Supreme Court, Sub Classification of Scheduled Tribes: A Perspective from Below

By Newsmeter Network  Published on  4 Sep 2020 4:55 AM GMT
Supreme Court, Sub Classification of Scheduled Tribes:  A Perspective from Below

The Adivasis have been demanding the removal of the Lambadi’s from the Scheduled Tribe list. Recent history tells us that wherever there is widespread discontent in such areas, especially over land issues, these become fertile grounds for militant outfits (like the Maoists) to spread their brand of class hatred and anarchy in their war against the state. When that happens, such areas could well have to reckon with two other kinds of intruders – militants and the security forces ostensible out to oust them. At a time when the institution of the family is facing a threat under the onslaught of the forces of modernization, the tribals continue to give great importance to family ties and respect for elders and womenfolk.

Their system of justice has stood the test of time. It has been documented that one of the ‘severest’ penalties that tribal communities in the Northeast impose for wrongdoing is to socially ostracize the guilty person for some time. The shame and disgrace associated with the punishment serve as a strong deterrent for repeating such crimes. Also, one hardly comes across instances of tribals invading settlements in villages and towns for material considerations. Instead, in our rapid (rather, rabid) quest for ‘development’, we have encroached upon lands, which for millennia had been providing them sustenance, and played havoc with their simple way of life.

In the process, we have introduced them to vices like alcoholism, and tobacco and drug addiction and driven them into the clutches of moneylenders by creating demands for items that they never needed. No wonder, the tribals, in general, have a distrust of outsiders since they are generally perceived as exploiters and encroachers. The struggle of the tribals over their inalienable rights on forest lands is but a manifestation of their desire to lead independent lives.

When one looks at the present political situation for the formation of a social state of Telangana State, one thing that stands out that the conflict is all about having a greater share in each and every aspect of the social, economic, and political matters of the state. It is also seen that all the political parties in the Telangana region are mainly dominated by the upper castes and the Dalits and Tribals of this region are largely ignored and the oft-repeated slogan of the separatists is ‘social justice and correcting the imbalances that have been perpetuated for so long. But then, should not justice and equity be provided for the original inhabitants as well?

In this regard, this paper is going to study the tribal political agenda which is going to be a crucial point for achieving a measure of equality in the Tribal society. In this context, the Adivasi people of Telangana are demanding social justice and arguing for an equal share in each and every aspect of the day to life’s social, economic, and political life. All the political parties in the Telangana region are mainly dominated by the upper castes and the Dalits and Tribals of this region who are there in forefront of the separate state movement are equally betrayed and exploited as like the Telangana region. Along with the separate Telangana slogan, they raised the slogan of social justice (equal and justifiable representation in all spheres). In this regard, this paper is going to study the tribal political agenda which is going to be a crucial point to achieve economic equality in society.

Historical Subjugation:

The issue of tribal people in the tribal areas of Telangana, particularly in the Adivasi region, has to be explored in detail and analyzed in the context of the prevailing State policy which reflected the non-tribal interests that were operative within the socio-economic system rather than the real issues of the tribal people of the region. The legislative processes initiated by the colonial state in this regard had resulted in the attribution of judicial nature to tribal land which otherwise was inalienable and continued to be under the control of the original cultivator. The conversion of land into a commodity was a late phenomenon in the tribal areas, as the capital could not penetrate there, till the Britishers forced entry into these areas and found the land being cultivated commonly by all the tribal inhabitants under the guidance of a community chief who was the nominal owner of the land.

However, the casual relationship between the interests of capital penetration and the commoditization of land must be understood in order to study land policy in the tribal areas. The tribal population in the Telangana area was almost unexposed to the outside world during the Nizam’s rule in the early part of the 18th century. The state’s activity, which was confined to the plains where it could bring in a few changes, did not enter the tribal territory because the successive governments, including the early Nizam’s, did not show any interest to interfere in the affairs of the tribal. As soon as the Britishers established their conquest over the circar districts of the Nizam’s territory, they started organizing the land survey and settlement operations in Andhra around the period 1800-1850.

The hidden agenda behind extending military support to the Nizam by the Britishers was to find and exploit raw materials and search for new markets and trade centers in this region. The introduction of forest conservancy operations in the 1920s and 1930s made retention of land a problem for the tribals, in general, and the Gonds, in particular, in the context of Adilabad, and the tribal people began to feel the lack of permanent patta (land-owning ) rights. Meanwhile, the consolidation of colonial interests in tribal areas also facilitated the Nizam state to get more revenue, strengthen its base, and promote a set of native non-tribal landed classes in these areas.

