The Criminal tribes of India: The Denotified Section

          The Criminal tribes of India: The Denotified Section


3rd Year BBA LLB,
School of Law, Christ University.

The criminal tribes form an integral part of India.  They are not considered as normal tribal people, they have always been considered as an alienated community .The totaltribal population of India adds up to 104 million. In this 60 million people belongs to criminal tribes of India. The criminal tribes of India were existing from the 16th century,but they were noticed only in the 18th century by The British government.  In the 18th century the Britishgovernment faced theproblem that, lot of dacoit, theft and murder was happening all over India and British government came to know that, the reason behind all this activity were Indian tribes. So, in the year of 1871 the British government implemented The Criminal Tribes act in northern part of India, it was extended to southern part of India in the year of 1911. This act was passed by T.V. Stephens a British official. The main cause of implementation of this act was that to control crimes committed by them. But even after 70 years of independence we still considered them as criminal tribes, they are also called as Denotified tribes of India. Who are these criminal tribes, why they were labelled as criminal tribes, what was the effect of the criminal tribes act on them, what was the status of them after post-independence, what is the current status of these criminal tribes, what is their current legal status, how these people have were governed by British, how these people are governed now? So, this paper is trying to provide solutions to the above question and it will exhibit a clear vision on this topic.
Keywords: criminal tribes, British India , Denotified Tribes Of India,  reformation.
“Criminal tribes” this term was coined by the British administrative officers to classify this group of people from the mainstream. The criminal tribes were considered to be normal people up till 16th century. After 16thcentury the toll for crimes started increasing enormously, as a result people stared move in groups,curfews were introduced and a lot of new rules were imposed on common citizens of British India. Even though all these measures were taken by the respective kings the crime rate was the same throughout the 17th and 18th century. So, in the year of 187 The Criminal Tribes Act was passed in Northern British India and it was extended to south India in the year of 1911. The main objective of the act was to control the crime rate and punish the criminal in severe manner, so they more than 150 nomadic and traditional tribes of India were labelled as criminal tribes.

Early measures by the British officers:

When the Act was fully implemented in India the British officers took a census of criminal tribes in 18 provinces of India and the report was this
These are distributed as follows: – Population.
      ·       Madras Presidency –  3,636
      ·       United Provinces- 2,176
      ·       Punjab –  1,246
      ·       Bihar and Orissa –  348 (besides work among Pans).
      ·       Bengal Presidency- 332
      ·       Total population – 7,737
      ·       The following tribes are dealt with in these settlements –
            ·       Madras – Yerikulas, VeppurParayas, and Korachas.
            ·       United Provinces – Doms, Bhatus,Beriyas, Sansiahs and Haburahs.
            ·       Punjab- Sansiahs .
            ·       Bihar and Orissa – MaghayaDoms and Pans. Bengal – KarwalNats[1].
The settlements are usually under the direct supervision of an experienced European officer and his wife, with a staff of Indian assistants, including expert foremen for the various industries[2].

