Pardhi Rehabilitation

Certain parts of Satara have many settlements of the Paradhi community.  There were disputes between paradhi & non-paradhi farmers in the town of Phaltan.  The non-pardhi farmers complained that the paradhis stole their crops, committed burglaries, and robbed lonely farmers.  They allegedly registered false cases under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and also lodged false complaints with the Human Rights Commission.  The Paradhis also had similar complaints against non-pardhis. They complained that the landlords got them arrested under false charges and molested their women etc.  As SP Satara I received complaints from both sides.  The complaints become so intense, that I feared that a serious clash between the two communities was impending.  Some local farmers were apprehensive that the Paradhis may face a massacre similar to the one that happened at Dhoki in Osmanabad district. 

I therefore held a meeting of the nonpardhi farmers from the Phaltan Police Station area.  Many people told me horror stories about the Phardhis and their attrocities.  Some even threatened that if the police failed to control the paradhis they would do it themselves.  Both groups were confronting each other and both called for police intervention.  Out of this need I implemented an innovative project of Pardhi rehabilitation.  Faced with the problem of the Pardhis in Satara District, I remembered Shankar Paradhi from my village.  I remembered his social life, his economic condition, his place in society – his way of life.

Shankar Pardhi

I don’t remember when Shankar paradhi first came to reside in our hamlet. He stayed on fallow land next to our farm and always dressed in a lion cloth, faded Khaki coat without buttons and a turban wrapped around his head.  He had three children: Bhavadya, Wamanya, and Mali.  Bhavadya was of my age but when we played games, he would watch us from a distance but never joined us.  Even if had we would probably not have included him in our games.  The Paradhis sometimes figured in our conversations at home.  If we grew our hair long mother would shout at us “Why are you growing long hair like the Pardhis?” 

We never saw Shankar Paradhi doing physical work.  He never worked as a labourer.  He had a very agile cow.  Shanker would mount her and make rounds of our locality at night.  Hearing the footsteps of the cow & Shankar’s yelling the villagers would feel secure and sleep peacefully.  In return they would give him cereals during harvest season.  By day he would weave nets to trap birds.  He changed the location of his hut frequently, but always stayed around our farm.  We would hear about the trapped birds from Bhavdya.  We would go to his hut, but watch the birds only from a distance.  Along with the bird we would get a glimpse of all his worldly possessions too.  A couple of cheap german vessels, an old rusted steel box, a bundle of rags, the cow tied up outside & his bird nets. Sometime Shankar would sit outside his hut smoking a pipe of a little bit of tobacco and dried leaves.  He would light the pipe with the spark produced by rubbing stones two white-stones, something we found strange. 

His wife went round our village begging everyday without fail.  Dressed in rags and carrying an empty vessel, she would be accompanied by Bhavadya or Mali.  She carried a barbed stick to keep away the village dogs that invariably chased her barking wildly.  She begged almost at every house.  All the stale, rotten food was collected in one pot.  I never saw Shankar’s wife work as household help.  They lived on begging. 

Wherever there was a community feast, the entire family turned up for begging.  For marriage feasts, Shankar would turn up right from the first round and beg for food.  He would slowly inch towards the feast only to be shoed off by host with, “You bastard, the guests haven’t finished eating yet.  Get out off here.”  Shankar would back off and sit quietly for sometime only to beg for food again.  And again someone would push him back with choice abuses.  The guests would start their meals with prayers.  Patting their stomachs after a sumptuous meal they would get up to wash their hands.  The waiters would throw the waste food in the nearby garbage dump.  Stray dogs would rush towards the food.  Shankar and his family members competed with the dogs for food that they would ration and eat over several days to follow.  Thus lived Shankar paradhi - as probably did his fore-fathers.

We conducted a survey of the paradhi community in Satara with the help of the professors of the Gokhale Institute of Economics, Pune.  Through a comprehensive questionnaire we studied the economic, social and religious aspects of the Paradhis.  Hardly 3 to 4% of the Paradhis were hardened criminals as per police record.  Out of the rest some committed petty thefts.  Most worked as laborers.  Few had good farms.  However the entire community was stamped as criminals because of the 4% criminals. 

Whenever there was a crime in the vicinity the police would raid their houses.  A few of them would be taken to the police station.  They would turn out to be innocent.  After all why should the real culprits wait for the police at their houses? Their houses would be ransacked in the raids.  Some huts would be smashed.  The women folk would be abused.  Sometimes there would be scuffles.  In short innocent people would be harassed.  Human Rights organizations sympathetic to the paradhis would send petitions to the Human Rights Commission.  Many innocent paradhis suffered at the hands of the police and the rich agriculturists.  I therefore drew up a scheme to isolate the criminal Paradhis from the innocent ones. 

I started holding Paradhi get-togethers at various places.  I organized health camps for paradhi women & children and got them checked up by specialist doctors.  I heard their grievances.  I explained to them that a handful of criminals were responsible for maligning their entire community. We distributed house-hold utensils to the needy families and old Pardhis through the rich agriculturists.  Non criminal paradhis were made members of the Mohalla committees.  Paradhis started sharing the village development scheme along with the elite of the village.

Pardhis are very agile & sturdy.  They were appointed for village protection. Every village gave the responsibility of protection to a couple of paradhi families.  These families made night rounds and protected the village from property offences.  The villagers agreed to pay them in cash and cereals.  Besides this some farmers appoint them as laborers.  The Paradhi family had to ensure that none of their criminal relations visited them.  And if they did, the family had to prevent him from committing thefts.  Many Gram Panchayats offered land to such paradhi families.  Some rich farmers donated land and some even built houses for them.

The very first precaution I took in implementing this scheme was to change the attitude of the police officers & men towards the Paradhi community.  I gave them a constructive program for reforming the Paradhis.  My observation is that the constabulary and junior officers like constructive work. 

The main task we accomplished through this project was to provide livelihood to the Paradhis, which eliminated their need for indulging in crime.  They were made the protectors of the village - a huge responsibility.  This was a job for brave men, of the Kshatriyas (Warrior Class).  They loved this new job that also gave them respectability.  If required they were given jobs as farm labours in the vicinity.

The criminal paradhis were left with no excuse to leave the village.  They had to watch their relations & strangers visiting them.  Down trodden and neglected, the pardhis that once lived on the outskirts of the village were now made members of the village Mohalla Committee.  This boosted their self-respect and self esteem tremendously.  A community neglected for centuries was brought into the main stream.  Consequently the small incidences of thefts stopped and the rich farmers could safely roam around their farms at night without fear.  The whole village slept peacefully as the Pardhis patrolled the village at night.  Both communities were happy.

Later I arranged a workshop in Satara to increase people’s participation in the Pardhi rehabilitation program.  Social workers, sociologists and NGOs took part in this workshop.  Arrangements were made to put the Pardhi kids through school.  All of them were issued ration cards.  Officers of the Social Welfare department were invited to explain the various government schemes available for their community.

This project can be replicated anywhere else.  And that too without asking the government for more money, new laws and legislation, or additional manpower.