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Ismail Pawar, First Member of Denotified Pardhi Tribe to Contest Polls, is Rewriting History

He started off with several handicaps. Being given an election symbol of an air-conditioner—an unseen, unheard of luxury for his tribal, nomadic community—was one of them.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:December 10, 2018, 10:32 PM IST
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Ismail Pawar, First Member of Denotified Pardhi Tribe to Contest Polls, is Rewriting History
Ismail Pawar live sin the small hamlet of Bairagarh Kalan in Madhya Pradesh, 15 km from Bhopal. (Credit: Rakhi Bose/News18)

Bhopal: In a few hours from now, as counting begins, a little known candidate will, almost certainly, hear about his defeat. A comprehensive defeat in all likelihood. Even his own son might not vote for him.

Ismail Pawar will only have, like hundreds of other extras, run haphazardly in a scene full of action. From obscurity to obscurity.

So why bother with him?

Because he achieved something for his community by becoming the first-ever person from the Pardhi tribe to fight elections. Because he wants to represent and assert his Pardhi identity—for which he sold everything he had for his campaign—may be the beginning of political mobilisation with far-reaching consequences in years to come.

BJP ki lahar aur Congress ke kahar ko thanda karne aa gai hai Pawar ki AC [Pawar’s AC will freeze BJP’s wave and Congress’ storm],” read the pamphlets stuck to the houses in Huzur district.

He started off with several handicaps. Being given an election symbol of an air-conditioner—an unseen, unheard of luxury for his tribal, nomadic community—was one of them.

But he used it ingeniously in his campaigns that he carried out alone, on his bicycle. The 56 year-old man who does the odd job, of selling herbs, invokes BR Ambedkar as soon as he begins talking about his candidature.

“I want to be remembered as someone like Baba Saheb by working for the oppressed. He gave us a sense of identity. Baba Saheb told us that we also have a right to exist. I want all my brothers to know that there were people standing for us then, and there are people standing for us now.”

What would he do for his people if he wins?

“One of the first things I want to do if I win is to get a hand-pump for the Kalbelia community in Khairi.”

He wears a thick silver bangle that has two tigers in a headlock, a reminder of his hunting ancestry.

The Pardhis were used by kings as hunting consorts. But during the British Raj, in 1871, they were notified as one of 150 ‘criminal tribes’ in India. This put a stigma on Pardhis which they haven’t been able to get rid of yet despite the community being denotified by the Indian government in 1952.

To this day Pardhis are being pushed out of their natural habitats—the forests—into urban poverty, discrimination and petty crime.

Another year Paridhis remember with dread is 1972, when the Wildlife Protection Act came into being and they could no longer hunt legally.

“Someone had to make a start. Even though it has been 72 years since we got Independence, our community is still not represented in politics and because of that governments don’t seem to care about us,” Ismail said.

Udit Narayan, a Pardhi living in the Ahsannagar slum, is quite happy with Pawar declaring the Paridhis’ entry into electoral politics. So happy that he is working as a part-time volunteer for Pawar’s campaign, that too for free.

“I helped with the campaign. A lot of people are impressed here by him,” Narayan said. “He promised that he will ask for reservations for denotified communities in the Centre if he wins. That can help us get jobs.”

pardhi kids (Pardhi children sit with books outside their homes in Bairagarh. (Credit: Rakhi Bose/News18.)

That’s another thing Pawar has promised to his community—reservation. “Governments have always pushed us away. But now they have a chance to include us in the nation by giving us reservations,” Pawar tells News18 while taking a break from his bicycle campaign in a village called Bairagarh.

According to Debjani Chakrabarty , a researcher with Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (Kolkata), this could be a way for the Pardhis to try and locate themselves in a larger narrative. Chakrabarty, who is writing a dissertation on oral history traditions of denotified tribes, said she had followed Ismail’s campaign closely.

“It was very interesting how he conducted the campaign with hardly any resource. The community until recently has never shown this kind of organisation,” she says, adding that she observed an interest for politics in Pawar some time ago.

“Pawar has been involved in politics for a while. He used to go to meetings and rallies. He thinks the only way to be heard is to be represented. It'll be interesting to see how he proceeds after the election, though,” she said.

Archana Sharma, an educator and activist working with Pawar for the rehabilitation of Pardhi youth in urban Madhya Pradesh, also thinks that in a minor way a political start has been made by the Pardhis.

“It’s the beginning of a new phase for the community. It may not mean a lot in this election but Ismail will be setting a standard. It may mark a change in the way the community sees itself,” Sharma told News18.

Interestingly, Pawar, who often talks about and quotes Ambedkar, also feels quite strongly about Ram Mandir. “Ram belongs to everyone. Why must we not ask for a Ram Mandir? It's rightfully ours too. And it is good for the entire Hindu Samaj of which we are also a part,” he says asserting his Hindu identity.

“We have been hunters. But we are also Hindu and we worship the Devi. And we support the Ram Mandir. But for some reason we don’t have a place in Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi’s country,” Pawar adds.

Ismail Pardhi Ismail Pawar is a devout worshipper of Devi and spoke strongly about the Hindu identity of the Pardhis.(credit: Rakhi Bose/News18)

On the issue of Ram Mandir, Pawar has a fierce critic closer home. It is his son Nain Singh. “He doesn’t get it. The propaganda on TV, radio, streets is so strong these days that many get taken in,” Ismail’s 26-year-old son said.

“They feel that by supporting the temple, by chanting those slogans, they can get the upper caste to take some notice. I wonder how a Ram temple in Ayodhya will help Pardhis get jobs in MP,” said Nainsingh who is currently preparing for public service exams.

Meanwhile, Ismail’s wife Bistari Bai who was far removed from politics noted that ever since he started campaigning, their family’s goodwill increased manifold in the community.

“People now look up to him and the other women respect me and my daughters-in-law,” she said. She hoped it would result in some financial gains for the family so that she and her daughters-in-law don’t have to go collecting scrap anymore.

“He has a goal now, he’s motivated. Who knows, maybe we will go down in history.”​

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