The ignorance of law regarding debts and their simple nature forced the tribal people into the debt trap during the colonial period. The British law related to the land transfer and the revenue system also forced them to sell their land to landlords, moneylenders, traders, feudal lords, or rich peasants who were mostly non-tribals and who offered loans to them liberally and insisted on a portion of their land as security. Unable to repay the debts, the tribal population was eventually forced to part with their land. The injustices to the tribals did not end here as they were, in many cases, forced to work on their own farms to pay back the remaining debt.

This process led to binding their lives to the exploiters such as the Deshmukhs (landlords) who brought the cultivating peasant classes of the non-tribal communities into the tribal areas. Due to the land survey and settlement activity in the tribal areas of Telangana, the exact boundaries of individual ownership agricultural land were left with no legal sanctions. As a result, prior to the land survey and settlement, areas of tribal communities by and large remained almost un juridical in their nature officials for purchasing lands. In short, the land was sold to the highest bidder who got the legal right from the Nizam or his accomplice.

Various Causes of Land Alienation:

However, methods like unaccountable denudation of forests on a massive scale under the supervision of the land-owning classes were also followed as every year large tracts of forestlands were cleared off and brought under cultivation. By this, the tribals were alienated from the forests by landlords. In certain areas, care was taken by the landlords to avoid further legal complications. De-scheduling certain tribal areas invariably posed a threat to the very existence of the tribal life and they were left with no other alternative except migrating from these areas. During the survey of settlement operations, the revenue officials, especially the Patel (village chiefs) Patwaris (the village accountants), invariably manipulated the records in favor of the non-tribals.

In all the cases, the records would show the presence of the non-tribals, and their ownership and possession of the lands, in the period prior to the promulgation of the protective legislation in 1949. The tribals were shown to be in possession of only a meager amount of land. Broadly speaking, these were some of the methods used in the Telangana tribal areas, due to which a large number of tribal people lost their lands. Studies undertaken after the promulgation of protective legislation or legalization in 1949 revealed gross violation of the protective laws and laid bare some of the new forms through which the land alienation in the tribal areas had continued.

The first and foremost form of alienation of lands has been the manipulation of land records. The second form of the land alienation is reported to have taken place due to fake transfers. The third form of land alienation is related to the leasing or mortgaging of the land. For various needs, the tribal people raised loans from traders, feudal lords, and rich peasants, and invariably they had to give either gold or land as security as they did not have any other possessions. Encroachment was another mode of dispossessing the tribals of their lands, and this was adopted by the new entrants in all the places where there were no proper land records. Bribing the local Patwari for manipulating the date of settlement of the land dispute on record prior to the stipulated years, is another method. According to these legislations, lands sold or mortgaged within that specified year are to be declared as illegal and restored to the tribal.

Violation of Land Transfer Regulation Acts in Telangana Region

The Constitution of India enjoins upon the State to protect the Scheduled Tribes from all forms of exploitation and promote with special interest the economic and educational interests of Scheduled Tribes. In exercise of powers conferred under para 5(2) of the Fifth Schedule in the Constitution of India, the Government of Andhra Pradesh made the following regulations to protect the tribal lands in scheduled areas. The first land alienation regulation of 13471 in 1937 was enacted on an experimental basis by the Nizam government to prevent land alienation in two districts of Aurangabad and Osmanabad.

The two important clauses that were added are: 1) The act provides that a non-member of a protected class is allowed to sell his land to a member of his own class or group without the approval of the Talukdar (administrative power) unless he has retained in his permanent possession a piece of land having an assessed value of at least Rs. 30 per year. 2) The act restricts protection under the regulation only to these members of the protected classes who pay an assessment of less than Rs. 500 annually to the government.

The agency tracts and land transfer Act, 1971 was enacted mainly to stop the moneylenders from exploiting the tribals, gaining control over the virgin resources of the forest area, and restricting any transfer of immovable property. When it was made without the ‘previous consent’ obtained in writing of the Agency or any prescribed officers was made absolutely null and void unless it was made in favor of another hill tribe’s person (Section 4 of the Act). However, the money lenders and merchants from the plains continued to migrate to the Agency Areas and carried on their business as the eviction of the tribals under the Estate Land Act was not taken away by this Act which resulted in the detection of only a few cases.

