No sway for education to Haryana snake charmers: The Sapera community has been left far behind

Nearly 80% of the Saperas in urban areas are still illiterate

By Rahul
Published: Tuesday 28 March 2023
Sanke charmers are known as Sapera or Sapelas, or Jogi-Naths in Haryana, whereas in the state of Rajasthan, they are called Kalbeliyas. Photo: iStock
Sanke charmers are known as Sapera or Sapelas, or Jogi-Naths in Haryana, whereas in the state of Rajasthan, they are called Kalbeliyas. Photo: iStock Sanke charmers are known as Sapera or Sapelas, or Jogi-Naths in Haryana, whereas in the state of Rajasthan, they are called Kalbeliyas. Photo: iStock

Education is one of the critical indicators of a society that plays a central role in enhancing the overall socio-economic development of a community or area. Even though India has achieved significant progress, several nomadic communities are getting left out in the efforts, especially the Saperas in Haryana.

Nomadic and de-notified tribes in India

Mobility divides society into two groups, the mobile and the settled. A nomadic community is a group of people constantly on the spatial movement with their family members and animals searching for livelihood. They do not have permanent homes. 

Read more: From snake charmers to agricultural labourers: A case of Haryana’s Saperas

In contrast to nomadicthere are groups of people who are also on the spatial movement but have an abode to live in for a part of the year. This group of people is called semi-nomadic. 

During British colonial rule, close to 200 communities, mostly nomadic, were declared as “born criminals” under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and called ‘criminal tribes’ due to specific administrative and law and order reasons. 

Later after Independence, all the erstwhile ‘criminal tribes’ were de-notified in 1952 and they are now known as de-notified tribes.

More than 600 such communities constitute about 10 per cent of India’s total population, according to the report released by the National Commission on De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (2008). 

There are 49 nomadic and de-notified communities in Haryana, including the Sapera community who traditionally work as snake charmers. Saperas are found across the country and are known by different names. They are known as Sapera or Sapelas, or Jogi-Naths in Haryana, whereas in the state of Rajasthan, they are called Kalbeliyas

Due to their nomadic lifestyle, it is difficult to estimate their exact numbers. One estimate found that the total population of this community is 48,838 persons in the country, a 2004 report by environment journalist Bahar Dutt quoted another paper (Singh, 1991). 

Modern means of entertainment have severely affected their lives and livelihood due to various bio-diversity laws. 

Read more: Union Budget 2020-21: Denotified, Nomadic, Semi-nomadic Tribes left out once again

With the changing times, members of the Sapera community have switched their occupation from snake-charming to been (snake charmer’s pipe) parties like playing musical bands at weddings and social functions, informal health care, agricultural labour, begging, etc, the report by Dutt said.

In contrast to the pure nomadic lifestyle, they have also started to settle down near villages or on the fringes of agricultural fields. Women and children no longer travel and usually stay back in the village, while men tour extensively to return only at the end of the month or sometimes after two to three months.

Education for the nomadic Saperas

India is progressing towards education for all with several vital programmes and policies, such as Sarv Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Right to Education (RTE).

Of all the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals, Education (SDG-4) is the most vital component for sustainable development, ensuring that no one is left behind

Providing facilities such as education, health and employment has been easier for welfare states across the world to the settled societies than mobile or nomadic communities. Nomadic people are historically on the spatial move with their family members and animals to earn a livelihood because of their wandering lifestyle.

In the absence of permanent residence, getting modern or formal education by the respective governments during pre- and post-colonial rule in India for the children of nomadic communities has been a significant challenge

Various studies indicate that enrolment of snake-charmers in schools needs to be higher due to multiple factors such as discrimination or untouchability at educational institutes. If children are already in school, they drop out or do not attend classes, non-profit ActionAid reported in 2016

A 2019 report by Bunker also found that more than 50 per cent of the surveyed Saperas were illiterate. More than three-fourths of Haryana’s population were literate per the definition adopted by the Registrar General of India, the 2011 Census of India had found.

The paper is an MPhil dissertation on Kalbelia snake charmer community of Rajasthan, which is submitted in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. 

The percentage share of literates was 71.4 per cent in rural and 83.1 per cent in urban areas. The situation is alarming in the case of the Sapera community. Of the Saperas, 62.8 per cent were illiterate, census data revealed, accounting for 45.9 per cent among males and 71 per cent among females. 

Read more: World’s oldest snake fossils discovered

When data have been analysed by place of residence, it has been found that nearly 80 per cent of the community’s population in urban areas are illiterate compared to only 13 per cent for the state. 

However, from the figures mentioned above, it is clear that even after more than 75 years of Indian Independence, there are groups of people who are far way from achieving the goal of education for all or leaving no one behind. 

Rahul is a doctoral fellow at International Institute for Population Science in Mumbai

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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