Tuesday, October 05, 2004

When nomads want a sedantry life...

Ramesh Sharma gave up his surname for Katyayani because the latter, a synonym for Durga, has no “casteist overtones”. He even pushed aside his law practice to find time for the nomads and his campaign for their citizenship rights. Declared as the “Man of the Year” in 2000 by The Week, Katyayani, through Muktidhara, his NGO, has helped 37,000 nomads settle.

Rajasthan has about 40 communities that have been traditionally nomadic, most of them centred around the Aravalli Range. Nationally, there are almost 200 such communities and number upto 5 crore. In an interview to Debarshi Dasgupta, Katyayani speaks about his mission for these people and the bumpy road ahead.

How do you ensure that their nomadic culture is retained when you get these people to settle at one place?

That is a big question. As far as possible, we try not to interfere with their traditions. But what do you do when so many people are without the basic constitutional rights even 56 years after Independence? For me that is the bigger and more important question.

What is your mission and your demands from the government?

To ensure that the nomads get what is due to them. Development has bypassed them and their condition today is worse that that of SCs and STs. Few of them have ration cards and voter identity cards and the government, till date, has not formulated a policy for the rehabilitation of the nomads. We want unoccupied land under the government to be redistributed to these people according to the Land Revenue Act (1956).

How do you think that these nomads can support themselves and adapt to their sedentary lives?

Each nomadic tribe had a certain specific function. We are looking at how their traditional skills can be used today. We plan to use the Saperas, who worked with snakes, to develop the first venom bank. Venom, used in developing medicines, sells for nearly Rs 25,000 lakh for a kg. Also the Lohars, traditional ironsmiths, can be taught how to make decorative pieces for your drawing room.

But how do you think that the nomads need to change themselves if they have to join the mainstream?

They need to move on from their parochial outlook, develop an affinity for education and understand the forces that have kept them out of the picture for long. Also different nomadic communities must stop the practice of untouchability amongst themselves and give up their practices like selling their girl children and alcoholism.


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