Adivasis and the Indian State: Deliberately misclassified as SC, Dhangar tribe in UP is being deprived of its constitutional rights

  • Successive governments in Uttar Pradesh have been deliberately creating confusion over Hindi translation of the word Dhangar, preventing the Dhangar tribe from its constitutinal rights to land, education and reservation

  • All the Hindi variations of Dhangar (धंगड़/धांगर/धंगर) refer to the SC/ST except धनगर, which is an OBC and is considered to be a sub-caste of Gaderia community

  • Around 2004/2005 in Mathura, some people from the Gaderia community managed to get around 32 ‘false’ SC certificates made in their name by bribing the concerned authorities

  • In 2017, BJP MLA SP Singh Baghel who belongs to the Gaderia community fought UP Assembly election and won on an SC seat; earlier he had contested on an OBC candidate under Samajwadi Party

  • A decision unfavourable to the OBC Dhangar (धनगर) community on the 'false' SC certificates, will not only endanger Baghel’s seat but will also have an impact on the OBC Dhangar (धनगर) vote bank

Editor's Note: In this eighteen-part series, we will attempt to address the tropes associated with the communities in question from an Adivasi perspective while also exploring the contemporary relationship of Adivasi citizens with the Indian government. This is part seven of the series on Adivasi communities in peninsular India.

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This year Divya Kiran Tigga, a student in Kachnarwa village, could not get admitted to BA in Varanasi because she did not have a caste certificate. Kumari Pooja, from Siltham village, could not apply for a job in Uttar Pradesh Police for the same reason. These two cases are not an exception but a consequence of Uttar Pradesh government’s alleged adamancy to not issue caste certificates to the Dhangar tribe as per the latter’s constitutional rights.

The reason for the government's obstinacy to not issue a caste certificate to members of the Dhangar tribe can be traced to a colonial order known as The Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1936. In light of this order, the Dhangar tribe was erroneously classified as Scheduled Caste and continued to remain in the same category despite several constitutional amendments, and recommendations being made that the Dhangar tribe should indeed be listed under Scheduled Tribes. As a result of this undue confusion, people from the Dhangar tribe today are not able to access education or get scholarships, apply for jobs, or claim their land. Most importantly, they are not able to fight for their political representation.

Dhangar tribe: A brief history

Sitting under a mango tree, Kachnarwa (around 118 kilometres from Robertsganj, which takes around three hours to reach using public transport) village pradhan, Maheshwar Tigga mentions that the Dhangar tribe he belongs to used to be known as Oraon who lived near the Rohtas plateau.

 Adivasis and the Indian State: Deliberately misclassified as SC, Dhangar tribe in UP is being deprived of its constitutional rights

Maheshwar Tigga (centre) with Shanti, the first teacher from the tribe in Robertsganj. Image courtesy: Om Prakash Rawat

Oraon people used to be hunters and would hunt animals using bow and arrow. Eventually, when they began to settle down in one place, farming became their primary occupation. They cleared vast forest lands to create plains for farming. Oraon people predominantly speak Kurukh language and celebrate Karma festival with much fanfare. Karma festival is also celebrated by several other tribes.

After the tribe was dislodged from the Rohtas plateau by other populations, they migrated to the Chota Nagpur plateau in Jharkhand, where they settled in the vicinity of the Munda tribe. Munna Dhangar, who served as the pradhan of Siltham village (around 30 kilometres from Robertsganj), said that after being displaced, and over a period of several years, the Oraon tribe spread across India.

Once the tribe spread in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, they began working as labourers for the landlords.

Migration of the Dhangar tribe can be traced along the route taken by the Son river. Image courtesy: Preeti Nangal

Migration of the Dhangar tribe can be traced along the route taken by the Son river. Image courtesy: Preeti Nangal

Despite having been hunting and farming for many years prior to India's independence, the tribe did not know the means to get the land registered in their name. Hence, they ended up working for others as labourers and were referred to by their new name Dhangar.

