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The 90-year-old Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratishthan is helping tribal communities of the city find their true place in India's consciousness
It's a sight that perhaps most of us have witnessed while walking the streets. Unruffled and lost, lashing themselves bitterly with hunters are the people from the Potraj tribe. Balancing their lives on high rise poles and slender ropes with swaying perfection are girls from the Dombari community. Secure in its own little world is the Dhangar tribe, one that still spends its days on the hills of Pashan, grazing cattle and enjoying lunches beneath trees. For the five million or so people in this city, these twenty five thousand odd people may constitute a small lot. But all of them are fighting a battle for recognition and rights for close to a century now.
De-notified and nomadic, the city breathes in herself more than 10 such communities that are bereft of their rights and living a life of oblivion. Be it the Domabaris, who are known for their gymnastic skills since centuries, or the Mariayi, who are known for their knowledge of the hawamanshashtra (meteorology), or the the Pardhis, who for years have been tagged as the criminal tribe, the state of these people is a reflection of the way nomadic communities in India have stagnated. In a quest for their rights is the Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratishthan, a 90 year old city-based body. Girish Prabhune, who is a leading spokesman of the community, is quick with names and figures. "There are around 50,000 Banjaras here. Then there are the Dombari, Mariayi and Nandibel followers; the Mang Garudi, Dhangar, Potraj, Kaikadi, Sonjhari and so on. Pune district has around 25,000 such people."
The long walk to freedom for these people has not dawned yet. These tribes haven't had any land or home for generations. They often face police harassment on suspicion of theft. No address, no ration card, no voting rights – no tangible recognition of existence. In 90 years, the Pratishthan has slowly garnered support from various quarters. "You can find a lot of karyakartas who belong to so many different communities – right from Pardhis to Marathas to Brahmins. The society in general has risen to understand their plight," says Prabhune, adding, "But the laws continue to evade them. The Maharashtra government has tried to do a lot, but they often cite a dearth of funds. The central government, meanwhile, has paid little attention." Post-independence, these communities, never traditionally educated, had no option but to work as daily labourers.
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