DENOTIFIED TRIBES (DNT) OF INDIA
GS 1, MAINS: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India; Social empowerment;
Poverty and developmental issues.
WHO ARE DENOTIFIED TRIBES?
• These are tribes that were declared as “born criminals” by the British and listed under the
Criminal Tribes Act of 1871.
• The colonial government notified nearly 200 tribal communities to be hereditary criminals,
cementing their societal identity as outcasts and subjecting them to constant harassment by the
• These groups included nomadiccattle grazers, wandering singers, traders, acrobats, etc. They
predominantly lived in forest and, according to the British, only criminals would do so. These
communities were considered a threat to the local administration of the British Raj.
• In 1952, the Indian government officially “denotified” them and renamed the Criminal Tribes Act as Habitual Offenders Act.
CRIMINAL TRIBES ACT:
• The term Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) refers to various pieces of legislation enforced in India
during British rule; the first enacted in 1871 as the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 applied mostly
in North India. The Act was extended to Bengal Presidency and other areas in 1876, and,
finally, with the Criminal Tribes Act, 1911, it was extended to Madras Presidency as well.
The Act went through several amendments in the next decade and, finally, the Criminal
Tribes Act, 1924 incorporated all of them.
• Under the act, ethnic or social communities in India which were defined as “addicted to the
systematic commission of non-bailable offences” such as thefts, were systematically
registered by the government. Since they were described as ‘habitually criminal’,
restrictions on their movements were also imposed; adult male members of such groups
were forced to report weekly to the local police.
THE HABITUAL OFFENDERS ACT ITS INEFFICACIES:
• It is only in independent India that the need was felt to shift the collective burden of
criminality to the individual, which led to the CTA being repealed and the Habitual
Offenders Act (HOA) being enacted in various States.
• However, the HOA functioned as a mere extension of the CTA. Nomadic and semi-nomadic
communities continued to face harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
• Certainly, the mere repeal of the CTA could not change the mindset of government officials
or members of society. The fact is that even in the 21st century, DNTs continue to face
ostracization by society at large.
• Given their centuries-old tradition of constant movement, they often do not possess any
residential proof, which leaves them out of the majority of the government’s
developmental schemes. Those deemed eligible for such schemes were randomly grouped
under the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Other Backward Classes categories. As a
result, most members of the DNTs continue to be out of the orbit of steps being taken to
THE NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR DENOTIFIED, NOMADIC AND SEMINOMADIC TRIBES (NCDNT):
• The commission was constituted in 2003, and reconstituted two years later, which
submitted its report in 2008.
• The recommendations found an echo in the Idate Commission, constituted with the similar
mandate in 2015, and currently withholding public release of its report. However, denied
funding by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in fulfilling its mandate of
carrying out survey and field validation work, the Idate Commission Report lacks the
scientific data necessary to introduce reforms to address the plight of DNTs.
• The NCDNT report clearly recommends repealing the various HOAs. This has also been the
constant refrain of community leaders, representatives and civil society organisations — as
the Act still casts its shadow of the state on communities. .
• It is important to learn from previous mistakes. A mere repeal of the law will not address
their need for establishing society-wide changes to gain access to political-social-economic
welfare. Thus, the repeal of the HOA has to be accompanied by a slew of legal reforms to
address the multitude of issues DNT communities face.
• Their unique lifestyle requires positive affirmation and development policies that cater to
their long-standing and overlooked needs.
• It should be the duty of the government to be proactive and reach out to the DNTs since
the latter would understandably refrain from seeking state help.
• Lawmakers at the helm of democratic institutions should finally bring down the curtains on
this age-old, state-sanctioned stigmatisation, and act upon the demands put forth by the
PREVIOUS YEARS UPSC MAINS QUESTIONS:
• “Caste system is assuming new identities and associational forms. Hence, the caste system
cannot be eradicated in India.” Comment. (2018)
• ‘Despite the implementation of various programmes for the eradication of poverty by the
government in India, poverty is still existing’. Explain by giving reasons. (2018)
• In the context of diversity of India, can it be said that the regions form cultural units rather
than the states? Give reasons with examples for your viewpoint. (2017)
• What are the two major legal initiatives by state since Independence, addressing
discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (ST)? (2017)
• The spirit and tolerance not only an interesting feature of Indian Society from very early
times but it is also playing an important role in the present. Elaborate. (2017)
• “An essential condition to eradicate poverty is to liberate the poor from deprivation.”
Substantiate this statement with suitable examples. (2016)
• Why are the tribals in India referred to as the Scheduled Tribes? Indicate the major
provisions enshrined in the Constitution of India for their upliftment. (2016)
• What is the basis of regionalism? Is it that unequal distribution of benefits of development
on regional basis eventually promotes regionalism? Substantiate your answer. (2016)
• How do you explain the statistics that show that the sex ratio in Tribes in India is more
favourable to women than the sex ratio among Scheduled Castes? (2015)