Denotified Tribal Communities and Nomadic Tribes continue to face systematic discrimination and oppression by the police and the criminal justice system.

Colonial Constructions of Criminality

In 1871, the British colonial authorities enacted the Criminal Tribes Act to brand several nomadic and tribal communities as ‘hereditary criminals’ habituated to a life of crime. These communities were then subjugated as the ‘objects of policing’. Their freedoms, livelihoods and cultures were entirely suppressed through extensive surveillance and State control, including forced ‘reformatory’ settlements, coerced collection of personal data, separation of children from families etc.

Persistent criminalisation through laws and police discretion

Persistent criminalisation through laws and police discretion The Criminal Tribes Act was repealed in 1952. However, the taint of criminality continues to be manufactured against these communities by the police. Members of these communities are still considered hereditary criminals by the police, and they are often charged with false or petty cases, or cases of theft and house-breaking even in the absence of evidence. Furthermore,vague and overbroad ‘habitual offenders’ provisions as well as substantive criminal laws steeped in colonial, caste, religious or class bias (such as excise laws, Arms Act, Gambling Act, animal protection laws) allow for the police to target these communities. The greater the numberof false cases filed against members of these communities, the more ‘evidence’ mounts of their‘criminal antecedents’. These communities are therefore perpetually trapped in the criminal justice system and are extremely vulnerable to extrajudicial police violence, harassment, extortion and sexual assault.


The CPA Project is a litigation, research and capacity-building intervention committed to ending the disproportionate targeting of marginalised communities by the criminal justice system. We seek to hold the police accountable and build a fairer criminal justice system by:
1. Building an open database of the institutional criminalisation of marginalised communities through the various stages of the criminal justice system (police reports, arrest, detention, production, bail etc.)
2. Systematically studying the extent and exercise of police discretion against marginalised communities
3. Researching the constructions of criminality and its impacts on the women and children of marginalised communities through an intersectional analysis
4. Providing quality legal representation to marginalised communities at all stages of intervention, including at the police station and during the production and discharge stages of trial
5. Pursuing legal action to challenge human rights violations including illegal detention,torture, sexual assault, brutality etc. and police impunity
6. Practicing strategic litigation in higher courts to access constitutional remedies such as public interest litigation, writ of mandamus, writ of habeas corpus etc.
7. Challenging the constitutional validity of laws and executive actions that are arbitrary and violate the fundamental rights (Articles 14, 19 and 21) of marginalised communities
8. Supporting a network of community lawyers and paralegals who seek to spearhead social change
9. Producing comics, zines, infographics, pamphlets and other resources to advocate for the decriminalisation and decarceration movement in India
10. Building the legal and reflective capacities of human rights lawyers across the country by sharing our learnings and processes of knowledge creation, database tracking and litigation strategies

We are committed to and informed by the anti-caste, feminist, and anti-carceral movement in the research and litigation strategies we pursue, and in the everyday operations of the CPA Project.


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