Even as revenue records vouch for their existence for centuries in this remote area of the state, the Brahmin and Dalit communities in the Bharmour region of Chamba district, whose lifestyle is similar to that of the nomadic gaddis (shepherds), have been struggling for being accorded "tribal" status for the past four decades.
The Bharmour and Pangi blocks of Chamba were included in the 5th schedule of the Indian Constitution, which deals with administration and control of "scheduled areas and tribes", along with Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts way back in 1975.
However, members of the Dalit and Pundit communities were not accorded tribal status, depriving them of the benefits provided under welfare schemes implemented in the area. The Dalit and Brahmin communities account for a mere 5% to 7% of the population of the tribal Bharmour block.
"We live in the same tough surroundings, our rituals are similar to those of the 'gaddis' and even have arranged marriages with members of that community. Still we've not been given tribal status for which the community has been fighting for since the past 40 years," said Mohinder Sharma, a Brahmin from Harsar village of Bharmour.
"It's also a violation of our fundamental rights as we've been deprived of benefits of various welfare schemes being run by the government in various sectors like education and health. Besides, it also makes us ineligible for contesting panchayati raj and state assembly elections in Bharmour, which is a notified tribal area. Moreover, special laws for protection of scheduled tribes aren't applicable to our community," Sharma added.
The condition of the Dalit community is even worse as they have neither been given scheduled tribe status nor are they included among scheduled castes.
"Dalit communities in the Bharmour area including the Arya, Hali and Lohar have the status of lower castes in society but haven't been included among scheduled tribes or scheduled castes, depriving them of welfare benefits," said Baldev Singh Negi, project officer at the Integrated Institute of Himalayan Studies of Himachal Pradesh University at Shimla.
Negi, who has conducted a study on "Quest for tribal acknowledgement: A case of non-gaddi communities of Bharmaur", said this violated the fundamental rights of members of the two communities. "The 'shazra nasab' or family trees in revenue records shows the existence of the communities in the Bharmour area since centuries. Exclusion of these communities from scheduled tribes is due to administrative negligence and lack of awareness among area residents. The state government should take up the genuine demands of the two communities at the proper platform so that they get tribal status as well as due rights that they have been deprived of so far," Negi added.
Meanwhile, when contacted Chamba deputy commissioner M Sudha Devi said the district administration had written to the state government after receiving a representation from residents seeking tribal status."The government reverted to us with some queries that are being addressed. The issue will hopefully be resolved soon," she added.