Most well-heeled residents of Mumbai are unlikely to have heard of the Pardhi community, or to know anything about them. But they are almost certain to have seen Pardhis. “Every signal you go to in cities, most of the homeless people you find on the streets will be Pardhi,” said Disha Wadekar, a Supreme Court lawyer who hails from the community.
Pardhis are a denotified tribe – a term for communities that were once branded criminal under a colonial-era law, and who are often clubbed together with nomadic tribes in the acronym NT/DNT.
The colonial law was repealed in independent India, but the same communities continued to be targeted under a new law that sought to identify “habitual offenders”. The result was decades of crushing oppression, exacerbated by the communities traditionally nomadic lifestyle, which set them at odds with the modern capitalist economy, centred around ownership and control of land.
For Common Ground, Nolina Minj met several families of NT/DNT communities in Mumbai, to learn of their daily battles against a government and society that, at best, barely acknowledges their existence. “While reporting, I marveled at the resilience and resourcefulness of these communities, even as I felt dejected listening to their struggles,” Minj said. “From the multiple times authorities have torn down their homes, to repeatedly being criminalised, and being threatened to leave with nowhere to go.” From conversations with experts, she added, she “also saw first-hand how terms such as the ‘poor’ and ‘homeless’ are not homogenous, but instead, must be understood through India’s caste system.”
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