The struggle by the Narikuravan community, a semi-nomadic tribe in Tamil Nadu, to obtain Scheduled Tribe (ST) status came to an end on September 14, when the Union government ratified it after a wait of more than five decades. But another marginalised community called Kuravan (also Koravar) now wants the authorities to stop using the name ‘Narikuravan’ or ‘Narikoravar’ stating that the continued use of the term in official notifications and gazettes are creating unwanted confusion while claiming benefits. They are also demanding ST status.
In Tamil Nadu, Kuravans, along with Sidhanars, are listed under the category of Scheduled Caste (SC) while Malakuravan is listed under Scheduled Tribes (ST). Nearly 24 Koravar communities, including Inji Koravars, Salem Uppu Koravars, Thogamalai Koravars or Kepmaris, Attur Kilnad, Attur Melnad, Changyampudi, Dobba, Dabi, Gandarvakottai Koravars, are listed under Most Backward Class (MBC) as Denotified Communities (DNC). They were once branded as “Criminal Tribes” (CT) and were harassed during the colonial period. “Criminal Tribes” was renamed Denotified Tribes (DNT) in 1952. The Tamil Nadu government, in 1979, issued a government order (1310) to reclassify the DNTs as DNCs. Now the Tamil Koravar communities are seeking they be reclassified as DNC under the ST category.
Criminal Tribes and Denotified Communities
The Criminal Tribes Act (1871) (CTA) changed the lives of many tribes as the colonial regime classified them as habitual criminals predisposed to committing petty crimes. This prejudice was used to keep them under constant surveillance. Despite the CTA being passed in 1871, in Madras presidency, it was enacted only in 1911. "The introduction of the modern police system, railways, salt policies, and forest laws, to a larger extend destroyed the traditional livelihood of the Kallars, Koravars, Yenadis, Yerukula, Yarayars, Valayars, etc," according to the study, ‘The Criminal Tribes (Denotified) Settlements In Madras Presidency’, by N Neela and G. Ambrosia of Sri Meenakshi Government Arts College for Women.
The study says the Korava community had been dealing in salt trade much before the East India Company assumed powers. Koravas used bullocks and donkeys for their trading activities between inland districts and the coasts. The introduction of the railway in 1850 destroyed their traditional livelihood as distribution of salt on railways all over the presidency became easier with train routes. The government policy to introduce excise on salt manufacture also affected them.
After the British left, around 1952, based on the Ananthasayanam Ayyangar committee recommendations, the Union government repealed the Criminal Tribes Act with effect from August 31, 1952. The Kalelkar Commission in 1953 suggested that the erstwhile ‘Criminal Tribes’ be called ‘Denotified Communities. The Indian government replaced the CTA with the Habitual Offenders Act, of 1952.
Why are Tamil Koravas worried
T Velumurugan, MLA, Panruti, and a leader of Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Party tweeted several concerns over the use of Kuravan name for nomadic tribes and how it is affecting Tamil Koravas while availing community certificates and claiming reservation benefits. While welcoming the decision to accord the ST status to the Narikuravan community, he raised concerns that the use of a Tamil indigenous community name in official documents and gazette notifications will result in confusion and destroy the identity of Tamil Koravas. The Narikuravas, though well-versed in Tamil, speak an unclassified language called Vaagri Boli. Velumurugan’s contention is that the nomadic tribe is not indigenous to Tamil Nadu.