Every tribe has his own reasons to become criminals.  For example, the ‘GadiLohars’ in Maharashtra claim that they were the royal blacksmiths of Rana Pratap and were led to wilderness after his defeat by the Mughals. The Banjaras were packers and transporters of the Mughal armies but were sent packing when the empire collapsed. The same fate met the ‘Shikalgars’ who were involved in preparing and grinding metal weapons[3]. When one kingdom is defeated by another kingdom there will be a chaos in the defeated kingdom as they lack a leader to lead them so either they suffer from their enemies so run into the forest and become dependent on nature’s resources. The British a
dministrative officers followed several steps to reduce the crime rate. The nomadic communities were forced to settle on government lands on the peripheries of villages and cities. They were issued identity cards that were mandatory for them to carry whenever they moved out of their settlements. For instance, the bauria were made to carry “chittha” an identity card contained in a metallic pipe. Its absence was an unbailable offence and one could be arrested without any warrants. Bauria males were roll called thrice a day by the local chowkidar, lambardar or at the police post[4]. Bauria is a criminal tirbe who were the warriors in the Rajput army, When the Rajput lost the battle against the Mughals they were forced to move to forest in search of livelihood. But there was a still doubt that how these tribes are being classified as Criminal tribe and some tribes are not. So, basically The Government started on two assumptions. First, all persons born in a particular group, or caste are criminal by birth and second, once a criminal always a criminal. The Act therefore provided for registering all the members or any members of the tribe or tribes declared as Criminal Tribes. It further required such registered members to report themselves to the police authority at fixed intervals, and/or ‘to notify his place of residence and any change or intended change of residence, and any absence or intended absence from his residence, authorised the authority to restrict any Criminal Tribe or any part or member of such a tribe in its or his movements to any specified area or to ask it or him to settle in the place of residence specified, enjoined upon the registered member to take out a pass whenever he crossed the limits of the place in which he was settled or confined, or the area to which his movements were restricted even if it be for a few hours, and /or for a laudable or an innocent purpose. He who contravened these rules was liable to imprisonment for one year on a first conviction, for two years on a second conviction and for 3 years or to fine, which may extend to Ks. 500, or to both on any subsequent[5].The government thought that these sectors of people are anti- social elements which are harmful to the society. d Criminal Tribes as dangerous elements from which society needed protection. On the one hand, it attempted to guarantee such security by imposing restrictions on the suspected groups, and they were rigorous in the case of some individuals, and on the other, sought to prevent the commission of crime by ruthless punishment. It completely ignored possibility of reclamation[6].They basically followed the tit for tat method to cut down the rates of crimes which were taking place that time. Even though all of these steps were taken by the government there were still lacunas in the system which they followed to control the crime rate. Mr.Edwards  was one of the British official during the implementation of the of the Criminal Tribe Act  and he wrote about the lacunas  of this system. des, while accounting for the failure of the Criminal Tribes Act observes: ” The number liable to be ‘ registered under the Act and to be placed under surveillance is so large that it often becomes impossible to watch them effectually. The constant movement of the gangs from province to province also leads to complications and to an overwhelming burden of correspondence, which hardly leaves the police officer any time for important duties nearer home communications often so bad, facilities for escaping surveillance so many, and the police, as a whole, so inadequate numerically for the duties expected of them, that the effective control of these criminal nomads becomes practically impossible[7]. Most of these tribes nomadic in nature they did not have a constant place to lead a simple life. They were always in search of occupation as they don’t have a heredity occupation. So, when the government settled them in their own land so they did not know any work to perform, because most of their jobs were seasonal. Considering all these Mr.Edward suggested the British government to increase the severity of the punishment, ” The Chenchus could not be reformed until they had been taught the primary lesson that crime does not pay. To open schools and offer cooperation to the Chenchus in their present temper waslike offering chicken bones to Tigers”[8].As all these efforts were taking place side by side the government tried to merge the tribes to mainstream. So, they made some modifications in the act in the year of 1923 -1924 and a pan-Indian Act was formulated. Though the broad goal of the modification was to integrate the criminal tribes with the mainstream society, the basic tenets were not altered. The provisions were grossly humiliating. As a result, the modified act became an instrument in the hands of the village level officials to harass the concerned communities[9]. There were several complaints from the tribal people to Government officials about the lacunas in the present system so the Governor of Bombay appointed a committee called The Munshi Committee to review the act and make suggestions in the year of 1937. The most notable contribution was that the committee, for the first time, defined various terms like tribe, gang, class, habitual offender, criminal and so on. In 1938, the government of Bombay prepared a CTA manual to clarify the provisions, rules and procedures under the CTA[10]. the committee also commented about the act as follows “If a man is a regular criminal, he manages to square the patel who keeps the registerunwritten for 3-4 days. If the man is arrested somewhere else, he marks him absent. On coming back, if he shares the spoils with the patel, he is marked present[11]. It also states that “The settlement population is so hopelessly depraved that improvement cannot but be at a snail’s pace. But we have no doubt that the management itself cannot escape part of the blame. It appears that the Manager did not maintain with the general body of the settlers any personal touch so vital to the successful administration of a settlement. Again, we came across several cases of ill-treatment or harsh administration of the settlement rules.” It also pointedly referred to the inadequate attention paid to the well-being of the settlement population.

