- The 40 'denotified & nomadic tribes' of Gujarat haven't been able to cast vote so far, for they weren't on electoral rolls
- This was because they could provide neither addresses nor birth certificates
- An NGO surveyed the settlements of 15 such tribes and the chief electoral officer issued notices to get them registered as voters. A letter from the NGO is taken as proof of residence.
- These tribes can vote in Election '09
***They came of voting age years ago but could never cast the ballot. Reason: they belonged to the nomadic tribes that rarely stay in one place and so couldn't obtain voter ID cards. But Elections 2009 will see men and women from 15 of Gujarat's 40 nomadic tribes voting for the first time.
Forty tribes of Gujarat are listed as "denotified and nomadic tribes", or DNTS, and account for more than 40 lakh people. Some of the tribes were deemed criminal by the British, and though that branding has been legally erased, they still bear some stigma for a few of their members continue to indulge in robbery, bootlegging or petty crime. Those who will get to vote this time belong to the Dafer, Sarania, Gadlia, Vadi, Madari, Vans Foda, Salat, Moleslam, Kangsia, Nat, Bajania, Vanzara, Raval, Bharthari and Nathvadi tribes.
The man who has made it possible is Mittal Pandey, who, with help from Janpath, a leading NGO of Gujarat, set up the Vichitra Samudaya Samarthan Manch (VSSM) to help them exercise what is an inalienable right. When the government launched a state-wide voter registration programme in July last year, there was no special effort taken to bring the denotified and nomadic tribes on board. But VSSM surveyed 40 tribal settlements and submitted a report to the state electoral office.
Pandey then made the rounds to convince government officials of the importance of allowing the nomads to vote. "Sometimes people from the villages near which the nomads had set up camp would oppose us when we went there with officials to register them as voters," recounts the 28-year-old Pandey. "They were afraid that, with voting rights, the nomads could claim permanent residence in the village."
Through VSSM's efforts and some special notifications from chief electoral officer Anita Karwal that helped overcome the nomads' inability to cite a permanent address or provide birth certificates, they now can vote. They can also use a recommendation letter from VSSM as residence proof to obtain voter ID cards. "This is an ongoing drive and the state election commission wants to recognise them as voters so the process has been made simpler. Guidelines have been given to all district collectors and electoral officers asking them to help these tribals register as voters," says Karwal.
Umar Bhai, a Dafer who will vote for the first time, says, "We've never been given respect, we've always been treated like criminals. But a voter ID changes things. I want to fight elections and bring about a change for the good in my community." What could be difficult to change, though, is the attitude of others. As Babanath Vadi, a Madari, pointed out: "Our children are being allowed into village schools after the intervention of the district collector. But just last week, they were attacked. I wonder if a voter ID card will mean much." But despite the apprehensions, these communities can count on at least one good news that Election 2009 has brought them.