Voicing the Community: A Study on the De-notified and Nomadic Tribes of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh


In 2021, the 150th year of the passing of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, and 75th year of India’s independence, Bhasha Research and Publication Centre published this report on the status of India’s Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs). The report was the result of three years of field survey focused on the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan and covered 2,274 households.

A “community and location specific” study of eight groups, this report presents an historical overview of the criminalisation and stigmatisation of DNTs. After the British took control over the Indian subcontinent, in an attempt to bring DNTs communities within their revenue cover and fit their understanding of ‘civilized society’, the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was enacted. The Act discriminated against DNTs, the report states. Even after this Act was repealed, DNTs continue to live marginalised lives in independent India.

This 377-page document is divided into 15 chapters: Historical Developments of Criminalization of the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes in India (Chapter 1); Socio-cultural and Historical Background of the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes under Study (Chapter 2); Survey locations (Chapter3); Social Categories of the DNT Communities (Chapter 4); Status of Citizenship and Entitlement Documents (Chapter 5); Education Status (Chapter 6); Parental Involvement & Perception Towards Child Education (Chapter 7); Affirmative Action in Education (Chapter 8); Occupation, Income & Expenditure (Chapter 9); Land Ownership, Housing & Assets (Chapter 10); Neighbourhood (Chapter 11); Health Facilities (Chapter 12); Migration (Chapter 13) and Isolation, Marginalization & Discrimination (Chapter 14). The report ends with a Conclusion (Chapter 15).


  1. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was repealed in 1952, which resulted in more than 22 lakh individuals being denotified and set free from the settlement camps. After the Act being repealed, criminality was removed from these tribes’ legal identity. 

  2. Due to absence of dedicated surveys to assess their living conditions and lack of citizenship documents, DNTs are unable to access several welfare schemes offered by states. The survey found that in 22.8 per cent of the households none of the members have a birth certificate while in 58 per cent households only some have birth certificates. At 44.1 per cent of the households, Kalbelia community has the highest share of members with no birth certificates.

  3. While 82.6 per cent of the DNT population surveyed has an annual income under Rs. 1 lakh which places them in the BPL category, as high as 51.7 per cent does not have BPL cards.

  4. The average literacy rate among the DNTs stands at a concerning 47 per cent, in contrast to the 2017-18 national average of 77.7 per cent. The survey notes that only 2.4 per cent of the currently enrolled individuals are studying at the college level. Caste discrimination, lack of documents, language barriers, stigma and poverty are primary reasons of children either not attending or dropping out of school, the report adds.

  5. The report states that 59.2 per cent of the households practice their traditional professions (as blacksmiths, liquor makers, jugglery and more) while 40.8 per cent have moved to new work which is available. Out of those who have left traditional professions, 20.1 per cent engage in agricultural labour while 89.3 per cent are involved in unskilled casual labour.

  6. The report states that 70.7 per cent of the surveyed DNT households are landless. The rest 29.3 per cent have agricultural land but none exceeding three bighas which is hardly sufficient for annual sustenance.

  7. The report notes that 91.6 per cent of DNT households own the house they live in. “But this does not correspond to livable concrete houses with basic amenities”, the report adds. As high as 50.5 per cent of these houses are kaccha and 57.6 per cent households lack basic toilet facilities and are forced to defecate in the open.

  8. About 78.1 per cent DNT households have access to Anganwadis and 78.2 per cent have access to Primary Health Centres or Community Health Centres. Still, the report adds, 55 per cent prefer availing private or traditional health facilities despite their higher costs as they face lesser discrimination there.

  9. The stigma and discrimination faced by DNTs results in police atrocities and reduces the community’s faith in the police system, the report notes. About 28.5 per cent households have reported that the police frequently visit their locality.

  10. The report notes that the Habitual Offenders Act of 1952 continues to be a source of stigma and needs to be repealed to curb police atrocities.

  11. The report calls for considering DNT sub-categories within established reservation policies to make them inclusive and successful.

  12. The report highlights the lack of political presence of DNTs and emphasises the need for them to have a more united voice.

    Focus and Factoids by Fiona Raval.

    PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, Vadodara


Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, Vadodara


Oct, 2021