தமிழ்நாட்டில் ஒடுக்கப்பட்டவர்களான MBC பட்டியலிலுள்ள மராட்டிய வாழ் வாக்ரிபோலி/நரிக்காரர்/குருவிகாரர் என உண்மையான சாதிபெயர் கொண்ட மக்களை தவறுதலாக நரி-குறவர் என்று அழைத்து குறிப்பிட்டு வருபவர்களை பழங்குடியினர் பட்டியலில் சேர்க்க வேண்டும் என்று நீண்டகாலமாக கோரிக்கை எழுந்தது. pic.twitter.com/rBcTc75pPk— Velmurugan.T (@VelmuruganTVK) September 22, 2022
Sethupathi, founder of Tamil Nadu Denotified Nomadic Welfare Association, and a member of Tamil Koravar community, feels that though the community names of Tamil Koravars, numbering 24, in Most Backward Caste (MBC) list appear differently they are not different communities. According to him, the branding as “Criminal Tribes” and the practice of untouchability secluded them from the general population. “We are all one community and we should be placed under SC-DNT list”, he said. SC-DNT stands for Scheduled Caste-Denotified Tribe.
Speaking to TNM, Shiva Narendar, founding president of Pazhangudi Thamizhar Iyakkam, also argued that Tamil Koravars have a distinct identity. “Our community has been here in Tamil Nadu since the Sangam period. But in everyone’s mind, Narikoravans are registered as Koravars. So the demand by Tamil Koravars to be listed as ST is still not considered as an important one” he said.
None of the Tamil Koravar leaders had objections to Narikuravans entering the ST list as they were socially and economically backward but were of the view that the term Narikuravar should not be used to describe the community. “They can use their original name. Due to similarities in name, most welfare schemes are not reaching the right people,” said Shiva Narender. Unlike Sethupathi, he wanted his community to be named under the ST-DNT category with "Tamil Koravar'' as the community name. It would be ideal to group all Koravar sub-communities under a single group.
Tamil Koravars and Narikoravars
Dr. C Sathyanarayanan, a cultural anthropologist, and former Joint Director of Anthropological Survey of India says the name “Narikuravar” was given to the semi-nomadic tribes who migrated from the north by local people. “They are not claiming this name,” said Sathyanarayanan, also a former director of Tribal Research Centre in Nilgiris.
Speaking to TNM, Sathyanarayanan said it is believed that the Narikoravar community is originally from the Kutch region of Gujarat. “They are known as Pardhi in Gujarat and Waghri in Maharashtra. Andhra people called them Nakkale where Nakka means "fox". In Karnataka, they are known as Hakki-Pikki and in Tamil Nadu, they have been called Narikuravar or Kuruvikkar as they are good at hunting foxes and sparrow (kuruvi) trapping,” he said.
When hunting became impossible they practised traditional medicine and sold beads and beaded ornaments for a living. The Tamil Koravar communities lived in mountains for generations and migrated towards the plains to sell the forest produce. They also procured agricultural goods for trading. Now, they do occupations like Kilijolsiyam (fortune telling with parrots), piggery, and bamboo basket weaving for a living.
“The Koravar communities are also eligible to be notified as tribes. In MBC, they have to compete with socially and economically developed communities,” said Sathayanarayanan. According to him, there is no link that connects Narikoravar and Tamil Koravar communities.
Koravans are a large community in Tamil Nadu. As they claim, they are an ancient Tamil community and lived in the forests. Many of them still depend on the forests.
“Occupationally they might be diverse so that their community name is carried by the occupation. For instance, Uppu Koravar (Koravar community that sells salt). Some communities carry the territorial names, for example, Gandarvakottai Koravars, Sathyanarayanan said. “If anyone from these groups gets the community certificate under MBC, they would not enjoy the certain benefits given by the government. So they are simply trying to get the community certificate under the Kuravan name, which comes under SC in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
To solve this issue, as a Director of Tribal Research Centre, Sathyanarayanan had recommended the government to remove all the subgroups of Koravars in the Denotified Community list of MBC and place all of them under SC. “If the Korava community meets all the criteria to be included in the ST, then they can demand it. But the government should take actions to remove them from the MBC,” Sathyanarayanan said.
In 1985, Tamil Nadu's Second Backward Classes Commission also known as Ambasankar Commission also recommended the same. "The difference in the spelling appears to be a stumbling block, in availing concessions, for which they are otherwise legitimately entitled,” the report observed. But no action has been taken so far to clear the confusion.