Adivasis across Telangana have erected black flags in their gudems (hamlets), protesting against government indifference in addressing the longstanding conflict between Banjara Lambadas and Adivasis. With the slogan “Maava Naate Maava Raaj” (our village, our rule), and to the beat of their traditional drum – the thodum – the tribal population in the state declared self rule in all Adivasi villages on the night of May 31.
The Adivasis have erected banners and black flags declaring self-rule under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The protest is led by former TDP MLA Soyam Baburao, state president of Adivasi Hakkula Porata Samithi, also known as Thudumdhebba. Thudumdhebba is an Adivasi political group that derives its name from the traditional drum.
Thudumdhebba leaders say that at least 2000 Adivasi hamlets across Karimnagar, Warangal, Kothagudem, Khammam, Mahabubad, Komaram Bheem, Mancherial, Nirmal and Adilabad districts have declared self-rule. Protesters say they will not cooperate with the government, and will operate on their own under the Grama Sabha Vyavastha (village committee system.)
The decision to declare self-rule was taken at a meeting by the Adivasis in Keslapur, Adilabad on May 27. The agitating Adivasi leaders later met the Chief Secretary of the state on Thursday. However, disappointed with the government’s response to their plight, they went ahead with the strike.
Why the conflict?
The Adivasis accuse the Lambadas of exploiting reservations for Scheduled Tribes, and depriving them of opportunities in education and employment. Soyam Baburao, the man behind the agitation, says that they are also fighting against cultural appropriation by the Lambadas.
“They are ruining our culture, encroaching upon our lands and ruling us. All the IAS and government officers are from the Lambada community. Our people are not able to get jobs, as these people are exploiting the quota. We are the marginalized community, who need the aid of the government; and are in need of reservation,” Soyam Baburao says.
The Adivasis allege that the Lambadas were included in the ST list in the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh in a haste in 1976, without following proper procedure.
“No procedure was followed. No committee was constituted. They didn’t ask the opinion of the Adivasis. Didn’t study the implications of it. Because of these procedural lapses, we are in such a mess,” claims Baburao.
Baburao alleges that though the Lambadas are entitled for reservation only in education, they have been using them for getting jobs too. “There’s not one person from the Adivasi community who is in a major position to represent us. The Lambadas are taking away our opportunities,” he laments.
Adivasi activist, Athram Bhujang Rao observes that the conflict between the Adivasis and Lambadas is also because of the struggle for domination. “The Adivasis can’t take the diktats of Lambadas who are less in number, but occupy all influential positions. It is a struggle for power and who wields power over whom,” he says.
What sparked the row?
Tensions between the Adivasis and the Banjara Lambadas have been simmering for many years. However, the tensions escalated after the Lambadas erected the statue of ‘Shaanki Maata’, in the same enclosure as Komaram Bheem, a heroic Gond leader who fought against the Nizam’s misrule. The appropriation of the Lambadas in the tribal museum, with their statues and artifacts, angered the Adivasis and led to a clash in 2016.
In a series of such minor clashes, the conflict turned violent in December last year after the Lambadas allegedly retaliated by garlanding the statue of Komaram Bheem with slippers. To control the violence, the state had blocked internet connection in the area for several days, and also issued a gag order to the media against reporting about the incident.
Fifth Schedule of the Constitution
The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, read with Article 244, says that some areas in the country which have a large tribal population can be designated as “Scheduled Areas” by the President of India. The Constitution further says that these areas will have a Tribal Advisory Council, that will advise the Governor on the administration of these areas, including on what laws will be applicable there. In 1996, the Scheduled Areas were given the power of self governance, just like a Panchayat, as per the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA).
Currently, four districts in Telangana are partly covered under PESA – Adilabad, Mahboobnagar, Khammam and Warangal.
The protesters have now declared that they will self govern their hamlets in Karimnagar, Kothagudem, Komaram Bheem, Mahabubabad, Khammam, Mancherial, and Nirmal as well.