India, Race

BBC NEWS | In pictures: Gujarat's nomad voters

The BBC has a nice little photo essay about voting rights for Daffers [pronounced Dafirs], a DNT community. I suspect that these photos might be the same ones mentioned in this 2006 article by my friend Roxy Gagdekar:

From eking out a living as highway robbers, members of the once most dangerous” denotified tribe — Daffers — seem to have turned a new leaf earning their livelihood out of guarding fields and doing odd jobs.

The rise in remuneration from guarding fields in the past five years has been the main magnet for the members of this tribe. We guard fields from thieves and cattle round-the-clock throughout the crop season,” said Latif Usmanbhai Daffer, a resident of Vasna village in Sanand at the inauguration of a photo exhibition organised by Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM) in the city.

Unfortunately, this Indian Express article makes it clear that their new job guarding fields comes with its own problems:

UNTIL 1951, they were officially branded as the tribe of crime’. And so trips to the police station were a regular feature in every Dafer member’s life. They were also the first on whom the scepter of suspicion fell every time a crime took place in the areas they lived in.

But 56 years after being denotified, the community still has to bear with the stigma. The law still looks at them with suspicion, subjecting them to occasional harassment and intimidation, alll while the community is trying hard to come to the mainstream of life.

Even today, in rural Gujarat, police pursue Dafers who work for farmers in their fields. Police visit the thatched settlements (dangas) of Dafers in search of some suspect or the other.

…. Musabhai says most of the Dafers like him are employed by rural farmers to protect their crop from cattle and wild animals. But their socio-administrative vulnerability exposes them to the exploitations by the farmers as well.

I was asked to protect the crops at Vakrana village last year. After working for the entire season, the villagers sent me off without paying the dues in November last,” says Latifbhai Dafer.

He adds: With the fear of police, we just had to run away, we couldn’t approach anyone for help, the Vakrana panchayat still owes me Rs 1,35,000.”