Monday, June 7, 2010

Will the real criminal stand up?

Try asking a simple question to a heterogeneous group: who is the free-roaming criminal in our society? Even before the question gets completed, the answer starts floating in the air. One is surprised if it would not be a 'politician'? One of the highly protected tribes that is rarely hounded by the forces of law even though records confirm that a sizeable number of honorable members of the legislative have consistent criminal records.

At the other end, there are tribes whose children are condemned 'criminals' much before they are born. For their failure to understand nomadic lifestyles, the imperial rulers assumed such communities to be thieves and dacoits and dubbed them criminals under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Freedom from the British didn't change much for such 150 tribes; these were hounded by the police under the Habitual Offender's Act of 1952.

Words may have changed but the text remained much the same as the new piece of legislation continued to negate the universally proclaimed principle that 'all human beings are born free and equal' and gave the police wide powers to not only arrest them but to control and monitor their movements too. No wonder, the economic upturn in the recent past has meant little for such tribes as they continue to languish at the lower end of the growth spectrum.

Criminal Tribes of Punjab provides insights into the socio-anthropological existence of seven criminal tribes in Punjab, which bear close resemblance to the condemned existence of similar tribes in the country. The book critically discusses the issue of criminality as also it captures the brewing resentment of exclusion amidst them.

Using development as an indicator, the book argues in favor of repealing the Habitual Offenders Act for affectively rehabilitating such ostracized communities. The book is a timely narrative on a rather neglected section of the society which, contrary to Macaulay's assessment, has a rich cultural legacy....Link
Criminal Tribes of Punjab: A Socio-Anthropological Inquiry
by Birinder Pal Singh (Ed)                                                                                                               
Routledge, 151 pages, Rs 595

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