Criminal Tribes Act, 1871

The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was among the harshest laws the British Colonial State ever legislated. Millions of semi-nomadic and nomadic tribes were labeled as criminals and placed under constant government watch. In August 1949, the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was abolished, and in 1952, the so-called criminal tribes were de-notified. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was repealed in favor of the Habitual Offenders Act of 1952.

What does Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 Define?

There have been several laws in India since the 1870s, during the British period. The Criminal Tribes Act was the name of the collection of these laws. By maintaining entire tribes in the criminal category, this act criminalized them, and the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 led to some limits being put in place. Due to the application of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, the family's male members were required to report each week to the neighborhood police station. However, the Criminal Tribes Act was revoked in August 1949.

Overview of the Act

The table below provides a brief summary of the act −

Long Title Criminal Tribes Act
Territorial Extent The whole of British India
Enacted Date 12 Octobern1871
Commencement Date 12 October 1871
Status Repealed

Origin of the Act

According to the sociologist Meena Radhakrishna, numerous tribal chiefs, like Avantibai Lodhi and Dhan Singh Gurjar, were branded traitors and viewed as rebellious during the uprising of 1857. The colonial government found it difficult to manage the distinctions between wandering criminal tribes, vagrants, itinerants, traveling tradesmen, nomads, and gypsies, so they were all grouped together—including eunuchs (hijras)—and their offspring were labeled a "law and order problem" for the state.

Current Situation of the Act

The number of Indians who are nomadic and have been de-notified today is estimated to be over 60 million. Because of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, many of them still suffer from significant stigma.

  • Critics further point out that the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, which relisted the criminal tribe as a de-notified tribe, does little to stop the ongoing mistreatment of these vulnerable groups.

  • Reservations should be made available to de-notified, nomadic, and semi-nomadic populations, according to the National Commission for De-notified, Nomadic, and Semi-Nomadic Tribes. They also advocated for these tribes to be covered by the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

  • The de-notified tribes are currently the focus of numerous projects and programs run by both government and non-government organizations.

Pre and Post Independence Reforms

Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 in 1936, seeing it as a horrible clause that undermined civil liberties.

  • The Bombay government established a committee to investigate criminal tribes after independence in 1947. The number of tribes listed under the statute decreased after a protracted fight. Other provincial administrations did likewise.

  • In 1949, the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was abolished, decriminalizing 23 lakh tribal people. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was replaced by the Habitual Offender Act of 1952.


A potent and enduring colonial narrative focused on the so-called criminal tribes. A crucial element is the use of symbols and metaphors that have resonance with the political and social elites. For instance, the tribe's members are described as "broken men and fallen women."

People are inexorably doomed to low status and low dignity when used in a social situation where "honor" for oneself and one's family is explicitly prized. Another, more successful strategy is the false claim that criminal tribes are like castes. This made it easier for non-tribal people in the areas where these tribes were forcibly exiled to accept criminality as a hereditary feature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Who were called criminal tribes and why?

Ans. The phrase was created by the British to describe the most violent subset of roving criminals known as thugs. It was intended to give them a permanent home and improve their socioeconomic status by classifying them as criminal tribes.

Q2. What did the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 cover?

Ans. One of the several laws the British colonial government established that applied to Indians based on their caste and religion was the Criminal Tribes Act. The Criminal Tribes Act and its rules included castes in the concept of tribes. This language was adopted for a number of reasons, including Muslim sensitivities that saw tribes as a more inclusive term that included Muslims and castes as something that was intrinsically Hindu.

Q3. What was the Criminal Tribes Act List?

Ans. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 led to the creation of a list of criminal tribes known as the Criminal Tribes Act List. The freedom of the mentioned individuals to move about and contact with others was constrained, making their lives challenging and

Updated on: 08-May-2023


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