“The arrangement for water supply and sanitation were extremely inadequate. No supervision or an attempt to secure improvement appeared to have been made in the building of huts by the settlers and the general layout of the settlement presented a desultory appearance.” The Indian Jails Commission also testified to the personality of the Manager for the success of the Kulasekharapatnam Settlement in Madras State and the Bijaur Settlement in Bombay[12].Even though these steps helped to reducing the crime rate a lot of normal tribal people were affected by this act. The main motive of law is that hundreds criminal can escape from the hands of law but not even a single an innocent should be punished by it. But in this case, it happened a lot of innocent people were punished by this law. From the British period these people were neglected from the mainstream people were considered to be Dalits and sudhras who were considered to be the lowest in the Indian caste system. So, they were further neglected from the society.

Problems faced  post-independence:

After the independence of India these people were free from the settlement and there were allowed to practice any work or religion and they got freedom from the cruel steps followed by them basically the criminal tribes were enacted with an objective to control the crime rate by punishing the criminal but it rather gave excessive powers to officials who misused it for their purposes.Due to its harsh nature, the CTA was severely criticised and people began pro testing in every province of the country. As a result, when provincial governments were formed, many of the provisions were stayed. The government of Bombay re pealed the act in 1949. The Madras government had already done it in 1948. In fact, the CTA had become irrelevant against the principles of the Constitution of India (No 13, 14, 19D and E) which guaranteed fundamental rights of every citizen. The CTA was revoked in the country in 1952 and the notified communities were ‘de notified’. The CTA was replaced by the Habitual Offenders Act[13].
The Habitual offenders act was enacted in the year of 1952.The main purpose was to help the people who were affected by the Criminals Tribes act of 1871. The main of the objective of the act was to include the alienated individuals to mainstream people so that they can also lead a normal life as others. The Habitual Offenders Act targets individuals and not communities. But even all this step was taken practically there was no change in fact the habitual offenders act fired back at these people. The objective of the act was to merge these individuals to the mainstream but instead it further alienated them from the main society, even though the tag of the criminal tribe was removed from them practically it made no change from the point of view of society. tice, the police department, still moulded in the colonial mindset, follows the same old practices. This is the major and practical implication of the CTA. The police department still does not accept the fact that a whole community cannot be branded or stigmatised. Whenever a crime takes place, they round up all the male members of the community in the vicinity and apply brutal methods to ex tract information. At times women and children are not spared[14].The problem is that there were still people of these communities who were involved with crimes so people did not feel them or allow them to the mainstream society. So they went their traditional occupation of hunting. But when the Wild life protection act of 1976 was enacted they were largely affected by this act.
The act banned them from roaming freely inside the forest and hunting of animals so Shifted to the bad track and started their dacoity activities, thefts, rapes etc. There is another side of the story too. Some people out of the blue have turned away themselves from all the activities and started a new life but the society never changes a view about somethings which are always fixed.JALAN belongs to the pardhi community. Her husband would be arrested and beaten up at regular intervals; her two children were ‘confiscated’ by the police on the charge that they were stolen as she did not have their birth certificates. Recently, she was stripped off a sari by the police for not possessing its cash memo.  BudhanSabar belonged to the kheriasabar community of West Bengal. Recently married he was determined to eke out a living from his handicrafts. On his way to the market one day he was picked up by the police. He was continuously beaten for five days and nights though a search of his house showed no evidence of theft. On the sixth day he was sent to jail where the beatings continued. On the seventh day he was declared dead.PinyaHariKale belonged to the pardhi community, who worked as a landless agricultural labourer and on whom his wife and four children depended for their livelihood. One day the police picked him up on charges of theft. The next day while still in custody, he was declared dead. These are not the happenings of the previous century when communities such as pardhis, kheria-sabars or the vadaris, bhils, bedars, kalkadis, kanjars, manga rudis, nir shikaris or tadvis of Maharashtra like hundreds of communities all over India, were labelled ‘criminal tribes’ by the British penal system. Then, a member of any of these communities could be randomly  picked up, tortured, maimed or even killed[15].This still happens in many areas of India.Every year persons from the DN tribes are either mob lynched, killed by the police or forced into criminal activities by the police. It must be the worst form of exploitation when the establishment forces a section of the people to be engaged in criminal activities- akin to the exploitation of women kept enslaved in the prostitution trade.
The DNTs who submit are trapped in a world of rob and run in which the local police are also paid a share of the booty. If they dare to not submit, they are hounded out anyway[16].Some of these communities suffer from the basic needs that should be provided for every citizen of India such as birth certificate, community certificate. Example if a person belongs to any one of the criminal or denotified tribe, in one state he will belong to Scheduled Caste category and in one state he will belong to Scheduled Tribe, in case if he moves to that state for that work will it be easy for him to settle in that state?
The fundamental rights which are enforced by the Constitution of India acts as an cover to every person in the Nation. But from the above mentioned incidents we can get the Genesis that there is still a gross violation of these fundamental rights of the denotified section of people. The government should step up and tackle the Problem to help this section.
The criminal tribes or now currently called as denotified tribe all still neglected from the mainstream on the basis of what happened in the history. We are living in a society were even a middle-class family man’s son becomes the Chief Executive Officer of big Multi National companies so why should a criminal’s son should be considered as criminal why can’t we give them a second chance? The Government should bring them exclusively under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and should form a separate department in the ministry to meet their obligations for the livelihood of their family and protection of them from the social harassment. Also to make sure that their fundamental rights are not violated by means of harassment and cruelty and the very rights are enforced properly by means of law.


