Thursday, March 03, 2005

Branded by Law

Almost a year ago, I heard Salman Rushdie saying that a writer's duty is to further people's understanding of what's going on in the world, and that people need to constantly push the envelope. Rushdie's words came to my mind as soon as I finished reading Dilip D'Souza's 2001 book -- Branded by Law. Dilip D'Souza's writings try to constantly push the envelope in the field of social helpfulness. Many of the readers of this blog must have heard about Dilip. If you havn't, click here. His blog -- Death Ends Fun -- can direct you to many of his recent writings too.

I wouldn't attempt to review Branded by Law. Here's one review of the book. In a nutshell, it's about the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs) of India. These are the so called criminal tribes, these groups were declared criminal by an act in 1871. They include the Pardhis and Ramoshis of Maharashtra, Sabars of West Bengal, Bajanias and Vagharis of Gujarat. They are no longer officially "criminal" (these tribes were denotified in 1952), but they largely remain as "magnets of prejudice". The book analyses the plight of India's DNTs, and in general what prejudice does. It's very well written and immensely readable. One proof of Dilip's mastery over his material is the way he has succeeded in presenting numerous facts from many different sources in short chapters. In fact, one of my favourite chapters is the one devoted to the Antrolikar committee report (this committee was appointed soon after independence to look into the rehabilitation of DNTs).

Unfortunately, almost six decades after independence, the condition of the DNTs have not improved much. Hopefully Dilip's book will educate more people about the problems faced by these tribes, about sixty million of them. About these communities, Ambedkar had said: "Civilizing the aborigines means adopting them as your own, living in their midst, and cultivating fellow-feeling -- in short, loving them." Dilip's experience with the DNTs shows that what Ambedkar had suggested is the only way to improve the lives of the DNTs. One of them [Deepakbhai] had told the author once: "Don't ever lose the feeling for the poor I can see you have in your heart." Dilip writes: "All I had done was spend a few minutes with Deepakbhai, as I might have with anyone else. Yet his few words told me just how novel an experience even that was for him."

Two interesting facts:

  • A recent post of Dilip's about a 2000 speech of Vajpayee -- in which he had said that he was not in a position to announce compulsory primary education in view of the stiff resource constraints -- generated a lot of discussion on his blog. The same speech gets a mention in this book.
  • Have you heard about the Gayatri Spivak school in Purulia, West Bengal?