Lambadi-Adivasi rift widens to grave proportions in Telangana, state apathy risks worsening tribal conflict

The conflict between Lambadis and Adivasis in Telangana is assuming grave proportions. Several Adivasi organisations have banned officials, including teachers belonging to the Lambadi (Nayak) community, from entering Adivasi villages, declaring them self-ruled. The government and political parties have been impassive towards resolving the issue, fearing the loss of either vote bank.

Adivasis have been demanding the exclusion of Lambadis from tribal reservations. Their main contention is that Lambadis disproportionately benefit from education and employment reservations and government schemes meant for tribals. The two Telugu states are already witnessing struggle for categorisation of scheduled caste as Madigas express similar apprehensions that Malas are walking away with the benefits of reservations.

Under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Act, 1976, Banjaras (Lambadis and Sugalis) were recognised as Scheduled Tribes in the united Andhra Pradesh. As Banjaras or Lambadis are classified differently across states and also for access to the benefits of a tribal status, people from these communities migrated in a large scale to pre-bifurcated Andhra Pradesh from states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and other parts of North India.

As the Assembly elections draw near, the Lambadi-Adivasi conflict may take a turn for the worse because of competitive political populism, a non-committal state leadership and with leaders and parties taking an ambivalent stand on the matter.

 Lambadi-Adivasi rift widens to grave proportions in Telangana, state apathy risks worsening tribal conflict

File image of an Adivasi woman. Reuters

Disproportionate rise in population and reservations

Telangana has a large tribal population. It rose from 2.81 percent in 1961 to 8.19 percent in 1981 and further to 9.34 percent in 2011, which is higher than the national average. The increase can be primarily attributed to the inclusion of certain castes under the Scheduled Tribes category. This indiscriminate rise in the tribal population indicates the impact classifying Lambadis as Scheduled Tribes has had on the overall increase in the ST population in Telangana. According to estimates, the fraction of Lambadis in the total tribal population has risen several fold since 1976.

Reservations for tribals have not increased commensurate to the rise in the share of their numbers in Telangana, and a Bill to this effect is pending before the central government. As a result, more tribals have started competing for reserved seats, and Lambadis enjoy the lion's share of the benefits, detrimental to the interests of Adivasis.

Boards with the slogan "Maava Naate, Maava Raj" (Our Village, Our Rule) were erected in several villages in North Telangana, including in Adilabad, indicating that the rift between Adivasis and Lambadis was widening.

The main demand of Adivasis, especially members of the Gond and Koya sub-castes, is to have Lambadis de-listed as Scheduled Tribes in the state as they are categorised under different castes in different parts of India. They have been asserting that anyone who migrates to Telangana should be categorised as per their status in their native state, instead of how that particular community is categorised in Telangana.

For instance: In Maharashtra, Lambadis are listed under the Other Backward Caste category. Over the years, they migrated to the then united Andhra Pradesh and now Telangana, especially to Adilabad district, and obtained fake ST certificates in collusion with corrupt local officials. This is causing a lot of distress among Adivasis and is the epicentre of their struggle in Adilabad.

As a result, Lambadis, who are considered more developed than Adivasis, enjoy a disproportionate share of reservation benefits not just in education and employment but also in political posts.

The growing political clout of Lambadis is evident from the fact that political parties — both ruling and Opposition — refuse to take a clear and unambiguous stand on the matter even though the Adivasi struggle is assuming grave proportions.

Land deals and welfare schemes

Land deals made the rift between Adivasis and Lambadis much more serious. Non-tribals are legally barred from purchasing land from tribals in Scheduled areas. This rule is aimed at preventing large-scale alienation of tribal lands. However, as Lambadis are categorised as tribals in Telangana, they are legally eligible to purchase land form Adivasis, even by migrating to Scheduled areas. There are also reports of corrupt officials issuing fake agency certificates to list them as natives in Scheduled areas. Given the impoverished conditions of Adivasis and their relative backwardness, they are losing control over their land.

Moreover, Adivasis also argue that Lambadis are getting greater access to government welfare schemes meant for tribals, as well as tribal sub-plan funds. A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of Adivasis, seeking to have Lambadis de-listed as Scheduled Tribes and to declare the 1976 amendment as ultra vires to the Constitution.

As can be expected, the Adivasi agitation is witnessing strong opposition from Lambadis, and their concerns cannot be summarily dismissed. They argue that their community, too, is socially and economically marginalised and vulnerable, and that the constitutional status extended to them cannot be withdrawn.

Possible solutions to the rift

The political system that thrives on populism cannot, in any way, withdraw access to benefits such as reservations once granted to a community. The more justified, and perhaps feasible, solution to the ongoing tussle could be to categorise the tribals into different groups, as is already observed with regard to Other Backward Classes. This will allow both Adivasis and Lambadis access to benefits separately and in proportion to their share in population. Tribal reservations should also be increased as per their share in the population of the newly-formed state.

While Lambadis should accept the fact that Adivasis are losing out as they garner a disproportionate share of reservations, Adivasis should realise that no political party would dare to exclude Lambadis from the tribal category because they make up a large chunk of the Telangana population. Categorisation should protect the interests of Adivasis in education and employment, as well as in political posts. The Supreme Court has even appreciated such categorisation in many of its judgments. The government should design development schemes ensuring that vulnerable tribal groups are not put at a disadvantage. The land question needs further study to find a mutually acceptable and rational solution to the problem of Adivasi land being alienated by dominant tribal groups. The need for such protection is much higher for primitive tribal groups.

Justice for tribes among tribes is the reasonable solution to resolve the rift.

Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 07:44:59 IST