‘Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter’ an African saying tells you. This is the age when indigenous tribes and castes are rewriting their histories. This is the age when new historians, digging deep into the raging conflagrations of untouchability and humiliations of their pasts, are posing new challenges to contemporary historians by formulating their own history.
What is the history of the indigenous communities who are now recognized as poor, untouchable and mere voters eagerly looking forward to the announcement of various schemes by the government? If we go back 400-500 years, shall we find them in the same state as they are in now? Were their lives the same? The so called eminent contemporary historians have no satisfactory answers to the many questions raised by the indigenous communities. This reveals the hollowness of our current educational establishment, of the research efforts in the knowledge producing institutions. It lays bare the undemocratic nature of the educational system in the country.
We need to think about the conditions which seem to compel many socially, economically and politically marginalized castes and tribes to attempt to unravel their own histories, about why upper caste historians are unable to bring out the truth about the histories of the Dalits and the Adivasis. We have to conclude that the major reason why the histories of the lower castes and tribes are still suppressed is because the higher education system in India is a part of the structures reproducing caste discrimination.
Further, if the upper caste historians were to sincerely attempt to document the true history of this country they would have to record the inhuman oppression their forefathers carried out against the lower castes and tribes of India. But we would not find such historians of impeccable honesty and integrity today. Therefore, the lower castes and tribes feel the need to excavate their histories on their own.
Prof. Bhangya Bhukya’s ‘aNachabaDina saMchaarulu: nijaaM paalanalO laMbaaDeelu‘ or ‘Subjugated Nomads: The Lambadis under the rule of the Nizams‘ is one such effort to bring to light the history of the Lambadis (or, Lambani-Banjaras). Written over a period of three years, as a part of the research efforts for his PhD at Warwick University, London, the 250 page book was published by Orient Blackswan in 2010.
This book, which is in the process of being translated into Telugu now, shall serve as an invaluable guide for all those who wish to learn about the true history of the Lambadis. No observation in the book is made without citing copious references. Prof. Bhukya had pored through vast number of administrative documents, gone through many laws relating to the period of the Nizams, and also read thousands of books while researching material for this book.
The importance of this book lies in the fact that it brings to light, for the first time, the history of a marginalized, excluded tribe into the realms of the education system. There is a need for scholars from other oppressed castes and tribes to undertake similar exercises to explore and record their own histories.
The indigenous tribes who used to lead self-sufficient lives earlier, lost their livelihoods, their special unique way of life due to the onslaught of the debilitating administrative reforms brought in by the British colonialists and their upper caste Indian collaborators and have been reduced to poverty and backwardness in all spheres. Apart from chronicling these tumultuous course of events, Prof. Bhukya’s book also offers important insights on how the Lambadis, in order to avoid the impending doom and extinction that awaited their tribe as a result of the reforms introduced by the British, were forced to identify themselves as a caste within the Hindu religion.
This is the book to read if one wishes to learn about how the Lambadis of the Hyderabad, Deccan region, lost their unique way of life and culture due to the devastating effects of the colonial rule and have now reached a stage of such abject deprivation that some of them are forced to sell their babies. Four-five hundred years ago, the Lambadis lived in social and economic conditions quite different from now. They did not live in the kind of poverty that now forces them to sell their babies. They used to lead a self-sufficient existence, performing the vital function of transporting agricultural produce and other commercial merchandise across the region, and also providing logistics support to the armies of the time.
The primary occupation of the Lambadis was the rearing of livestock. It was through their cattle that they got involved in the transportation of goods. The fields of trade and commerce of the Hyderabad region in those years was thus greatly dependent on the services offered by the Lambada. The Lambadis were the main transporters of foodgrains such as rice, wheat and onions to the markets. Before the advent of the British, the entire transport sector of the region depended on the Lambadis.
New technology which brought in railways and which in turn heralded the growth of large trading companies severely affected the small, traditional businesses of the Lambadis and turned them into wage hands. The new laws brought in by the British (Cattle Trespass Act – 1857, and the Criminal Tribes Act) adversely affected their way of life and restricted their livelihoods by imposing controls on the rearing of cattle and ultimately paved the way for the Lambadis being branded as a ‘criminal’ tribe.
Traditionally, whenever cattle owned by the Lambadis destroyed any crop, they would compensate for the loss by filling the plot with manure from their livestock. But the new laws promulgated by the British prescribed the payment of penalties in cash which proved to be an increasingly difficult burden for the Lambadis and resulted in their having to gradually distance themselves from cattle rearing. Similarly, the life of looting, not their traditional occupation, attributed to the Lambadis also indicates the extent to which some of them were affected by the repressive policies of the colonial administration and the upper caste ruling classes and how their livelihoods were destroyed leaving them with few alternatives. These facts are brought out in this book with many historical evidences.
This book fills the need to bring the histories of the oppressed and excluded communities into our education system. There is a need for books like this on the histories of all untouchable and indigenous communities. Many oppressed castes and tribes are disappearing slowly. The rulers who devise plans for protecting wildlife and forests do not have any plans for protecting the Adivasis whose only source of livelihood is the forest itself. Even when they do devise plans, they seldom meet the needs of the Adivasis. Therefore, there is a great and immediate need for sincere research on the lives and livelihoods of the Adivasis and other oppressed communities.
There are about 30 tribes included in the list of Scheduled Tribes in Andhra Pradesh. Except for a few, most of those tribes are still unable to access basic public services like health and education. Among the 61 Scheduled Castes in the state, not many know anything about most other castes, apart from the Malas and Madigas. No one knows about the real conditions of their existence. In this so-called civilized society, many communities and tribes are gradually vanishing, their struggles for existence ending in unheard cries of pain. This is not a healthy development for any society. This tragic state of affairs underlines the need for historians, intellectuals and scholars to think together. Historians need to emerge from those oppressed communities. Many historians of the lions like Prof. Bhangya Bhukya are needed.
Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist.
[Translated from Telugu by Kuffir]