Forgotten people Chambal"s Bor Khedi villagers are still called the criminal tribe

  • 30/03/2008

GOVINDSAMY
AGORAMOORTHY
In January this year I visited the Rajasthan part of the Chambal valley to study a water resources management project implemented by the ngo Sadguru Foundation. Accompanied by my local guide Sathish Mishra, I hiked along a tributary of the Chambal river, the Kali Sindh. At Bor Khedi village in Jhalawar district, smoke billowing near the edge of the river aroused curiosity. But Mishra asked me to stay calm. "Kanjars are preparing illicit liquor,' he whispered.

My guide then walked for a mile, spoke to people, and got permission for an interview. I found out later that people of Bor Khedi usually brew illicit liquor along river banks and ravines. I was shocked to see over a dozen children, including a few toddlers, burning firewood to prepare country liquor.

While photographing the smoke-filled liquor pots, I nearly stumbled on some open cables. Mishra cautioned me not to step forward.They were death traps, he said and added that the cables transport stolen electricity from the nearby power line to private motors.

The people pumping water close-by were giving us suspicious looks. But I managed to summon the resolve to ask them why their children were not at school. That broke the ice. Munni Bai, a mother of three gave a toothy grin and assured me that her community was no longer involved in robbery.

She was alluding to a stigma that has remained with the Kanjars since colonial times. The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, classified the community as a criminal tribe. Of course, after independence, the term