• Pardhis: the usual suspects

    Despite the repeal of the Criminal Tribe Act in 1949 ‘denotified’ tribes are still branded criminals and illegally detained by the police. Should the community apply for anticipatory bail?

    In Kalamb, Marathwada region, Maharashtra

    When Banabai Banshi Pawar set herself on fire in a crowded courtroom in Kalamb, Usmanabad on 28th August, it symbolised her frustration with a lifetime of harassment.

    Doused in kerosene, she pleaded with the judge to release her two sons, whom she said had been arrested on false charges. She threatened to kill herself if they were not released. A policeman standing next to her sneered at a woman he considered to be from one of the ‘low’ Pardhi criminal tribes. “You are all liars. That’s not kerosene. It’s water,” he said. That was enough to ignite her anger. She set herself on fire to prove her point, and died.

    Banabai is from the Pardhi community, one of the 150 ‘denotified’ tribes which were branded ‘criminal’ under British law because they rebelled against the Raj. Today, even though independent India repealed the Criminal Tribe Act in 1949, officially denotifying them from the criminal label, they still face discrimination. In Maharashtra, at least six known attacks on denotified tribes have occurred in the last three months.

    Banabai’s suicide sparked a witch hunt against her community. The next day, merchants in the town burned down more than 100 Pardhi houses.
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