Dhangar, in the Hindi language, refers to someone who indulges in labour; this term is also reminiscent of slavery for many people from the tribe, and hence, is considered derogatory in some states like Jharkhand where the tribe is officially recognised as Oraon.

Oraon/Uran/Dhangar/Dhangad/Dhanka is recognised as a Scheduled Tribe in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand. However, in states like Bihar, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh, it comes in the category of Scheduled Caste, which essentially negates and contradicts the indigenous history and erases the tribal identity of the Dhangar people.

This wrongful classification is a harsh reality faced by many indigenous tribes in the country, who have had to migrate to different regions for survival. The states, which have wrongly classified Dhangar as a Scheduled Caste, can correct this mistake by following the due procedure or by taking into account the status of the tribe in the regions where the community originates from, but such exercises have seldom been carried out by any state in India.

Claiming ownership of land is one of the most crucial concerns for the Dhangar tribe people, which is difficult without a caste certificate. Image courtesy: Preeti Nangal

Claiming ownership of land is one of the most crucial concerns for the Dhangar tribe people, which is difficult without a caste certificate. Image courtesy: Preeti Nangal

Interestingly, the people from the tribe in Uttar Pradesh are careful about choosing their battle considering the complexity and urgency of issues at hand. They want to reclaim their tribal identity, however, since fighting against the state is proving to be an unduly long battle, the people from the Dhangar tribe are first aiming at restoring their Scheduled Caste certificates so that they can claim their constitutional rights including that on property and education. Once the urgent means to survival are restored, they intend to work more rigorously towards claiming their tribal identity legally.

Lost in translation

What is important to keep in mind here is that as per the Constitution of India, the state government does not have the right or the power to modify, include, or exclude castes and tribes in the official order, and any attempt to do so, without following the due procedure, will be unconstitutional. This is the reason why, at this moment, no certificates are being issued by the concerned authorities. However, this denies the Dhangar (धांगर/ धंगड़) community its constitutional rights.

Till date, Dhangar has been translated in varied ways in Hindi, including धंगड़, धांगर, धंगर, and धनगर, which has resulted in much contention and denial of the constitutional rights of the community.

As per the Constitution (Scheduled castes) Order, 1950, the Dhangar tribe features as Entry 27 among the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes stated: “the Hindi Version of the Gazette Notification of 1950 is not available. However, in the Gazette notification namely Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribes Orders, (Amendment), Act 1976, (English version) “Dhangar” caste is notified as Scheduled Caste at Sl.No.27 of the list of Uttar Pradesh and as per Hindi version of the Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe Orders (Amendment) Act 1976, the caste notified at Sl.No.27 is धंगड़ in the list of Uttar Pradesh.”

Despite having no constitutional right to do so, different governments in Uttar Pradesh introduced different Hindi variations of the word Dhangar in the state, which threatened the rights of the Dhangar (धांगर) tribe. Till 2013, certificates that were issued with the Hindi variation धंगड़/धांगर still referred to the Dhangar people. However, in 2013 more confusion was created when the government started issuing certificates with the Hindi version धनगर.

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A timeline of Dhangar classification

Pre-Independence: Since pre-Independence, the Dhangar community in Uttar Pradesh has preferred to call itself asDhangar (धांगर in Hindi). It is an endonym.

Till 2009: Caste certificates with the Hindi version as धांगर were being issued.

In 2009: During BSP government in Uttar Pradesh, it was declared that the constitution recognised धंगड़ as Dhangar’s Hindi version and not धांगर. Hence, caste certificates with the version धंगड़ were being issued. However, the prior certificates stating धांगर remained valid.

In 2013: During the Samajwadi Party government, धनगर was introduced as another Hindi variation of Dhangar in order to integrate Gaderia OBC into the ambit of SC list. Caste certificates with धंगड़ and धांगर on them were annulled.

Since 2017: In light of several requests like Anil Sharma’s letter to the District Magistrate of Sonbhadra and advocate Sunil Gupta’s Public Interest Litigation, the high court declared stay on issuing of धनगर SC certificates without further verification.

