P1000654.JPGIn 1952, five years after independence, the Criminal Tribes Act of 1911 was finally repealed. Released from the forced labor camp which had been their prison for the past forty years, the Chhara were resettled on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, in Chharanagar. Roughly three square miles, with a population of over twenty thousand, Chharanagar is primarily known for its home brewed liquor – illegal in the dry state of Gujarat.

The Chharas

The Chhara community were indigenous and nomadic people of the Punjab region who were “notified” and settled by order of the British colonial government in the 1930s. At that time they were confined in a colony called Chharanagar and rehabilitated through industrial and agricultural labor. After independence they were released from the settlement, but many chose to remain, having essentially no resources or other means of livelihood and no retraining in useful skills.


The erstwhile Chhara Settlement. It still has high walls and barbed wire from the 1930s. These days its a home to rehabilitate beggars.

Due to their history of nomadism and forced sedentization, social stigmas have developed about the Chharas that place them at considerable disadvantage in competing for jobs and education. They have become scapegoats and usual suspects for police, who are able to use Chharas for illegal purposes, such as brewing country liquor under threat of compulsion. This places Chharas in constant uneasy relation to authority and has resulted in an extremely high rate of incarceration. Youth find it very difficult to acquire and retain employment. Yet Chharas are highly motivated to excel at education, and Chharanagar boasts an impressive number of professionals.

The Criminal Tribes Act

Learn more about the Criminal Tribes Act on Wikipedia.

Below is a PDF of the full text of the Criminal Tribes Act Report of 1934.

CTA Report 1934 (Please Click here and wait to see PDF File – 8MB | 34 Pages)

*Photo by P. Kerim Friedman, from the Hooch and Hamlet website. Material is licensed under creative commons.