We, members of the 191 Denotified Tribal communities, got independence only on August 31, 1952 – five years after your Independence. From 1871, we had been categorised as being members of “criminal tribes” by the colonial government, stigmatised as being hereditary criminals. Though this was repealed 70 years ago, repressive customs die hard. We still have to give periodic “hajiri” (attendance) to the village landlord and local police station. On being found absent, we face punishment and exploitation.
Since Independence, many of us have been living in reformatory settlements created by the government. But we are nature lovers. Our occupations – hunting and animal rearing – are dependent on the forest but we were forced to settle in open prisons with many restrictions. Dear country, your policies are not made for our upliftment. They were made only for our oppression and pushed us into marginalisation.
Oh my dear India, over the decades, we craftsmen, pastoralists, snake-charmers, hunters, entertainers have been prohibited from practicing our traditional skills. We left our homes only to work as garbage collectors in your cities and labourers in your fields. But we have no use for your agricultural policies, for policies that allow our women to be sexually exploited by landlords and our men to be treated as petty wage labourers.
Oh my dear country, are your educational policies inclusive? We members of the Denotified Tribes have our own languages and cultures. Yet, 75 years after your independence, our linguistic and cultural values and resources are not included in school textbooks. We face exclusion when you enforce upper caste languages that you define as state languages.
Despite your strong affirmative action policies, still we face discrimination. Teachers do not allow us to sit on the front benches: you make arrangements for us to sit separately from upper-caste children. Oh my dear country, are you really liberal, democratic and progressive?
Oh my dear country, the bricks of your legislative assemblies, courts, government buildings and monuments have been made by our hands. The wood for your chairs and tables comes from our jungles. The Constitution was designed by our own Babasaheb Ambedkar. We want our voices to be echoed and amplified by our own leaders.
We will organise ourselves and fight for representation – and we will win. Because Babasaheb Ambedkar gave us hope and showed us the path to winning our rights.
Amol Shingade, an alumnus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, is a fellow at Teach for India.