"If Delhi doesn't bother, we will even go to the United Nations to end this injustice," said Pushmak Bhaskar, a primary school teacher hailing from Mamidiguda a tiny village in Adilabad.
The tribal belt across erstwhile Adilabad, Khammam and Warangal has been simmering in anger for decades as Adivasi groups have alleged that the Lambadas are “taking away” their opportunities in jobs and education as a result of their inclusion under the Scheduled Tribe category.
Bhaskar is one among the thousands of indigenous tribal persons who are heading to attend the Chalo Delhi meeting in Ramleela maidan on Monday, December 9. Several aboriginal tribes in agency areas of Telangana state are demanding for exclusion of the Lambada community from the ST category.
"Our past generations suffered and we are suffering, said Mesram Suchitra Bai, a 27-year-old woman, who is part of the Gond tribal community. “We don't want our future generations to go through the same."
The Lambadas were included in the ST list in 1976 during the Emergency period in India. Adivasi organisations allege that their inclusion is unfair to the tribal persons who are in greater need of aid.
Adivasis protest in front of Utnoor ITDA in November
S Jangu Patel is the head of a Gond hamlet, Kotturguda. Now in his late 50s, he wears a traditional dhoti with green shawl around his neck as he stepped down from his bike to discuss the issue at hand.
"In all jobs, be it education sector or Revenue Department or Health Department, there is no representation from our communities. Our jobs have been taken away by people who entered into the category through the back door,” Jangu Patel said.
He added, "We are pooling our own money — what we earned through selling cotton and through coolie work — to go to Delhi. We are not depending on others for money since it's our fight."
Though the conflict between the Adivasis and Lambadas has been ongoing for decades, the dispute boiled over on October 5, 2017 — the death anniversary of Adivasi Gond leader Komaram Bheem. On that day, the tribal museum at Jodeghat in Asifabad district was vandalised when statue of 'Lambadi woman' was burnt allegedly by Adivasi persons.
Since then, areas with predominant Adivasis populations in the state have witnessed numerous protests and counter protests that have revived the simmering rift.
In the backdrop of the existing turmoil, TNM travelled to some of the villages in esrtwhile Adilabad and met several Adivasis who travelled to Delhi earlier this week.
Along with demand for removal of Lambdas from ST category, Adivasis are also demanding the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act and Land Transfer Regulation Act 1 of 1970, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) 1996, which safeguards the interests of tribals in Scheduled areas as per the Indian Constitution.
Lohora, an Adivasi village
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, including four particularly vulnerable groups.
Speaking to TNM, Adilabad MP and Tudum Debba state president Soyam Bapu Rao said, "In 1976, Lambadas population was 1.30 lakh and remaining Adivasis were 11 lakh. After 43 years, we are same 11 lakh and they're over 20 lakh. How did this happen if not due to invasion from other states?"
It’s believed that Lambadas are a nomadic community that migrated centuries ago from Rajasthan to other states. In 1976, erstwhile Andhra Pradesh declared Lambadas as part of the Scheduled Tribe, a categorisation that was continued by Telangana from 2014 onwards. However, not all states follow this categorisation. In Karnataka, for example, Lambadas are included under Scheduled Caste.
But the inclusion of Lambadas under ST resulted in a massive migration of its people into undivided Andhra, according to Scroll, quoting a Central government report from 2004.
“No Constitutional procedure was followed or Parliament discussion was held. Everything happened during the period of Emergency, To announce a group as a tribe, there must be an official study that should endorse or the Governor of the state should endorse. Nothing as such has happened,” Soyam said.
Adivasis offering rituals before they starting for Delhi
The Lambadas are the major dominant tribal group inhabiting through the Telangana State. They are also known as Banjara. Their population according to 2011 census is 2,046,117. The remaining are from communities such as Gonds, Guthikoyas, Pardhans, Nayakpods, Kolams, Gotis, Chenchus and several others, which are relatively low in number.
Umra Yashwanth Rao, a 65-year-old Gond sat amongst his neighbours in Chinchughat, a tiny remote village that sits quietly in the hills of the Adilabad rural mandal. He said, "When we all are the same and studying at the same schools and colleges, how come only Lambadas get the job?”
From Chinchughat and few other surrounding villages, at least 500 members of the Gond and Pradhan communities are set to leave for Delhi, as well as estimated 30,000 people from the two districts (Asifabad and Adilabad).
Along with a separate train from Adilabad to Delhi, two other trains from Asifbad and Khammam will ferry thousands of Adivasis to Delhi, besides multiple private vehicles.
