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All-round indifference prevails towards proposal to provide scheduled caste status to Nats

Maganbhai
Counterview Desk
In a recent blog, Umesh Solanki, documentary maker and writer, has highlighted little-known fact about a community in Gujarat which is treated as untouchable but is deprived of being treated on par with other sections of Dalits. In his report, “Untouchable but not Dalit”, Solanki gives the instance of Mangabhai Parmar from Lathi in Amreli district, hardworking man, to prove his point. Maganbhai is one of the 10,580 persons who belong to a very small community called Nat, a Nomadic tribe. To him “sweat is natural to the body, and this nature has derived from the social tradition, or let me say, caste system”, underlies Solanki.
Reason? Mangabhai belongs to the Nat (not the Marwadi Nut) community. Nat is the one of the 28 nomadic tribes in Gujarat. Its population is 10580, and is spread out in 82 villages of Gujarat, as per the “updated information” gathered by Babubhai Solanki, who himself is a Nat, and belongs to Chotila in Surendranagar district. “The Nats traditionally expertise in such acrobatic games, like walking on rope, or do very different kinds body exercises with rings, bamboo and swords. that give surprise and entertainment to viewers”, Solanki says.
“The Nats display their skill publicly, in the open, though one thing is very necessary to remember them, that traditionally they did not have the social permission to show their art to all the communities. They were permitted display their games to only Dalit communities”, Solanki says.
Noting how because of poor education and fast growing technology the Nats are losing their traditional art, with some of them becoming drivers, farm labourers, masons and so on, Solanki says, “The Nats’ dwellings have been in Dalit, especially ‘Vankar (weaver) locality for years”, adding, “Here one important thing is necessary to remember, that because of this compulsion imposed by society, migrated from the state of the Rajsthan, the Nat has been facing the untouchability in Gujarat for years.”
Solanki regrets how the community “could not become beneficiary of reservation policy and of welfare schemes for scheduled sastes (Dalits), even though they are victims of untouchability.” This is “because they are not in the list of the Scheduled Castes”, he adds, saying, there is nothing surprising about it. “Any community that is the victimized of untouchability must be in the List of the scheduled castes, for, that is its right”, he insists.
Pointing out that the Constitution of India is ”silent about the definition of scheduled castes”, Solanki adds, its Article 341(1) says that the President after consultation with the governor, alone can, by public notification, ”specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of, or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be scheduled castes in relation to that state (or union territory, as the case may be).”
In this context, Solanki says, it is noteworthy how for many years ago, the Mochi community had been excluded from the list of the scheduled castes “because of many kind of long-term pressures created by the Dalit leadership and the Dalit communities.” This could be because in Gujarat, the Mochi community is not a victim of untouchability like that in other states of India. “Hence it was listed as an other backward class”, he adds.
Be that as it may, the question should be asked, as to why no one has created the pressure on the government to include Nat in the List of scheduled castes. “A decade ago this kind of pressure was created by the Nat community, its leadership and NGOs, without any success. I don’t know why, perhaps it was not strategic, or it was short term, or because of weaker political leadership, or because of lack of political will of the representatives of Gujarat, today nobody thinks about the Nat community as a a Dalit community”, Solanki laments.
Significantly, Nats are not alone who are treated like untouchables. There are in all 192 nomadic tribes (NTs) and de-notified tribes (DNTs) of the country who suffer from a similar problem. A voluntary organization, Bhasha Trust lobbied with the Central government (both UPA and NDA), and finally succeeded to convince Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2005 and to appoint a national commission to study the problems of DNTs.
Meanwhile, the Government of India has asked the Budhan Theatre to a conduct survey on the status of nomadic and de-notified tribes in Gujarat. It has completed the survey of Devi-Pujaks, Madaris and Nats in the various districts. It is now conducting a survey for more 10 communities.

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