The Asifabad district collector's office in Telangana witnessed mild violence on Thursday evening as Gond adivasis entered the premises after weeks of rising tensions with Lambada Banjaras.
According to reports, the tribal people allegedly came armed with sticks and stones at around 7pm and vandalised furniture like tables and chairs, besides damaging other equipment. A large stone was also hurled at the Deputy Collector's vehicle, which smashed the front window completely.
This came after thousands of Gonds managed to slip past heavy police deployment earlier in the day, and reach Asifabad, following a call for a 'bandh', to protest the arrest of four of their leaders, who allegedly attacked Lambada Banjaras.
Speaking to mediapersons on Thursday night, Asifabad Joint Collector Ashok Kumar said, "The situation is completely under control now. The police is in charge. We had not anticipated the mob behaviour, which is what led to the incident."
"Even though the gate was locked in time, they jumped the compound wall, threw stones on employees, and damaged vehicles, which created panic among those present in the office. Additional force was immediately deployed, and the mob was controlled. The employees are all scared now, as it occurred suddenly. There is no reason to worry now, as everything has settled. However, property has been damaged," he added.
"We have informed our seniors in the state government of the incident. If needed, a detailed report will be furnished. The authorities have also assured us of more security," he concluded.
The violence was not unexpected, as it follows more than a week of rising tension between the Gonds and Lambada Banjaras.
The Gond people are Adivasis, originally believed to have spread from central India, to parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. They have a sizable population and a long history of settlement in Telangana. The Gond people primarily speak Dravidian languages.
Banjara Lambadas are a community that settled across the Indian subcontinent, from the state of Rajasthan. While they are listed as Backward Class (BC) or Other Backward Class (OBC) in some states, they are listed as Scheduled Caste (SC) or ST in other states.
The Gonds, have been demanding that the state and Central government must remove Lambadas from the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.
“The Lambada Banjaras come from Maharashtra and settle in Telangana district and are availing all the government benefits although they are not locals. In Maharashtra, Lambadas are in BC category but in Telangana they are in ST category. Although, they come from outside the state, they are somehow managing get government jobs and are availing all the benefits under ST quota,’’ Babu Rao Gond, a tribal leader, told a gathering on Thursday.
The Gond Tribals have been pointing out that the Lambadas were included in the ST list only in 1976 in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, and have dubbed it a 'backdoor entry'.
According to reports, things went downhill for the Gonds after the Telangana government began recruiting through the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC) without categorisation of STs, which gave the Lambadas the upper hand.
The rivalry came out in the open in the first week of October, after an incident of vandalism, that took place at the tribal museum at Jodeghat in Asifabad district on October 5.
The Lambadas allege that some Gonds damaged the statue of a Lambada woman kept at the museum, stating that the Lambadas did not participate in the uprising against the last Nizam of Hyderabad, led by Komaram Bheem, in the 1940s.
“There is no rationale for displaying the statue of a woman from the tribe which has settled here illegally," a Raj Gond activist supporting the incident, told a newspaper.
Jodeghat carries a lot of historical importance for the Gonds, as this was the place that gave them the slogan of "Jal, Jungle, Zameen" (Water, Forest, Land), when the tribal people were fighting the Nizam Osman Ali Khan's police force.
The tribal people were led by Komaram Bheem, a Gond himself, who died during battle, and became an eternal hero to the community.
Another complaint that the Gonds have is that the Collector did not declare a public holiday on Komaram Bheem’s birth anniversary, while a holiday was declared for the on 278th anniversary of Banjara leader Sevalal Maharaj.
Citing several such similar reasons, they alleged bias against their favour, and demanded that the Banjaras be removed from the ST list.