In Telangana, an ongoing battle for the spoils of ST reservation
December 14, 2017:The Indian Express
Tension is brewing between Telangana’s Adivasi and Lambada communities — both in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category — with the former accusing the latter of cornering the 6% reservation meant for all STs, and garnering the benefits of educational opportunities and jobs. Last Saturday, the Adivasis held a meeting of about one lakh people at the Saroornagar Stadium in Hyderabad, at which community leaders passed a resolution demanding that the Telangana government exclude Lambadas from the ST category altogether.
On Wednesday, the Lambada community held a meeting at the same venue to counter the Adivasi resolution — the Lambadas have demanded that they should not be excluded from ST status because they, like the Adivasis, are socially and economically backward. The Lambada protest saw over 7000 Ola and Uber cabbies, municipal sanitation workers, garbage truck drivers and Lambadas from diverse strands of employment participate — in fact, Lambada leaders did not have to make transport arrangements as hundreds of people arrived in the cabs, autorickshaws and trucks that the Lambadas routinely drive.
The simmering tension between the two communities came to the surface on October 5 when over 3,000 tribals protested for two days outside the Adilabad District Collector’s office. The tribals were reportedly angered by the placing of Lambada statues and cultural artifacts in the Komaram Bheem Tribal Museum at Jodeghat in Adilabad district. As the protest was ongoing, in a separate incident, a statue of a Lambada woman, titled ‘Shaimaka Matha’, was vandalised by unidentified persons. The Adilabad protesters, meanwhile, said that the Adivasis and Lambadas were not the same category of communities and thus, Lambada artifacts should not be included in the Tribal Museum.
From this protest emerged the demand to exclude Lambadas from ST status itself, a call that has since only grown sharper. Adivasis have demanded a boycott of Lambada teachers and doctors. In Adilabad and Utnoor, protests were held outside tribal welfare schools, demanding that Lambada teachers be removed from their posts.
Adivasi leaders like Kumaram Soni Rao, grandson of the tribal freedom fighter Kumaram Bheem, and an ST leader himself, explained the tribal discontent — Adivasis felt that Lambadas were taking away a major chunk of the 6% quota in education and jobs. Adivasis were concerned that while being clubbed together in the same ST category, the Lambadas were prospering at the expense of Adivasis — mostly Gond, Koya, Pardhan, Kollam, Naikpodu and Thoti tribes. Adivasi leaders claimed that if Lambadas were to be removed from the list of STs, Adivasis would have a better chance at getting jobs and seats in tribal welfare schools and colleges.
In April, the K Chandrashekhar Rao government in Telangana introduced a Bill to increase the quota for STs from 6% to 10%. While the legislation has been passed by the Assembly, its implementation requires the Centre’s nod for inclusion in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which, however, will be subject to judicial scrutiny. But ST leaders say their communities won’t benefit from such an increase in the quota unless Lambadas are excluded from the ST category. In Telangana, the Lambada population is approximately 25 lakh — the 31 tribal communities that make up the rest of the ST population together number about 13 lakh. Lambadas, also known as Banjaras, were included in the ST list in 1976, following a demand by the community seeking inclusion in the Telangana region.
Tribal leaders say that since then, Adivasi communities, which live in relatively remote areas, have been unable to compete with Lambadas who have settled in urban and semi-urban locations, who send their children to schools and colleges and take up jobs, mostly in the teaching, police and municipal staff sectors. Adivasis also say that Lambadas, who migrated to Telangana in recent years, mainly from Maharashtra and northern Karnataka, are availing quota benefits not only in education and jobs, but in government schemes like free housing.
Ten Lambada organisations formed the “Lambada Aikya Vedika¶ in Hyderabad on Tuesday, representing about 10 lakh people, and called for Wednesday’s counter-protest. Bhukya Sanjeev Nayak, president of the Sevalal Sena, the biggest Lambada outfit with over five lakh members, said Lambadas were being unfairly accused of grabbing jobs and educational seats; they worked hard and only the most eligible candidates got jobs, he said.