entitled to.
I immediately got my flipcam and recorded the voices of the community. They were being cheated out of their ration and were given excuses like ‘your card is new, only old cards will get ration’ and so on. These families were spending double the amount to buy groceries from the local market and their efforts in getting their ration cards made were all going to waste.
Mamta Pawar, an infuriated woman who is hard pressed to feed her family asked me: ‘We pay our taxes and other bills then why don't we get any ration?’
With the help of these video clips, we decided to pressure the Village Head and the Block officials to regulate the supply of ration to these families.
Along with the ASHA worker and few community members of Champa, I went to meet Raju Lakhande, the Sabhapati of the Umreth Block. On showing the videos to him, he told me to not expose this issue anywhere. He said that he would ensure that the ration reaches these families at the earliest.
He immediately called the ration officer and enquired after this issue. I sensed his anxiety on having seen the community videos. He was nervous that these videos would be leaked to mainstream media journalists and could disgrace his reputation if he didn’t take immediate action.
Within a month the ration shop in Champa village got ration stocks sufficient to provide the families of the Pardhi community with their due. As I arrived on the scene, the sight was heartening. For the very first time these families were returning home from the ration shops with bags laden with their month’s supply of grains and Kerosene.
‘No officials have ever taken notice of our situation. Now because of our Alka we have gotten food grains and kerosene for the first time. This means that I will save at least 500Rs each month while buying supplies’, said Lalchand and elder resident of the village.
I feel happy now that the families are getting what they are entitled too. It makes me especially happy to hear young girls say that they now eat food till it fills their stomach.”
It is estimated that the area of Pelma, Chhattisgarh holds about 40 million tonnes of coal that the corporates are eyeing.
If not for the intervention by our community correspondent, the poor villagers would have continued paying taxes for a land they didn't own.