Rajnath Singh To Discuss Dhangar Issue
Nandkumar M Kamat
TO any ethnologist or anthropologist, the four distinct tribals in Goa are Gavda, Kunbi, Velips and the pastoral Dhangars. The first three had substantial numbers and political clout on their side. Numerically insignificant, educationally backward and politically weak, the Dhangars couldn’t influence anyone. On March 24, 2002, the first three received central ST status leaving out the pastoral Dhangars. Since then the whole community, clubbed together with others under OBCs in Goa, feels betrayed and cheated and their level of frustration and anger has now reached an explosive point. Since March 2002, both Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA governments have used delaying and diversionary tactics to keep them out of the ST list by imaginative use of the nodal agency – the Office of the Registrar General of India (ORGI). It is ORGI which sends the recommendation to National Commission for ST on which the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs acts. But this action needs determined political intervention at the level of Union Home Minister followed by the PM himself and backing from the BJP national president.
Unless the appointment originally fixed on January 4th is postponed again today, on January 7th, an official delegation of Goa government-led by Union Minister for Ayush and BJP MP from North Goa Shripad Naik, approved by Minister of Social Welfare of Goa Milind Naik and supported by the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar would be meeting the Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi at 5 pm to press for their 55-year-old long-pending demand to be given status of Scheduled Tribes and included in the central list of STs. The delegation comprises of the Leader of Opposition, the undisputed, hardworking and committed leader of the Goa Dhangar-Gouly community and Congress MLA from Quepem, Chandrakant alias Babu Kavlekar; Janu Zore, a physician and community leader; expert on tribal culture of the community Rajendra Kerkar and two officials of Goa’s social welfare department.
After liberation of Goa, the newly-established Union Territory administration had initiated the move to accord status of ST to Dhangars of Goa by writing to central government on September 10, 1963. Three other communities which later got the ST status – Gavda, Kunbi and Velips were not in the picture at that time. In fact, the Gavda community had organised itself as ‘Goud Maratha Samaj’ under Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party rule and had not shown interest to be included as ST till awareness was created by their newly-educated young leaders in 80s. Government of India and especially ORGI continued to interpret the situation in Goa which was under much-extended repressive colonial Portuguese rule as identical to 190 years of British rule in India. All the MPs from Goa since 2002 failed to point out that Portuguese did not leave any evidence behind about tribal character of the scattered Dhangars of Goa whom they had designated as ‘Goulys’.
The Union government also used double standards in rigorous application of the mandatory five-point Lokur committee criteria for the four communities. An untraceable two pages report was the only basis of recommending Gavda, Kunbi and Velips as STs in central list by a special amendment bill. No such demand was ever made from Goa Dhangar community before March 24, 2002. Till March 2002, nobody in Goa had any doubts that on the basis of same two pages report sent by Goa government, all four communities would be included in central ST list. Finally, when the bill was passed by excluding Dhangars, they were shattered. To rub salt in their wounds, unlike any similar work being initiated for STs already included to comply with five-point Lour committee criteria, in June 2002, Goa government tried to save its face by hurriedly compiling a report on Dhangars of Goa which was sent to ORGI. At no point, ORGI admitted that it had not demanded similar rigorous application of Lokur committee criteria for Goa’s Gavda, Kunbis and Velips.
As the betrayal and harassment of the Goa Dhangar community continued, politicians promised before Lok Sabha 2004, 2009, 2014 and assembly elections 2007, 2012 and 2017 that Goa Dhangar Goulys would be accorded ST status. Two more bulky ethnological reports were sent to ORGI till 2013. Finally, having understood the discriminatory attitude of ORGI, the state government on the recommendations of the committee chaired by ethnologist Bernadette Gomes and comprising this columnist agreed to table a white paper in the legislative assembly in October 2013. The white paper served as an ultimatum to UPA government to bring a bill and include Goa Dhangar Goulys as STs before the expiry of the term of the Lok Sabha in March 2014. The white paper was not treated seriously by ORGI and Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
The BJP-led government in Goa did not take any initiative despite NDA being at Centre to get amendment moved in the bill prepared by the central government in 2016. It was left to the Leader of Opposition Kavlekar to get a motion passed in this regard in the assembly during February 2018. Since then all three BJP MPs of Goa were unsuccessful in correcting the past mistakes and injustice. They know it that different yardsticks were applied for Gavda, Kunbi and Velips and discrimination was made against the Dhangars. At personal level, all three BJP MPs in Goa are very sympathetic. The CM Manohar Parrikar is highly supportive and unflinching but couldn’t pressurise his ex-Union cabinet colleagues effectively to get the Goa Dhangars included by amending the bill pending in the present Lok Sabha.
President of India Ram Nath Kovind understood this issue and had assured after reading the petition submitted by Kavlekar in July 2018 that he was prepared to do everything possible within the framework of the Constitution. Organised on the initiative of Union Ayush Minister Shripad Naik, the meeting with Home Minister Rajnath Singh would succeed only if there is resolute political will to correct the past mistakes made by ORGI and gracefully accept the fact that Dhangars of Goa, extremely vulnerable to juggernaut of development, land use change and globalisation indeed deserve status of tribals on merit and a resolution of the Union cabinet is passed to that effect enabling necessary amendment in the act pending in the Parliament. Anything else emerging from the meeting with Union Home Minister would be total betrayal of the innocent community.