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Historically speaking, all the variations of the Hindi translation of Dhangar (धंगड़/धांगर/धंगर) refer to the SC/ST (depending upon which state one is referring to) except धनगर, which is a part of the Other Backward Castes and is considered to be a sub-caste of Gaderia. The main occupation of the Dhangar (धनगर) community is to tend goat and sheep and weave blankets, unlike the Dhangar (धंगड़/धांगर/धंगर) tribe who used to hunt and later got into agriculture as labourers.

As recent as on 17 January 2019, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) wrote a letter to the Principal Secretary to the Government of Uttar Pradesh stating the difference between Dhangar and Gaderia, and that the Hindi version of the word Dhangar is धंगड़ as per the Gazette notification issued in 1950 by the President/Indian Government. Therefore, the Gaderia community’s धनगर cannot be included in the SC category since they are not a sub-caste in Dhangar and rather belong to the OBC category in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Document 1: Letter from SCST Research and Training Centre

Letter from SCST Research and Training Centre

Letter from SCST Research and Training Centre

According to advocate Prem Prakash, who practises in Agra and is fighting the legal case to help issue caste certificates in the name of Dhangar (धंगड़/धांगर), one of the reasons behind deliberately creating this confusion is to cover up decades-old corruption.

He informed that around 2004/2005 in Mathura, some people from the Gaderia community, who fall in the OBC category in Uttar Pradesh, managed to get around 32 ‘false’ Scheduled Caste certificates made in their name by bribing the concerned authorities. This was done to illegally claim the land that was assigned to the SC people.

Even though in January 2007, the 32 caste certificates were declared counterfeited by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, constant attempts have been made to include the Gaderia caste into the SC list and usurp the rights of the SC in the state.

One of the results of this attempt was a writ petition that was introduced in the Allahabad court by the All India Dhangar Samaj Mahasangh Uttar Pradesh and Others in 2009. Through this writ petition, the Mahasangh requested the court to replace all Hindi variations of Dhangar with धनगर. This petition was to prove significant in the years to come whenever the case of the Hindi variation of Dhangar was to be raised.

On the basis of this petition, on 24 October 2013, a letter was written by Sunil Kumar, then Principal Secretary of the Government of Uttar Pradesh to all the district magistrates in Uttar Pradesh stating why SC certificates with any other Hindi variation (धंगड़, धनगड़, धंगर) must not be issued except for धनगर. This was a cleverly written letter, which conveniently used as its basis a research enquiry that was made in Mathura and Agra to decide whether a community with the name धंगड़ existed or not. This was an incomplete inquiry because the community in question resides in several other parts of Uttar Pradesh including the villages Kachnarwa and Siltham where the researches did not conduct the inquiry. Hence, the research cannot be stated as valid.

Document 2: Letter from then UP principal secretary clarifying Hindi variation of Dhangar

Letter from Sunil Kumar 1

Letter from Sunil Kumar 2

Letter from Sunil Kumar 3

Letter from Sunil Kumar 4

Moreover, the second meeting of National Commission for Scheduled Castes held on 15 September 2017 afternoon decided that the procedure undertaken in the above-mentioned letter to amend the Hindi variation from धंगड़ to धनगर was unconstitutional. The modalities of inclusion, exclusion, and modification of castes and tribes in the orders specifying Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes clearly mentions that: “Cases favoured by both the state governments and the Registrar General of India (RGI) in their most recent reports would be referred to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for their opinion.” Since the due process was not followed, the NCSC refused to accept धनगर into the SC list and declared to stick with धंगड़ as per the Presidential Order of 1950.

In January 2018, BJP MLA Anil Sharma from Bulandshahr district wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh beseeching him to abort issuing Scheduled Caste certificates to people belonging to धंगड़, धांगर, or धंगर caste and issue it only to those belonging to the धनगर caste. In order to provide with evidence, he also managed to organise a meeting for the scrutiny committee in June 2018, which consisted of merely 19 people from the धंगड़/धांगर caste when the notice for the meeting was sent to only 51 people from the community (though there are thousands who belong to this caste). This, in itself, highlights the skewed intention to ineffectually yet influentially include धनगर in the Scheduled Caste list. After this case went into court, no certificates are being issued.

