The Banjaras had one agenda - to defend their right to reservation as a Scheduled Tribe in Telangana.

Telangana reservation battle intensifies After Gonds Lambadas protest in Hyderabad All images: Nitin B
news Reservation Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 09:20

The Saroornagar indoor stadium in Hyderabad was packed on Wednesday. Several thousand people from the Banjara Lambada community – students, professionals, workers – poured in from across the state for a ‘Lambadila Mahagarjana' in the city.

The stadium was filled with displays of Banjara pride with many coming in ethnic wear, dancing to their traditional songs. In fact, one attendee, Sardar Rathod, from Deverakonda, became the centre for his unique turban, that bore the photo of Banjara leader Sevalal Maharaj. It also showcased other festivals and traditions of the community, which made his attire an instant hit, as youngsters lined up for selfies. 

But contrary to the colourful picture their attires painted, participants from Hyderabad Adilabad, Bhadradri Kothagudem and Nalgonda districts, had a rather serious agenda - to defend their right to reservation as a Scheduled Tribe in Telangana.

This gathering was a response to another one which happened just two days ago - over a lakh Gond Adivasis gathered at the same venue, demanding that the state and central government remove the Lambadas from the ST list.

"How can they demand that?” argued Balaji, who had come all the way from Bhadrachalam, “They're grossly misrepresenting the facts. We are also adivasis. We deserve the reservation as much as them, if not more."

As a counter to the offensive by the Gond community, several large Lambada associations in Telangana met in Hyderabad on Tuesday, and formed the Lambada Aikya Vedika.

"To make a living, we drive garbage trucks, Ola or Uber cabs, clean toilets and bathrooms in hotels, work as security guards; women from our community work as household help or sell maize rotis on the roadside. But Adivasis claim we are taking their jobs. Who stopped them from working?" one Lambada leader remarked at the meeting.

This was an overwhelming sentiment at the venue on Tuesday.

"We are a hardworking community, and we strive to give our children an education. We have overtaken them in that respect and perhaps that is why they are bitter. They should also work hard instead of making illogical demands," argued Lachi Ram, from Nalgona district. 

Many were upset with the alleged boycott that their community was facing in Adilabad, which has become the centre of the controversy.

"They are resorting to violent methods to showcase their strength in the area. People from our community are not able to get employment or education, and some are even having trouble gaining access to basic amenities because of the boycott. We will not tolerate it, if this continues," said Raj Kumar, another attendee.  

Background

The Gond community is one of 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 Gonds primarily speak Dravidian languages.

The Banjara Lambada community is originally from Rajasthan but are now spread across the Indian subcontinent. 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 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'. 

The rivalry came out in the open after an incident of vandalism 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, claiming that the Lambadas did not participate in the uprising against the last Nizam of Hyderabad led by Komaram Bheem, a Gond, in the 1940s. He died in the battle and is hailed as a Gond hero. 

Jodeghat bears significant historical importance for the Gond community. It was the struggle against the  then Nizam Osman Ali Khan's police force that gave them the slogan of "Jal, Jungle, Zameen" (Water, Forest, Land).

The Gonds also claim that the Banjara community is biased against them and their children and also reaping the benefits of having a Scheduled Tribe status without having significant historical contributions.

Citing several such similar reasons, the Gond community has demanded that Banjara Lambadas be removed from the ST list.

Since then, the two groups have been on the warpath.

In October, the Asifabad district collector's office in Telangana witnessed mild violence when a few members of Gond community entered the premises armed with sticks and stones, and vandalised furniture and damaged other equipment for not heeding their demand of removing the Banjara Lambada tribe from the ST list. A large stone was also hurled at the deputy collector's vehicle, which smashed the front window completely.  

In November, Gonds across the state began boycotting teachers from the Lambada community, forcing them to resign from government schools. They alleged that the teachers were biased and got the job because of their ‘fake’ ST certificates.

However, the state government is trying to broker peace, forming committees of officials to visit mandals where alleged boycotts were taking place.

 

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.