The Dhangar community in Maharashtra is the community who practice shepherding as their traditional occupation, due to which most of the population among Dhangars is living a socially isolated life, wandering mainly in forest, hills and mountains. Dhangar community are classified as a Vimukta Jati-Nomadic Tribe(NT) community in Maharashtra, and the Dhangar community comes in the OBC category of the central level.
However, the community is demanding the reservation under ST category. Since NT category is not recognised at the central level, the community members feel that they have been deprived of reservation in Union government services.
The ST category list includes “Dhangad” community at the central level, while Dhangars – with an ‘r’ – have been excluded. The community claims that the difference in spelling is a clerical mistake since there is no application from any community in Maharashtra claiming to belong to the Dhangad category. So the community demands that the government should amend that mistake by changing Dhangad to Dhangar. It complains that ‘due to this typographic error tribal Dhangar community is not getting any benefits since 1976’.
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During the period of former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the government included the Dhangar community in the Scheduled Tribe in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha by the government circular dated January 2013. The Maharashtra government recommended to include the Dhangar community in the Scheduled Tribe in 1966 and 1979, but the government took back the recommendation in 1981.
The Community’s Historical Evidence Proves How They Belong To a Tribal Community
In the caste census of 1931, the British government included Dhangar as a similar caste with Oran. In 1968, the central government published the biography of SC, ST and marginal tribes on page number 294, it mentioned Dhangar (Dhangad) as a scheduled tribe. Mandal commission also noted that Dhangar and Dhangad are the same.
Constitutional Provisions Regarding The Tribals
The term Scheduled Tribe first appeared in the Constitution of India. Article 366(25) defined Scheduled Tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or group with tribe or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribe for the purpose of this constitution“. Articles 342 prescribes to be followed in the matter of specification of Scheduled Tribes.
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In 2014, the Dhangar community organised rallies across the state, with each district witnessing many participants. In July 2014, many demonstrators of the Dhangar community protested at Baramati in Pune district, the hometown of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and deputy chief Ajit Pawar. At that time, Dhangar community leaders and representatives organised a dharna in Baramati, Sharad Pawar’s home town, for two weeks, demanding their inclusion in the ST category and also that time, sixteen members of the community were on a fast-unto-death.
After the Maharashtra State Assembly elections, 2014 Rashtriya Samaj Paksha led by Mahadev Jankar, which prompted the Dhangar reservation movement, went into an alliance with BJP, which made the Dhangar reservation movement silent for almost four years.
Then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promised to materialise their demands. At the end of 2015, the state asked the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (TISS) to establish whether Dhangars met the criteria to be identified as ST. In effect, this meant establishing whether Dhangars were the same as Dhangads to guard against any future legal challenge to Dhangars being moved from VJNT to ST. Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said the study is in an “advanced” stage and reiterated its commitment to Dhangars.
Given the prevailing confusion, and with the Dhangads already being eligible for reservation, the Dhangar members asked for a Dhangad population census. Community members Gopichand Padalkar and Uttam Jankar claimed that the government could not provide them with any information about the Dhangad community, which, according to the government, exists in the state. They were given figures of the Dhangad population by the government, and when they questioned about addresses and area of residence of the Dhangads; the government kept silent. So they have decided to start the protest from August 1, 2016.
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Former Minister of State for Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development and Fisheries Development, Mahadev Jankar, who was part of the 2013-14 protests, had claimed that there is no point in protesting, as “the government is committed towards reservation”. He told ABP Majha, “The state government is positive about giving reservation to Dhangars. We are waiting for the TISS report, following which a recommendation will be sent to the state government and the reservation will be declared. There is no point in protesting as the legal process followed here, and nothing can be done until it is completed.”
Empowerment & Impact
Over the past few years, almost all parties, including the Congress, NCP, VBA and BJP have supported the inclusion of Dhangars in the ST category. Every political party, however, has found itself facing the prospect of dealing with people from Scheduled Tribes who are unwilling to allow the dilution of their quota by the inclusion of a big community like the Dhangar.
MPs and MLAs from Scheduled Tribes have said that Dhangars could be included only if the overall ST quota is increased. The BJP’s decision to give Mr Vikas Mahatme, a Rajya Sabha seat was part of a political move to send a signal to the Dhangars, besides acknowledging his public service as an ophthalmologist. However, dealing with a possible ST backlash remains the biggest challenge to its plan to give Dhangars ST status.
The report made by TISS, Mumbai was never made public by the government and has had no output till date. An Indian Express report states that the Dhangar leaders came under the Maharashtra State Dhangar Welfare Association’s common platform, led by Prakash Shendage to push for their reservation demands. Another report published in the Indian Express says that the Maharashtra government had allocated INR 1000 crores to enforce the welfare schemes for the Dhangar community, but there is no information available about the beneficiaries of the same.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assured in the recently held meeting that the government would take positive steps towards the economic development of the Dhangar community and consult legal experts and various stakeholders over the reservation demand. The focus on the demand of reservation diverted the governments and civil society from various other issues like education, health, and security of the community’s population currently practicing nomadism. Leaders from the Dhangar community never came together to organise the community to fight against the oppression and instead joined different parties for their benefit.
Somnath completed his M.A Social Work in Livelihoods and Social Entrepreneurship & he has done research on Pastoral Community in Maharashtra. He is interested in working on Livelihood, Education and Rural Development for the country’s marginalised population.You can find him on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Lokmat