The Amendment Act of 1970 came into force on 1st July 1971. It was applied to all lands in the scheduled areas, except the lands covered by the Mahals and Muthas Abolition Regulation (Regulation 1 and 2 of 1969). Under this Regulation; every tribal ryot (peasant) was entitled to a ryotwaripatta (owning lands) for all cultivable lands in his holding. When the land was situated in an estate taken over by the government under the Estates Abolition Act, the non-tribals who were occupants of the land for a continuous period of 8 years immediately before the commencement of this Regulation were also entitled to ryotwaripatta. So the government of A.P., once again in 1971, amended the Regulation of Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation (Amendment) 1 of 1970.

Under the previous Regulation 1 of 1970, the cooperative societies and mortgage banks faced some practical difficulties in the tribal areas. To remove the technical snags, Regulation 1 of 1971 was enacted by amending Section-3 of Regulation 1 of 1970. It allowed mortgaging any immovable property to any cooperative society on the conditions that, in the event of default, the property should be sold only to the members belonging to Scheduled Tribes.

Though the Regulation appears to be very stringent in its formulation, in practice, it again gave a free hand to the non-tribals to involve the tribals in legal and civil litigations, which they could not afford While earlier regulations did not openly support the non-tribal peasants’ right over the lands, this order explicitly revealed the power of the vested interests towards the non-tribal peasants ignoring the very essence of socio-economic justice, which created and encouraged enmity between the tribal and non-tribal. By this, the ruling class was able to divert the attention of the tribal from real issues like exploitation by landlords to an issue like the alienation of land due to the presence of the non-tribal small peasants, thereby creating a contradiction among the poor peasantry. Hence the continuous use of oppression and manipulation are the two forms adopted by the ruling classes that control the state power, which are largely semi-feudal in nature.

Political Movements: Pre-Independence Period:

There is a long history of tribal movements in Andhra Pradesh related to the encroachment upon the land and tribal way of life by “outsiders”. The tribals were always looked upon as a rebellious community and the local rulers often had to use their superior military strength to question them. During the colonial period, the tribes rebelled against both local Hindu rulers and the British colonial administration, wherever they felt their rights in the territories were being encroached upon. The tribal armed revolts against the Nizam’s state originated in 1940 by the Gonds of Adilabad under the leadership of a tribal leader named KomaramBheemu.

The Koyas also revolted in Khammam District for the same purpose. The muttadars (Responsible to the Government for maintaining law and order in a group of villages) used all questionable and violent methods to terrorize the poor Koya and Konda Reddi tenants and effect several illegal and unconscionable exactions from the helpless tribal people. From 1946 to 1970, Adilabad did not witness any large-scale tribal movement though resistance against exploitation continued. The large-scale tribal movement led by Communist groups took place in the Warangal, Khammam, and Karimnagar districts of Andhra Pradesh and land that was taken away from the tribal was also their main focus. The Communists in some areas were successful in distributing some land to the tribals. While this movement did not spread to Adilabad, it provided the Gonds an example to emulate.

Maava Naate Maava Raj (Our Land and Our Rule):

The Adivasi and Lambadi are the forest-dwelling communities known to be aboriginals, Indigenous peoples of India. The Lambadi’s are a nomadic community migrated from Rajasthan or Gujarat several centuries ago, they are also called Lambadi’s, Sugalis, Banjaras were included under the Scheduled and Scheduled Tribe Amendment act list in 1976 were recognized as Scheduled Tribes in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. As Lambadi’s were listed in the scheduled tribes most of the people were migrated neighboring states for access to the benefits of tribal status. The tribal population in Telangana rose from 2.81 in 1961 to 9.9 in 2011.

The increasing of tribal population in the tribal region due to the inclusion of certain communities under the Scheduled tribes' list. This is the main cause of the rise in the tribal population in the Telangana region. The Lambadi population has risen manifold since 1976. The Gond, Koys, Naikpods, Kolamasetc allege that the Lambadi community is availing all the benefits, they are somehow managing to get government jobs and are availing all the benefits under the ST quota. The Adivasis have been demanding removal from the Scheduled Tribe list. On June 1st all nine Adivasi communities declared “self-rule" The Adivasis burnt the statue of Lambadi holy women at the tribal museum at Jodeghat in Kumara Bheem Sifabad district on October 5th, 2018, the 77th death anniversary of Komaram Bheem. This led to a violent movement in the agency region.

