While the Adivasis are adamant in their demand for exclusion of Lambadas from ST list, several activists are suggesting that the government should initiate a "dialogue process".

Tribal persons struggle heats up in Telangana Adivasis to boycott LambadasAll images: By arrangement
news Protest Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - 10:57

With the Adivasis decision to boycott Lambada (plain area tribes) employees from entering their hamlets and refusing their services from June 2 which happens to be Telangana formation day, undivided Adilabad that has been witnessing unrest, is again in the news.

Some Adivasi groups have been demanding the exclusion of the Lambada community from the Schedule Tribe (ST) list.

At the centre of the groups’ protest is the claim that the Lambadas are “cornering” their opportunities in jobs and education.

Tension has been simmering ever since creation of the Telangana state brought an unexpected benefit to the Lambadas, with the state government enabling recruitments through the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC) without categorisation of STs. This "offered" Lambadas an advantage when compared to other ethnic tribes.

The friction escalated between the two camps in October 2017 after an incident of vandalism at the tribal museum at Jodeghat in Asifabad district, where some activists allegedly burnt the statue of a Lambada woman that was on display.

This immediately drew calls for bandhs, with the Asifabad district collector’s office coming under attack when Gond Adivasis broke furniture and equipment and hurled a stone at the deputy collector’s vehicle. In early November, thousands of tribal people (Adivasis) marched from the headquarters of Indervelli mandal, Utnoor town in Adilabad district, reiterating their demand.

From then, the Adivasi region has been on the boil as both groups have resorted to protests, counter-protests and public meetings. 

Though the demand for the exclusion of Lambadas (a tribe that lives mainly in the plains) has its roots in the disparity in development, the ethnic people accuse the plains tribe of cornering all welfare schemes and “taking away” jobs which they claim is rightfully theirs.

History

Telangana has a tribal population of 31.78 lakh, which is 9.08% of the state’s population, with a total of 32 tribal communities. While Lambadas comprise 20.46 lakh of the tribal population, the remaining are from communities such as Gonds, Guthikoyas, Pardhans, Nayakpods, Kolams, Gotis and several others, which are relatively low in number.

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 sizeable population and a long history of settlement in Telangana. They primarily speak Dravidian languages.

Banjara Lambadas are a community that settled across the Indian subcontinent, believed to be originally from 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.

Gond tribals point out that the Lambadas were included in the ST list only in 1976, during the Emergency, in what they term as unfair through a “backdoor entry".

President of Adivasi Sankshema Parishath, Sunnam Venkata Ramana went to the High Court in 2011 seeking removal/exclusion of Lambadas from the ST list.

Speaking to TNM, Venkata Ramana said, “It was in 1976 that they were included without following the proper procedure, and because of that, now Adivasis are in trouble.”

He adds, “We are not demanding something that is against the Constitution. Their inclusion was done in unusual circumstances without following the minimum statutory requirements and so it should be declared null.”

Unfair advantage

“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 to get government jobs and are availing all the benefits under the ST quota,” said Babu Rao Gond, a tribal leader, when addressing a protest gathering.

This forms the crux of the reason behind their demand to remove Lambadas from the ST list.

Adivasi Mahila Sangam state General secretary, A Suguna, a Gond, reiterates the commonly held view, “The Lambadas have come from different states in the north like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and others. Despite not being tribals, they have managed to get listed under the ST category.” 

She alleged, “Following their listing as ST, there is a massive inflow of their population from other states. Slowly, our lands have gone into their hands and our jobs too.”

Thudumdebba, an Adivasi organisation spearheading the anti-Lambada (Lambada exclusion) movement has resolved to boycott the Lambadas. They plan to intensify their stir against Lambada teachers, govt officials, who they claim are snatching away their jobs.

When asked why Adivasi organisations have decided to boycott the Lambadas, Suguna said, "We are exhausted with the government’s negligence towards us, it’s been 8 months now that we have been agitating but they're not bothered to listen to us or address our concerns. We have decided to intensify our struggle by boycotting them, we are also planning to discuss more effective protest modes."

It may be recalled that in 2013, the AP High Court had ruled that Suman Rathod, a TDP MLA who represented Khanapur (ST constituency), was not a tribal. 

While the Adivasis are adamant in their demand for exclusion of Lambadas from ST list, several activists are suggesting that the government should initiate a "dialogue process".

Human Rights Forum (HRF) Telangana state Vice President Athram Bhujang Rao said, "Government should call all the stakeholders for dialogue involving the elected representatives.”

Bhujang Rao further points out the drawbacks on the government’s side saying, "Government, instead of answering the questions raised by the Adivasis, is sending officials and police to tribal hamlets which will further worsen the situation."

He said, "Adivasis struggle is an identity crisis, they were kept away from all the fields and were silent. Now, the time has changed and they want discussions to be held in a more democratic manner and inside the legislative houses.”

In the wake of Adivasi groups such as Thudumdebba, Adivasi Sankshema Sangam, Adivasi Manila Sangam and Adivasi Vidyarti Sangam stepping up demands to relaunch the movement, police authorities are taking measures to prevent undesirable incidents, given the violent past.

Meanwhile, Adivasis are going to hold a public meeting, Chalo Hanmakonda, in Hanmakonda of Warangal on May 29.

 

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