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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 881

Repeal the Habitual Offenders Act and affectively rehabilitate the denotified tribes, UN to India

By Subash Mohapatra

Raipur, 19 March, (Asiantribune.com): The UN’s anti-discrimination body asked India to repeal the Habitual Offenders Act and affectively rehabilitate the denotified and nomadic tribes on March 9, 2007. Children from the denotified tribeChildren from the denotified tribe

After reviewing India’s 15th-19th periodic reports, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), in its Concluding Observation, expressed concern and stated that “the so-called denotified and nomadic which are listed for their alleged ‘criminal tendencies’ under the former Criminal Tribes Act (1871), continue to be stigmatized under the Habitual Offenders Act (1852) (art. 2 (1) ©)”.

Earlier in February 2007, the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA) raised the issues of discriminatory Indian law and treatment of the tribes on the basis of their origin and birth. This campaign, in association with the Resist Initiative International (IRI), included the submission of a shadow report, entitled “Branded ‘Born’ Criminals: Racial Abuse against Denotified and Nomadic Tribes in India”. The FFDA and IRI report stated that reforms are needed to protect the denotified and nomadic tribes from discrimination.

The Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy cited the case regarding the rape and torture of three women in January 2007. Several men and 3 women were arrested and taken to Sundarpahar police station in Jharkhand on January 9 2007 and were physically assaulted on the basis of their origin. The three female victims were illegally detained at the police station where they were tortured and raped. Police, who also stole Rs.120 from the women, stripped them naked and paraded them around the station.

The victims identified the perpetrators as the officer-in-charge, Dipnarayan Mandel and another officer, Mahadev Oraon.

Unfortunately this incident is not an isolated case. There are many cases where people are racially discriminated against by the authorities as well society in general. These denotified and nomadic tribes all share the same fate of being born as branded ‘criminals’.

The social category generally known as the denotified and nomadic tribes of India covers a population of approximately 60 million. Some of them are included in the list of Scheduled castes, some others in the Scheduled Tribes, and quite a few in Other Backward Classes. But there are many of these tribes that do not find a place in any of the above.

India’s Draft National Policy in Tribals does not include denotified or nomadic Tribes. The term ‘Criminal Tribes’ originates from the British colonial times. The British initiated the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871, referring to around 150 tribes for their so-called “criminal tendencies,” giving the police wide powers to arrest them, control them, and monitor their movements. The law in effect was that anyone born into one of the tribes, under this act, was seen as a criminal.

In 1952, the Indian Government withdrew the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 throughout India and enacted Habitual Offender’s Act. This act does not depart significantly from the Criminal Tribes Act from which it is derived. Both the Criminal Tribes Act and the Habitual Offender's Act negate the universally proclaimed principle that "all human beings are born free and equal". The listing of these denotified and nomadic under the Habitual Offender’s Act also negates the principle of the criminal justice system – innocent until proven guilty.

- Asian Tribune -

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