Not only has their past taught the community to be wary of the state, but their alienation from mainstream society has meant many of them are ignorant of their rights.For example, getting a caste certificate - the necessary proof of eligibility for benefits - is difficult when many community members hold barely any government identification of any kind.Like "gypsies" elsewhere in the world, whose lifestyles made them difficult to bring under state control, the wanderers were regarded with suspicion by India's British rulers.
"Government always tries its level best to reach these people," says BK Prasad, Member-Secretary of the temporary National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, "but even these people have to come to the government.Most of the time, these people do not come." He recognises that DNTs may require "a special approach".But even in the absence of coercion, choice is a fraught concept in a community which is not only economically and socially marginalised, but historically excluded from the rights and freedoms of citizenship.Zoom out from this small community at the edge of India's capital, and the Pernas become just one dot among many thousands, scattered on the map of what a 2008 government-commissioned report described as "the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sections of Indian society".But even officially eligible DNT communities, such as the Pernas, who are recognised as "SC", often do not gain access to these opportunities.
"It is difficult for these people to stake a claim to the government programmes because of the stigma of being labelled as ex-criminal tribes," says Subir Rana, an anthropologist who has spent time among the Pernas of Najafgarh.
The victims were found after the FBI patrolled hotels, casinos, truck stops, street corners and websites between Oct. Their suspected trafficker, authorities say, was a friend of the family who had offered an undercover officer sex with the girls for 0.
“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
The new Commission is making a priority of addressing a deep information gap: at this point there is zero reliable, countrywide demographic information on denotified communities, a state of affairs which gives credence to Rana's sense that "they have become the lowest of the low; they are invisibles".
While the first order of business is the creation of a comprehensive list of DNT communities, the ultimate goal, according to Prasad, is that "they should be mainstreamed into society in a way that is not too much of a change for them".
With Apne Aap's backing, she was able to convince an informal community court that her daughter should be allowed to make the choice independently.