What is the problem?
There is a simmering conflict between the Adivasi tribes in Telangana and the Lambadas, also known as Lambadis and Banjaras, primarily over share of government benefits. The Adivasis claim that the Lambadas do not qualify as a Scheduled Tribe because the process of their inclusion in the ST list in 1976 was incomplete. Though the government has not admitted to the charge of lopsided development, the aboriginal people claim they have been overlooked in employment and education.
For example, the Tudum Debba, an Adivasi organisation, alleges that the Lambadas bagged 400 of the 405 posts of teachers in Khammam district, the recruitment having been done through the District Selection Committee in 2012. In undivided Adilabad district, nearly 45% of the 2,800 posts of teachers are filled with Lambadas though the share of the plains tribe is 22% of the population as per the 2011 census.
The Adivasis claim there are only nine aboriginal tribes in the State, incorporated through Article 342: Koya, Gond (or Raj Gond), Konda Reddi, Chenchu, Pardhan, Kolam, Naikpod, Thotti and Mannewars. The inclusion of the Lambadas in the list of Scheduled Tribes in 1976 was done through an ordinance. Under an order of the State government (G.O. Ms. 149 dated May 3, 1978), issued in the then composite Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Lambadas were identified as a plains tribe with reservation restricted to education. It is, however, since last November that the conflict took the shape of non-cooperation, with the Adivasis preventing the Lambada teachers from attending to duties in the schools run by the Tribal Welfare Department and refusing to work the fields of the Lambadas.
When did it begin?
In June last year, Kumram Bheem Asifabad Collector M. Champalal, a Lambada officer who has been since transferred in a bid to appease the Adivasis, issued a circular to Tahsildars to issue pahanis or the record for government land being tilled by non-tribals in the Scheduled Areas so that they are eligible for crop loans from banks. Mr. Champalal also failed to declare a holiday on the martyrdom anniversary of Raj Gond leader Kumram Bheem on October 5. This triggered a wave of anger among ethnic tribes.
The first of the violent incidents occurred the same day when a group burnt the statue of a Banjara holy woman at the tribal museum at Jodeghat in Kumram Bheem Asifabad. The second protest was at the Collector’s office during which government vehicles were vandalised.
Why are both sides angry?
A host of incidents has left the Adivasis upset. In December, the statue of Raj Gond martyr Kumram Bheem at Betalguda in Adilabad district was desecrated. A couple of days later, reports of a drinking water source being poisoned evoked sharp reactions. The appointment of a Lambada leader, son of the Tribal Welfare Minister Chandu Lal, as president of the organising committee of Sammakka-Sarakka Jatara, an Adivasi fair, also triggered anger among the aboriginal tribes in Warangal.
As for the Lambadas, they were included in the ST list through the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Act, 1976. Former Warangal Member of Parliament D. Ravindra Naik, who was among the Lambada leaders instrumental in pressing for inclusion of his community in the ST list, points out: “The Amendment Act in question removed the regional boundaries so that the Lambadas in Telangana also got to be categorised as Scheduled Tribes. The government recognised that the Banjaras were similar to the Sugalis, a tribe in the Andhra region and hence the bestowing of the status.”
What is the government stand?
The State government is “quantifying” the alleged disparity in development by collecting district-wise figures of tribal employment at all levels, especially revenue and education. The process of shifting Lambada officials from key posts has begun with the transfer of the Kumram Bheem Asifabad Collector, the District Revenue Officer of Adilabad and the Revenue Divisional Officer at Utnoor, also in Adilabad district. More transfers are likely to follow.