[1] Frederick de L. Booth Tucker,: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 71, No. 3661 (JANUARY 19, 1923), pp. 158-166,

[2] Frederick de L. Booth Tucker,: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 71, No. 3661 (JANUARY 19, 1923), pp. 158-166,

[3] Milind Bokil,De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes: A Perspective,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jan. 12-18, 2002), pp. 148-154,

[4]Birinder Pal Singh,Ex-Criminal Tribes of Punjab ,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 51 (Dec. 20 – 26, 2008), pp. 58-65,

[5] K. M. Kapadia,The Criminal Tribes of India,Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1952), pp. 99-125,

[6] K. M. Kapadia,The Criminal Tribes of India,Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1952), pp. 99-125,

[7] K. M. Kapadia,The Criminal Tribes of India,Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1952), pp. 99-125,

[8] K. M. Kapadia,The Criminal Tribes of India,Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1952), pp. 99-125,

[9]Milind Bokil,De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes: A Perspective,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jan. 12-18, 2002), pp. 148-154,

[10] Milind Bokil,De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes: A Perspective,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jan. 12-18, 2002), pp. 148-154,

[11] K. M. Kapadia,The Criminal Tribes of India,Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1952), pp. 99-125,

[12] K. M. Kapadia,The Criminal Tribes of India,Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1952), pp. 99-125,

[13] Milind Bokil,De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes: A Perspective,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jan. 12-18, 2002), pp. 148-154,

[14] Milind Bokil,De-Notified and Nomadic Tribes: A Perspective,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jan. 12-18, 2002), pp. 148-154,

[15] Susan Abraham,Steal or I’ll Call You a Thief: ‘Criminal’ Tribes of India,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 27 (Jul. 3-9, 1999), pp. 1751-1753,

[16] Susan Abraham,Steal or I’ll Call You a Thief: ‘Criminal’ Tribes of India,Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 27 (Jul. 3-9, 1999), pp. 1751-1753,

Leave a Comment