Deepa Pawar’s own experience as a member of the tribe – Gadhiya Lohar, paved the way for her to make Anubhuti Trust which is a woman lead organization that works for the upliftment of the nomadic and denotified tribes of India.
Denotified Tribes (DNTs) are the tribes that were listed originally under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Although the Criminal Tribes Act was repealed in 1949 and thus ‘de-notified’ these tribal communities, the Nomadic and Denotified (NT-DNT) tribes are still treated as criminals by the police and society alike.
For Deepa Pawar who is a member of the gadhiya lohar tribe, her experiences as a teenager were horrific. She was raised in Thane’s Badlapur city, and her father was an iron smith and wielded weapons and tools from iron. She notes in an interview with The Better India, “I remember that when I was working with my father if there was any case of violence or dispute in the area, authorities would question us. They’d ask, in the most insulting and disrespectful ways, if we were the ones who supplied the weapons. It would leave us humiliated in public.”
When Deepa’s father passed away when she was still a teenager, she chose to work in NGOs to sustain her studies. But working for other people made her realize how her own people are suffering. So she started the Anubhuti Trust – a women-led organization that works for the uplifting of NT-DNT tribes.
“Many denotified tribes continue to face the ‘taint of criminality’ — the police, courts, and society continue to view them as criminals.” Deepa Pawar says, “Narratives of genetic criminality have been replaced with narratives of economic need, group immorality, compulsive indiscipline, or addiction to narcotic substances. They are default suspects in cases of theft and dacoity — indiscriminate detention, arrest without warrant, recording of photographs and fingerprints for surveillance and custodial torture continue to be methods practised by state agencies against these communities.”
Launched in 2015, Anubhuti Trust, works for the upliftment of NT-DNT communities through areas of mental justice, leadership training, inclusion in sociopolitics, addressing sexual and reproductive health rights, and more. So far, they have worked across 15 Maharashtra districts to benefit thousands of community members with these programmes.
They educate youth by going directly to the colleges, and these youth then work for them and educate the NT-DNTs about their health, needs of water and sanitation etc. They also have a program named mental justice which provides the NT-DNTs with better mental health, by addressing their guilt of being in the criminalized community and providing mental health solutions in a language they can understand.
Deepa notes that things have not been easy for her since she is a woman. In her community, outspoken women are often looked down upon. Their character is questioned. However, Deepa thinks that it is because she is a woman that she is able to work so hard for the betterment of these communities. “Challenges are rife in the work we do, but being a woman provides me with the right lens to view our issues. The community I come from also drives me to work harder,” she says.
Presently, Anubhuti is working on strengthening its constitution literacy programme and involving more girls to encourage political participation.