Document 3: Letter from BJP MLA Anil Sharma to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister

Letter from Anil Sharma 1

Letter from Anil Sharma 2

The bottom line is that without following the due procedure as written down in the Constitution of India to amend or modify the name/entry of a caste or a tribe, no changes can be made, least of all, be reflected in the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe certificates. Despite this basic understanding, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh and the arbiters of law are refusing to pay any heed to how they are flouting the Constitution.

Whose fault is it?

In 2017, BJP MLA SP Singh Baghel fought elections on a Scheduled Caste seat and was elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. Baghel has previously been elected on an OBC seat while working with the Samajwadi Party. He belongs to the Gaderia caste which falls in the OBC category.

However, due to the confusion in the variation of the Hindi version of Dhangar, people from धनगर caste (a sub-category of Gaderia) started getting Scheduled Caste certificates in their name, which is illegal since the state does not have the constitutional power to modify or amend the lists of SC and ST.

A decision unfavourable to the OBC Dhangar (धनगर) community on the 'false' Scheduled Caste certificates, will not only endanger Baghel’s seat but will also have an impact on the OBC Dhangar (धनगर) vote bank of the ruling party. Could this be the reason why the BJP government is not paying heed to the declarations of the NCSC?

The unwillingness of the Yogi government to issue Scheduled Caste certificates to the real Dhangar (धंगड़/धांगर) community makes one question their intention as it goes against the interests of the SCs and the STs. Clearly, despite their January declaration this year to issue certificates to धनगर community, they cannot do so since, as mentioned above, it will be unconstitutional.

Uttar Pradesh Dhanghar (धांगर) Mahasabha

As a response to the injustice meted out by the Uttar Pradesh government, the real Dhangar community formed the ‘Uttar Pradesh Dhangar (धांगर) Mahasabha’. It was formed in December 2018 and includes members from all the four blocks in Uttar Pradesh where members of the real Dhangar (धांगर) community live (and who were conveniently not accessed for research enquiry by the State Office as mentioned in the letter by Sunil Kumar). These blocks include: Chatra, Chopan, Robertsganj, and Nagwa. The Dhangar Mahasabha has members at the village and district level. In order to collectivise, the Mahasabha also organised 'Dhangar (धांगर) Mahasammelan’ last year in December to make the community as well as the state aware of the infringement on the community's rights. Technology and digital connectivity played a pivotal role in making the voices from the margins take the centre-stage.

The ‘Uttar Pradesh Dhangar (धांगर) Mahasabha’ was formed in 2018. Image courtesy: Preeti Nangal

The ‘Uttar Pradesh Dhangar (धांगर) Mahasabha’ was formed in 2018. Image courtesy: Preeti Nangal

Jitendra Lakra, one of the members of the Dhangar (धांगर) Mahasabha who did his Polytechnic Diploma in Mechanical Engineering Production from Lucknow last year, came across a Facebook post by Dinkar Kapoor — a member of the Swaraj Abhiyan, which is an initiation by Prashant Bhushan — where the latter had shared the Lokur Committee Report. The report made its suggestion in 1965, among many others, that the Dhangar (धांगर) community should be made a part of the Scheduled Tribe in Uttar Pradesh. Phone numbers were exchanged between Lakra and Kapoor via a Facebook comment and soon ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ and ‘Adivasi Banwasi Mahasabha’ reached Sonbhadra to highlight the caste misclassification issue nationally. It was from here onward that ‘Uttar Pradesh Dhangar (धांगर) Mahasabha’ filed court cases and RTIs demanding their constitutional recognition and rights; for without tribe certificates Dhangar (धांगर) people cannot even stand for political positions.

Several people from the Dhangar (धांगर) community did not get a seat for the 2019 Lok Sabha election because of this caste misclassification commotion. The Panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh are set to take place in January and February next year. If valid certificates are not issued on time, the Dhangar community will once again lose the chance to represent themselves in their own villages.

Updated Date: Aug 30, 2019 22:39:43 IST