Thursday, November 06, 2008

Narikuravars: Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO - Social and Legal status

One evening at his house on Besant Nagar beach road, former Arts Editor, Economic Times and writer on critical issues of politics and culture said, “Even the stray dogs don’t like them, they bark at an approaching Narikurava”.

A Google search procures two main categories of information on the ‘Narikuravas’. The first kind is the research papers by Madras Christian College’s, Gift Siromoney. Due to the lack of research and written material gathered about the gypsies, these 1970’s papers on topics like their music, ceremonies and trapping techniques are valuable peepholes. ( Now a little out-dated, after the doctor passed away, I am yet to find scholarly interest in these gypsies.

The second refers to news articles with various instances of Narikuravas being arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, because they were caught poaching. An article ‘Suspects forever’ in Frontline by S. Viswanathan brings out the inhumane treatment that plague tribes, years after “The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871,” has been repealed.

From the article - “Under the Act 150 notified castes of "hereditary criminals" within the Hindu system were to be kept under police surveillance. More castes were added to the list. The branding of these communities, as "criminal" was not based on the notion of heredity but rather as a community profession passed on from one generation to the next. The Act, therefore, provided for establishing reformatory schools and settlements for the reclamation of these people. Their movements were restricted to specific areas and the Act provided for their arrest without warrant if there was any violation.”

Imagine. Forced to give up their traditional occupation, because the ‘modern’ world brands these activities as ‘criminal’. The Act even provides for the setting up of ‘reformatory schools.’ At least these would help train the Narikuravas in other trades, which the world still values and considers legal.

But because of discrimination, they are not allowed into the corporation schools. Besides, buying textbooks and stitching uniforms is expensive and more than most gypsies can afford, Vadivel, the Injambakkam leader lamented.

Few are like the ‘thalever’ or village head of the Poonjeri settlement, Kaniappan, who can afford to send two of his four children to the nearest school, three kilometers away at Mamallapuram. He said that putting one kid through school costs him Rs 800 and added that the Saidapet School for gypsies was good, but too far away.


Founder of Narikurava Educational and Welfare Society, C.Mahendran told reporters from the ‘Hindu’ that there were about three lakh Narikuravas in Tamil Nadu.

The State government, the Tribal Research Institute and the Department of Anthropology of the University of Madras have even recommended that the Narikuravas be classified as Schedule Tribes (ST). But the Center asked for validation and the matter has been left at that, the article revealed.

It then goes on to explain how the Union Government objected to and later stopped the State Department of Adi Dravida Welfare from extending concessions given to ST, to Narikuravas.

The center also asked for further information to establish the ‘tribal traits of the Narikurava community.’

On the State Government’s request, the Institute of Tribal Research then conducted a study and made a favourable recommendation, which was then seconded by the Department of Anthropology of the University of Madras.

Mahendran was quoted saying that even though the Narikuravas should have been included in the list right from 1964, red tape has prevented the matter from being resolved all these years. The meager support from a few Voluntary organizations has not translated into results as yet.

Granted Backward Class (BC) status in 1975 and then Most Backward Class (MBC)

1989, the gypsies continue their struggle to attain ST status.