I rarely thought opportunity was a problem in this country. I firmly believed that any person having skill, capability and willingness to work would never be left in the dust for a long time, it was sort of a condolence to myself for seeing the world as it was, but having seen the conditions of thebranded by law denotified tribes of this country I can no longer satisfy myself with the above argument. Gujarat is probably the richest state of our country, the land of booming business and future SEZ’s. This year more than 3 lakh crores of MoU were signed between the state and many MNC’s in the Vibrant Gujarat global summit held in Ahmedabad. With people like Anil Ambani promising the state another educational institute of international repute and a combined employment generation of close to 1326387. Pretty close to this scintilating picture is the picture of a community called the Chharas. They are what, the Government of India calls them, denotified. Being denotified in this country is being a branded criminal or a criminal by birth. The British Government snatched away their fundamental rights and tagged them with denotification and even after the independence of this country, we still call them denotified. On 31st August 1952, Jawaharlal Nehru lifted the stigma of criminality from these tribes  but to this day they do not get full fundamental rights of the Indian constitution. Mahasweta Devy says,”There are two birth year for a child born to any DNT family.” One is the real birth year and the other one is 1871, in which the Criminal Tribes Act was passed to ‘Rehabilitate’ tribes like Sansi(Also known as chhara, aadodiya, kanjar, kanjarbhat, manesh and bhedkut),Daffer, Vaghri, Bhamta(Also known as kaikadii) etc. There were around 191 such tribes that were forced to live in the such settlements. Currently their population is close to 8 crores.
According to tehelka

They are infamous for having made petty thievery (pursued by an estimated 20 per cent of the community) and the production of home brewed liquor (an estimated 60 per cent) their primary sources of income. The police visit every day. Every month, the same set of mothers and fathers are thrust into a van and thrown into jail. When a Chhara is identified in town — even if he is merely enjoying the annual rath yatra from a street corner — he is, more often than not, arrested without explanation. The back seat of the police van is a place every adult Chhara is acquainted with.

They are not given jobs or basic needs like education, sanitation, water etc by the state. In1998, the youth of Chharanagar, decided to stand up against the centuries old injustice. They started the Budhan Theatre. The name Budhan belongs to that of a innocent young man of the tribe who was mercilessly killed in police custody. According to Priyanka

The Budhan Theatre Group, started by some members of the community, has influenced their life to a great extent. Daxin Chhara, who leads the Theatre Group, believes that development has many forms. It is different for a village, a city or a community like theirs. He strongly said that education can’t be taken as a form of development for their community. Transformation of people is the best measure of the development of the Chhara community.

Their theatre is a way of exploding all the pent up emotions they have against the state. Its not a prop stage theatre, its a theatre in which the audience are a part of the show. Ive seen more than 4 street plays of the Budhan Theatre and to be very honest its an experience that actually strikes me. They were dependent on the state for their well being, now they are transforming themselves through art. Dakshin Bhai, a member of the tribe and the main playwright of the Budhan Theatre group, is also a documentary maker. He has produced two documentaries called Bulldozer and The Lost Salt. Both will shortly be available for sale. We will, tell you about it as soon as we hear from him. Kerim Friedman , a noted anthropologist has also made a documentary on their life. You can get more info on it from here.

Our previous story on DNT’s.

Roxy Gagdekar’s blog on Chharanagar

photo courtesy Hooch and Hamlet