People with zero voices
Recently, we visited a few bastis of the most marginalised communities in Uttar Pradesh such as Nats, Kanjars, Sarvans and Musahars to understand what this parliamentary election means to them. What is politics in their understanding and what do they aspire from the Indian State?
We visited to study electoral politics in the life of the most marginal communities among the Dalits in Nat Bastis and a Sapera hamlet inhabited by snake charmers in the Nibi Kala village near Shankar Garh which is located in Bara tehsil.
Nats are a pre-nomadic community. They number around 1500 in the village. Now, they are mostly engaged in working as landless labourers. Some of them are doing their traditional business of buying and selling cattle at animal fairs. They don’t come in any category like SCs, STs or OBCs which ensure distribution of benefits among socially backward and marginalised communities. They have not been able to obtain any certificate from the administration.
They don’t get any benefit from the protective policies launched by the State. They want their identity in the governmental lexicon so that policies and programmes of the government may reach them. Their foremost desire is that the neta and the democratic State grant them the Scheduled Tribe status. Shaboo Nat of Tendui narrates their pathos that in every election, the netas come for their votes but don’t fulfil any promise. They don’t come after the election is over. “Koi sunwai nahi hoti hai tab,” he says.
This hamlet is inhabited mostly by Muslim Nats. In Bahadurpur, we visited another hamlet of Hindu Nats. They came here around 50 to 60 years back from a place called Soraon. Their purakhas (ancestors) used to live like nomads but now they are settled. They don’t call themselves Nats but local people identify them as such. They are also engaged in agricultural labour and selling and buying animals like Muslim Nats. They call themselves a branch of the Tharu tribe. They, too, don’t have ST caste certificates and so are deprived of any benefits of protective anti-discrimination policies introduced by the State. Their demand is the same as that of the Muslim Nats.
Sarvans are another most marginalised community inhabiting the area adjoining Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. They make brooms from forest products and move from village to village to sell them. They also work as agricultural labourers to earn their livelihood. Some of them still treat ailments by using traditional medicines and their traditional knowledge. Sarvans too do not have any SC or ST status. They want the Scheduled Caste status. The benefits of various governmental programmes have not yet reached them. Basic facilities like house, water, electricity, etc. are yet to reach them.
Even democracy has passed them by. No neta comes to them even for votes. Netas, during the election visit the Pradhan’s house and return with the assurance of their votes. These people have not yet realised the value of their votes. They have not yet asserted themselves politically and are a politically passive group.
The Musahars (rat eaters) is another community whose basti we visited. Its name is lohagara located near Shanker Garh near Allahabad. The lohagara basti is home to 15 Mushher households. These Mushhers used to live near an underground nala which crosses the road in Lohagara. But when the value of roadside properties grew, the powerful people of the locality pushed the Mushhers out. So they have moved to a hilly mountain and erected their small huts there.
They are mostly landless agricultural labourers and work in the fields of the landholders in this region. They also used to make pattal from Mahua
leaves. When plastic pattals came to the market, their traditional occupation became irrelevant.
They are part of the Scheduled Caste list but benefits of many programmes targeted for the SC communities have not yet reached them. The Musahars want to be recognised as a Scheduled Tribe. In fact, they are among the most marginalised and don’t find themselves capable to compete with dominant Dalit castes for access to benefits from policies and programmes which are aimed at them. They are mostly uneducated too.
It is interesting to observe that all these marginalised communities are struggling to get governmental identities. Secondly, these smaller communities want Scheduled tribe status for themselves. Why do they want so? They say they were originally tribal people before migrating to these areas. Their livelihood is still dependent on forest products like leaves, animals, wood, etc. So, they want to regain their tribal identity. This can be possible if they find their place in the Scheduled Tribe list.
Political parties and leaders should raise their issues on parliamentary forums. In the meantime, our groups shall build pressure on democratic institutions such as panchayat, block and district administration to provide them the benefits of programmes which are catered for non-category poor people of the Indian society. It is unfortunate that even in this election of 2019, their issues did not come to the fore. They are still invisible on the stage of Indian democracy. No one cares for their voice. Can they hope for a better future in the coming days?