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Criminal tribes act 1871

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Criminal tribes act 1871

The various pieces of legislation in India were inclusively known as Criminal Tribes Act during British rule since the 1870s.

They criminalised all communities by categorising them as habitual criminals. Thus, restriction on their movements was also imposed because of this label.

Adult male members of these groups were compelled to report weekly to the local police. ethnic or social communities in India were defined as ‘addicted to a systematic commission of non-bailable offences under these acts for example thefts and also registered by the government.

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History of Criminal Tribes Act

Long before the arrival of the British, Thuggee, a cult devoted to the worship of the goddess ‘Kali’ had been functioning with impunity in the Indian subcontinent.

Approximately, they had robbed and murdered millions of travellers in caravans.

The Criminal Tribes Act was apparently formed in order to combat this threat.

At first sight, it might seem colonial authorities brought about CTA to instil order and security but the measure has been seen as a part of a wider attempt at social engineering by contemporary historians, for instance, saw the categorization of castes as being ‘agricultural’ or ‘marital’ or recognising which groups were loyal to the colonial authority and therefore suitable for military recruitments, sequentially.

Meena Radhakrishna, a well-known sociologist writes that origin behind the creation of this act concerning the revolt of 1857 where many tribal chiefs such as Dhan Singh Gurjar were labelled traitors and thought rebellious.

Some other historians as David Arnold suggested that this occurred because many of these tribes were small communities of low caste, poor and nomadic people living on the fringes of the society.

Profiling and separation

The criminal tribes act enlarged in scope through The 1920s, targeting numerous castes in colonial India. Simon Cole, a professor of Criminology, law and Society stated that the law declared everyone belonging to certain castes to be born with criminal tendencies.

According to Ramnarayan Rawat, a professor of History specialising in social exclusion in the Indian subcontinent, the criminal by birth castes under this act included Gurjars and Harni and Lodhi initially. Still, its enforcement expanded by the late 19th century to include most Shudras and untouchable for instance, Chamars, as well as Sanyasi and hill tribes.

The colonial authorities made an extensive list of criminal castes residing in various parts of the country and the members of such tribes were restricted in terms of movement and people they could socialise with.

Entire caste groups were presumed guilty by birth, arrested, children separated from their parents and held in panel colonies or quarantined without convection or due process, in certain regions of British India.

The Criminal by birth law against targeted castes was implemented from the early 19th century through the mid 20th century with an expansion of the criminal caste list in the west and south India through the 1900s to 1930s.

Hundreds of Hindu communities were brought under the control of the Criminal Tribes Act; the colonial government listed 237 criminal castes and tribes under this act in the Madras presidency alone by 1931.

The Government of Bombay set up a committee in January 1947. This committee included B.G. Kher, Chief Minister Morarji Desai and Gulzarilal Nanda to go into the matter of criminal tribes.

In August 1949, this set into motion the final repeal of the criminal tribe act which finally resulted in 2,300,000 tribals being decriminalized.

The Criminal Tribes Act was ultimately repealed after independence. First of all, in 1949, it was repealed in Madras province after a long campaign led by communist leaders such as P. Ramamurthi and P. Jeevanandham and Forward Bloc leader U Muthuramalingam Thevar. He had had many agitations in the village since 1929, urging the people to defy the Criminal Tribes Act.

Subsequently, the number of tribes listed under the CTA decreased and other provincial governments promptly followed suit.

As a result, the committee reported in 1950 that the system violated the spirit of the Indian constitution while the committee was appointed in the same year by the central government to study the utility of the existence of this law.

Final words

The Habitual Offenders Act was enacted in the place of CTA because the massive crime wave after the criminal tribes was denotified led to a public outcry.

This act mentions that a habitual offender is one who has been a victim of subjective and objective influences and has manifested a set of practices in crime and also presents a danger to society.

The habitual offenders act successfully re-stigmatised the already marginalised ‘criminal tribes’.

The Criminal Tribes Act still suffers a stigma due to the infective nature of the HOA which in effect meant relisting of the supposed denotified tribes.

At present, the social category commonly known as the denotified and nomadic tribes consists of approximately 60 million people in India.

The National Commission for Denotified Nomadic and Semi Nomadic Tribes of the Ministry of Social justice and empowerment recommended those same reservations as available to Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes be extended to approx 110 million people of denotified, Nomadic or seminomadic tribes in India in 2008.

The commission recommended that the provision of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes act will be applicable to these tribes also.

Maine Government and non-governmental bodies are involved in the advancement of these denotified tribes through various educational programs and schemes.

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