Dhangars still await justice

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    Nagpur: An eye surgeon involved in community work fighting for caste reservations; sounds strange, isn’t it? Not when you realize you are part of an extremely backward community that has suffered injustice due to ignorance, negligence and apathy on the part of politicians. Once I was convinced with enough documentary evidence there was no turning back.

    The struggle of Dhangar community of Maharashtra for reservation as Scheduled Tribe is pending since almost 65 years. The Constitution of India includes Dhangar community in Schedule 2 of Scheduled Tribe list at Number 36. Due to difference in English and Devnagri script, a spelling mistake has occurred and instead of Dhangar, Dhangad has been written. This is the reason Maharashtra Government denies the ST status to Dhangars. The so called ‘Dhangad’ community does not exist in Maharashtra.

    Our case is that Dhangad and Dhangar are the same. There are numerous evidences for it:

    • In 1931 Census by JH Hutton mentions Oraon group of castes includes Dhangar
    • Kaka Kalelkar Backward Class Commission 1956 stated Dhangar community is far backward and steps are needed to improve its status
    • Tribes and Castes of the Central Province of India by Russell mentions Dhangar as a tribe
    • Census of 1961, Bibliography on SC and ST by Registrar General of India (page 294) mentions Dhangad , Dhangar as SC in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh & West Bengal and as ST in Madhya Pradesh & Maharashtra
    • Gram Panchayat Adhiniyam Number 3 of 1959 in Marathi script recognises Gramsabha as the body of Highest/Utmost importance; this Adhiniyam mentions Dhangar as ST
    • There are several other documents like Maharashtra Govt GR of 18th May 2005 issued by Revenue Department includes Dhangar in ST
    • List of castes at all Collector offices in Maharashtra includes Dhangar at serial Number 36 of the ST list
    • Annual reports published by Central Government’s Tribal Ministry (2008 to 2013) has Dhangars in ST list

    The situation can be easily set right. Maharashtra Government just needs to write to the Centre saying that Dhangad and Dhangar are same and recommend to treat Dhangars as ST. The central government can then do it. The politics of caste supremacy in Maharashtra has led to the issue not being resolved. In fact, government of Maharashtra had sent a recommendation to Central Government in 1979 but it was withdrawn in 1981 due to political pressure. Inclusion of a new tribe in ST list means sharing of the pie, specially the political pie.

    Dhangars are in larger numbers in some pockets of Western Maharashtra like Pune, Baramati, Solapur, Satara, Sangli etc. If they are granted ST status, it is likely that assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in these areas will be reserved for ST candidates. These are precisely the areas from where influential politicians of western Maharashtra get elected. If these constituencies are reserved, their political career will be threatened.

    Sharad Pawar’s NCP even included granting ST status to Dhangars in its manifesto but did not do so. Instead, Madhukar Pichad, a NCP leader actually opposed the move as a Maharashtra minister. This is very funny. The party supremo writes that Dhangar and Dhangad are same and favours reservation but the tribal minister from the same party opposes it! One can see the hypocrisy in the move.

    Maharashtra tribal minister commented that like in Uttar Pradesh, Dhangars should seek inclusion in Scheduled Caste instead of ST. In Uttar Pradesh most Dhangars belong to ‘Khatik’ subcaste (those who slaughter sheep); hence they are treated as ‘asprushya’ (untouchables) and therefore get SC status. Other states like Jharkhand, Odisha, and Bihar treat the two communities as same and give them ST status vide GR of central government dated January 7, 2003. Maharashtra state did not recommend it at that time and kept the issue pending deliberately. Even today if anybody can convince me how Dhangars are not ST, I will withdraw from this agitation.

    Dhangars rear sheep or goats. Some have taken to tending cattle or agriculture. Only a handful of them have joined the mainstream urban life. Their lifestyle is such that they keep moving from one place to another with their herds. This prevents them from obtaining education for their children. The tribe fulfills all criteria. They have their own culture like folk dances (Gaja-Nrutya) and worship different gods- Khandoba, Mayakka devi, Viroba. They generally stay on the fringes of a village. Villagers want Dhangars close by but not amidst them as the herds are smelly and can cause crop depredation. Yet, once crops are harvested, those herds are useful in providing manure to the fields.

    The irony is that the state government includes Dhangars while counting the number of tribals in the state because grants for tribal welfare from the Centre are proportional to tribal population. However, when it comes to giving facilities to them as tribals, Dhangars are excluded.

    I agree there are certain drawbacks of reservation. Only giving reservation will not solve the problem. We will have to work so that benefits reach the needy. Reservation should be time-bound. But caste-based reservations remain relevant today because unfortunately the caste system is deeply rooted in our culture. Even today the marriages are not arranged in different sub-castes of Dhangars.

    It is easy to say we should not have reservations but don’t we accept reservations for the rich in private medical colleges where capitation fees are paid for ‘Management Quota’ seats? If we accept reservation for the undeserving rich, why should we grudge opportunities for a deserving backward tribal like Dhangar specially since it their right given by the Constitution?

    (The author, a Padma Shri awardee and well-known eye surgeon, is president of the Dhangar Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, Maharashtra. He can be contacted at vm@mahatmehospital.com)

    Source: The Times of India