Speaking on the issue, Godam Ganesh, the Thudum Debba district Vice President from Maleborigaon village, said, "Our fight is obviously with the government and not with the Lambadas, but the government has allowed them to continue as STs though they aren't. Constitutional procedure was not followed when they included them in tribes."
He added, "If they're tribal, they should be tribes in all states. How come they're Scheduled Castes, Backward Castes and forward castes in other states?"
Adivasi leader Godam Ganesh
Kumra Devidas, a tractor driver from the community, said, "Even smaller jobs which require Class 10 and intermediate graduation qualification were at times filled by Lambadas."
Like Devidas, there are many young persons who complain that contract jobs, teacher posts through Teacher Recruitment Test (TRT), forest beat officers and police constable positions are being taken by Lambadas. Additionally, they allege that fake agency certificates were procured in order to secure these jobs within the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) areas.
Allegations of violation against GOs
Earlier in 2018, the State Tribal Welfare Department brought GO 24 to restrict and prohibit non-local tribals from getting Local Scheduled Tribes certificates. However, Adivasis allege that several people are securing 'agency certificate' and 'local Scheduled Tribe' certificates through "unfair means."
Protest at Utnoor ITDA by Adivasis alleging flaws in issues of LST certificates
ITDA Utnoor Project Officer Krishna Aditya said, "If anyone was given a false Local Scheduled Tribe (LST) certificate, they can always raise this in the committee headed by Project Officer. If they have substantiating evidence we will always act upon the same."
He further stated that all the LST certificates were issued according to the rules adhering to GO number 24.
Adivasis have been fighting for their rights since the days of Komaram Bheem, an Adivasi freedom fighter who battled for the land rights and self rule against the last Nizam of Hyderabad and exploitation of local landlords in the early 20th century.
But despite more than 70 years of independence and the Constitutional safeguards in place, Adivasis continue to struggle, most recently in the face of threats to evict them from their native places and the forests they’ve depended on for generations.
Soyam Bapu Rao further stated that the 1970 Act and Forests Rights Act should be implemented in letter and spirit. In Scheduled Areas, united Andhra Pradesh has a Land Transfer Regulation Act 1 of 1970. It checks the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals with due regard to the special status that the Constitution has given to tribal lands. But it's alleged (across the Scheduled areas in Telangana) that their lands have been handed over to the non-tribes in the guise of development or using loops in the system.
Umra Bapurao, another Gond youth from Chinchughat said, "Most of us have no land pattas though we have been cultivating these lands for generations. Our march to Delhi is also about land rights"
The Telangana Adivasis from nine Scheduled Area districts are on the forefront of the fight for the land rights from the government. The state is witnessing a major conflict over land rights for traditional forest dwellers, including Adivasis, according to a study conducted by Rights and Resource Initiative and Oxfam. In Telangana, forest rights claims were made over land spreading over 7.61 lakh acres, most of these claims are from the tribal areas.
Adivasi youth in Delhi
Earlier this year, a Supreme Court's order for the eviction of 1.1 million forest dwelling families was stayed. Most of these who are facing threat of eviction hail from native tribal communities across India, including Telangana.
The meeting in Delhi's Ramleela maidan will be attended by Adivasi groups from Karnataka,, Telangana, Andhra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand.
What the Lambadas are saying
Rathod Sunil, Sarpanch of Eshwarnagar in Utnoor Mandal said, "We agree that those who came later than 1950 should be restricted from getting LST certificates as it will damage the local tribals interests, but we will not agree for removing us from the ST category."
He further added "We are getting jobs in ST reservation as there are no qualified candidates among other tribes"
A Lambada youth, from the village who said that he is a primary school teacher, said that the Adivasi demands are politically motivated due to some people with "vested interests."
Speaking to TNM, Shyam Naik, state president of the All India Banjara Seva Sangh, said that the conflict is a result of lack of reservations to the STs in their proportionate number but not because Lambadas are taking away their opportunities.
He said, "This demand is a larger political ploy. Following the formation of Telangana, reservations were not increased as per the proportion of tribes in the state. While the STs comprise almost 10% of the state population, the government is giving a mere 6% as per the united state population."
Lambada leader Shyam Naik
Shyam Naik further added, "Governments have to increase the reservations to the STs in the state to pacify and address the concerns of those tribals who are feeling left out."
When asked about the allegation of Lambadas' inclusion into ST category, Shyam Naik said, "The inclusion happened by following Constitutional procedure, historical evidence shows that different invaders and rulers have treated Lambadas as tribes only owing to the features."
He stated that an increase of reservations and classified sharing of the opportunities to tribes as per their proportion would solve the unrest.