February 14, 2020
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Born To A Stigma

What D'Souza lacks is writing skills and the services of a ruthless editor.

Born To A Stigma
Branded By Law
By Dilip D'Souza
Penguin India Rs: 200; Pages: 200
Dilip D’Souza’s Branded by Law is a mixed bag. It’s part anthropology, part sociology, but mostly an account of the author’s travels through India’s hinterlands seeking out communities that had been labelled criminals by legislation or society. Strange as it may seem, until 1952 there was a Criminal Tribes Act which branded certain people as criminals from birth. That’s something uniquely Indian.

The awful stigma changed their outlook and way of life. It had a calamitous effect on livelihood and children were ostracised in schools if they got admitted at all. Having to live on societal fringes, many did take to crime.

D’Souza’s sympathy for the nomadic communities of Maharashtra and Gujarat is transparent. His heart is in the right place when he writes about the Pardhis, the Vagharis and other tribes still assumed to be born to crime despite the abolition of the infamous act. He gets worked up, rightly so, when he writes about police brutality and the shady dealings of the upper castes when it comes to tribal lands.

Sadly, what D’Souza lacks is writing skills and the services of a ruthless editor. The book is hard-going, but it meanders aimlessly. At one point, D’Souza takes on the plight of gypsies in Europe and the Red Indians. A large part of the book comprises quotes from other publications and research papers. This makes deadly dull reading. The book was written on a foundation grant and it reads like one.

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