Bhola Kol, a resident of Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, is incensed at being classified as a member of a Scheduled Caste. He believes he is part of a Scheduled Tribe, and has been fighting to get ST status in the state. “We were tribes, we are tribes, and we want that status,” he told me. “We are more than eighty thousand in Chitrakoot district itself and in lakhs in Uttar Pradesh.” Some of his relatives are classified as ST, he added, but he is considered an SC. “This is not acceptable.”
Like Kol, there are many Adivasi residents of Uttar Pradesh who, despite being part of tribal communities, are designated as SC. This means that much of Uttar Pradesh’s tribal population lives without recognition of its core identity. As a result, the community has not been able to demand its rights in a collective voice, to raise social or political issues specific to it, or avail official benefits and schemes intended for the uplift of Adivasis. This has led to further disempowerment of an already marginalised population. Even communities defined as tribes in other states are living without that official identity in Uttar Pradesh. “This is a real question of missing identity and so missing rights,” Chhiteshwar Gond, a veteran tribal-activist and writer fighting for the recognition of tribal identity, told me.
Rajesh Gond, a resident of Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, identifies as part of the Gond tribe and believes its members are the original inhabitants of India. When we met, he spoke of the rich history and culture of the community. Rajesh is considered an SC in 62 districts of the state, and an ST in 13 others. He said he is bewildered when he travels across districts to meet his relatives who are classified as SC despite being from his tribe.