Let us now look into the welfare of the tribal people after independence. For the welfare of these sons of the forests, both the Indian government and State government made several Acts, but the consequences of those acts were crystal clear. There were no noticeable changes in their lives and land relations. The landlords were able to sustain their power over their land due to loopholes in the acts. According to Haimendorf, the non-tribal people who had migrated from the delta areas of the coastal districts made the tribal people addicted to alcohol and conspired to occupy their land. Acts, amendments, and regulations which were made for the welfare of the tribal people could not help them practically. The Land Act was enacted in 1956. Even after the formation of Andhra Pradesh State, the Act was in existence for seven years until 1963 when it was abolished.

In 1970, the government of Andhra Pradesh made some amendments by eliminating the loopholes in the 1963 land act, which was the 1970 (1) Regulation Act, but this indirectly helped the landlords instead. It would be nothing other than truth in saying that the tribal people are unable to enjoy their fundamental rights even after Seventy one years of independence. They had been plundered by the non-tribal people for decades in many ways. To add salt to their wounds, globalization also has become one of the causes of their pitiful lives.


In the post-independence period, both the central and state governments have undoubtedly attempted to improve the conditions of the tribal population. Nehru, under the influence of Verrier Elwin, and Haimendorf devised a strategy whereby the tribal population could experience economic progress and yet not face large-scale cultural disruption and dislocation. This proved to be a very difficult line to follow and was abandoned in the 1960s.

Since then, the main policy towards the tribal population in Andhra Pradesh is geared towards special area schemes under special Agencies such as the Integrated Tribal Development Agency, and the provisions of a sub-plan. The government has also attempted to both distribute cultivable land to the tribals and prevent land alienation in tribal areas, as this study has shown that the government has not succeeded on all these counts.

Both the policies devised, as well as their poor implementation, have reduced their usefulness and led to the alienation of fertile land and forests. Disruption of the tribal pattern of life, especially the agricultural economy and exploitation by outsiders, has caused social alienation, which rendered them open to the mobilization of land and forest is a historical process beginning from the colonial period when the area was part of the Nizam’s dominion. The introduction of private property disrupted the earlier system. Very early a feudal lord land money lender, traders/Shahukar nexus arose which was instrumental in causing indebtedness to the moneylender and the existence of corrupt partners were the main factors underlying the transfer of land from tribal to non-tribal lands, in spite of attempts by Nizam to halt the process. This factor was the immediate cause of the movement in the 1940s in Telangana.

Lack of proper land survey and settlement, systemized land administration which was obviously intended for the promotion of various class interests, passing of regulations mutually contradictory in nature, an unsympathetic and anti-tribal bias of the officials, the negative role of the revenue officials, judicial delays, and cumbersome and complicated procedures are a few of the legal and administrative lacunae. Hence, the legal methods have to act in accordance with this inheritance of fraud and bound to be unhelpful to those for whom they are intended. This is the end product of this situation and is the formation of a psychological chasm between the tribal and non-tribal.

The tribal leaders always tried to raise their problems but it has not been given proper attention anywhere even if in Telangana Movement. The Telangana movement is an upper-caste movement as there is no proper representation of tribals. As there is no proper representation, their demand has been undermined. The notion of a tribal leader’s notion towards integration or disintegration of Andhra Pradesh neither positive nor negative as they think the same exploitation and conditions are not going to change either way. Their basic problem like land alienation and polavarm project is not going to be settled after the formation of Telangana state because till now they are not getting proper assurance from the mainstream leader of Telangana movement.

So, tribal leader demands, if they will get support in polavarm project issue then only tribal people will support in favor of Telangana movement. To highlight their problem, the tribal leaders met many M.P.s but the tribal M.P. Now it is time for each of us to think about this issue sensibly and seriously. Instead of always being ego-centric, can we together think of the betterment of these tribal people who are deprived of their natural rights and whose welfare will finally ensure the overall welfare of Telangana? When we live in unity in our society, we can live peacefully and harmoniously and we will get self-respect in society. We should unitedly fight, standing under one roof for a justifiable share in education, jobs, and political sectors. We should think of our own brothers who have suffered more than what we can imagine. We should take it as our problem, sit together, and find ways how to solve it.


Professor. Ramdas Rupavath

Head, Centre for Human Rights

Department Of Political Science

University of Hyderabad

([email protected])


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