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2— The Fate of Tribal Land
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The Fate of Tribal Land

With the exception of some small communities of hunters and foodgatherers, all tribal populations of Andhra Pradesh depend for their subsistence primarily on the cultivation of land. For centuries, if not millennia, they had free access to as much land as they could cultivate, and it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that in some areas tribal communities encountered the competition of materially more advanced populations infiltrating into areas which had previously been the preserves of such tribes as Gonds, Kolams, Koyas, or Konda Reddis. Some of these tribes were slash-and-burn cultivators whose main implements were axe, hoe, and digging stick, while others had practised plough cultivation for countless generations and were living in permanent villages. The former, who tilled hill slopes cleared of forest growth, did not hold land attractive to other populations and were able to pursue their traditional method of tillage until the time when much of their ancestral territory was declared state forest, and newly introduced rules of forest conservancy limited the areas available for shifting cultivation. The fortunes of such primitive tribes depending on slash-and-burn cultivation will be discussed in a separate section at the end of this chapter; here I propose to deal with problems of land tenure as demonstrated by the Gonds, one of the major tribal groups of Andhra Pradesh.

The History of the Land Problem in Adilabad

The main concentration of the Gonds is in Adilabad District, a region which until less than a hundred years ago was rich in forests, poor in


communications, and of little economic and political importance. There can be no doubt that the larger part of the district was then inhabited almost exclusively by aboriginals, among whom Kolams were probably the oldest population. But long before the rise of Muslim and later Maratha power, Gond chieftains, styled rajas, were established in the area. Several forts, such as the magnificently built Manikgarh Fort, suggest that Gond rajas lived in a style not inferior to that of Hindu rulers, and it would seem that even when the Gond chieftains had to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Nizam of Hyderabad a feudal system persisted among the majority of the Gonds of Adilabad District. They continued to be the principal holders and tillers of the land, and the administration established by the Nizam's government did not at first affect the condition of the tribal population. Small colonies of traders and craftsmen existed in market places such as Jangaon, later renamed Asifabad, but a major change in the tribals' position seems to have occurred only in the first years of the twentieth century with the improvement of communications between Mancherial and Rajura on the eastern side of the district and between Nirmal and Adilabad on the western side. Along these two lines nontribal populations flooded into the district both from the south and from the north, and occupied such land as became easily accessible. The subsequent construction of a road linking Nirmal and Mancherial encouraged Telugu cultivators from the neighbouring district of Ka-


rimnagar to settle in the riverain tract and acquire land on the left bank of the Godavari, and at about the same time many Maratha peasants, mainly of Kunbi caste, moved from the adjoining districts of Berar across the Penganga River and occupied large parts of the northern plains.

To understand the process of the Gonds' gradual displacement by other and more dynamic populations, it is necessary to consider their system of cultivation as it existed before changes in the administrative system and the introduction of forest conservancy forced them to abandon their traditional agricultural methods. In the 1940s there were still old people alive who spoke of the time when the Gonds of the highlands mainly cultivated the light, red soils of the plateaux and slightly inclined slopes, but not the heavy, black soils in the bottom of the valleys. At that time Gond farmers were in the habit of shifting their fields every two or three years, abandoning each plot before the soil showed signs of exhaustion. It was mainly during the monsoon that they grew small millets and oilseeds in these light soils, where ploughing was easy and there was little danger of water-logging, while in the autumn and winter they cultivated only small plots growing sorghum and pulses in the vicinity of the villages. Yet, despite the restriction of the main agricultural activities to one season, the yield of crops grown during the rains on soils kept fertile by frequent periods of fallow seems to have equalled that of the combined monsoon and winter crops of later days. While in the hills the transition to modern conditions occurred so late that there still exist eyewitness accounts of the old economy, less certain information is available for the plains tract. But it is likely that there too Gonds cultivated their land in rotation, preferring the light soils to the heavy black soils and relying mainly on the crops grown during the rains.

The Gonds' practice of frequently shifting their fields and sometimes also their settlements was appropriate to a situation in which they were virtually the only inhabitants of large expanses of cultivable land and forest, and there were no other claimants to land temporarily abandoned by Gond cultivators. But as soon as agricultural populations from neighbouring areas moved into Adilabad District, the Gonds' habit of cultivating their land in rotation became a source of weakness, for fields left fallow with the intention of resuming cultivation after a number of years could easily be occupied by new settlers, who then managed to obtain title deeds for the occupied land. At the turn of the century, it was government policy to open up the district and to encourage the influx of new settlers, and to grant them patta free of charge for as much land as they could make arable. At first, no doubt, the Gonds too had the possibility of obtaining individual patta , and some Gonds were actually given patta documents, but the whole


concept of having permanent rights to individual plots was foreign to the tribesmen, and they were slow to realize the necessity of obtaining title deeds to land which they had always considered communal property. Later, when pressure on land became acute and they did realize the value of patta , they were not sufficiently well versed in dealing with revenue officials to compete successfully with newcomers from more progressive areas. Consequently, they frequently failed to obtain recognition of their claims to the land which they and their fore-fathers had cultivated.

With the gradual improvement of communications and the influx of experienced cultivators such as Kunbis and Kapus the country became valuable and attractive to investors, and Brahmins, Komtis, and Muslims living in places such as Adilabad, Asifabad, and Nirmal began acquiring villages to be managed on a commercial basis. As few Gonds had patta rights this was not difficult, and absentee landlords could obtain whole villages by applying for the auctioning of government land and outbidding any tribal who tried to retain his land. In many cases the tribal cultivators were not even informed of the auctioning of the land they were tilling, and became aware of the change of ownership only when the new landlord demanded to be paid rent.

By 1940 most of the villages near such administrative or commercial centres as Asifabad had already fallen into the hands of non-tribals. Thus of the twenty villages within a distance of approximately three miles from Asifabad twelve no longer contained any tribals, five had a partly tribal population but were owned by non-tribal landlords, and there were only two villages in which Gonds and one in which Kolams cultivated government land, but in these villages, too, other land was held by non-tribals.

Similar conditions prevailed in the valleys running westwards and southwards from Asifabad. In the southern part of Asifabad Taluk, particularly in the Tilani area, a great deal of land was acquired by landowners of Velma caste who lived in the neighbourhood of Lakshetipet and in the neighbouring district of Karimnagar. The way in which these Velma gradually eliminated the indigenous tribesmen is illustrated by the following story, which Kotnaka Maru of Dugapur told me in 1941:

I was born in Dugapur and cultivated there until some ten years ago, when there were so many tigers in the neighbourhood that all of us went to live in another village. When five years later the tigers disappeared, we returned to Dugapur, where the land had lain fallow in our absence and applied to the tahsildar for permission to clear again forty acres. When I and my brothers had felled all the small growth on these forty acres, the revenue inspector came and said that we could only cultivate eighteen acres and that the rest would be cultivated by


the Velma Dora of Mandamari. This Velma Dora acquired some land in Gamairapet only ten years ago and there he keeps a bailiff, but before we had cleared the land in Dugapur he never raised a claim on it. The revenue inspector assigned eighteen acres to me and for four years I cultivated these eighteen acres but last year the Velma Dora took three acres of my land. This year I had already sown maize and millet on the remaining fields when the Velma's bailiff brought twenty men with ploughs from Gamaraipet and ploughed up three acres of my sown fields. I have given many applications to the tahsildar but because the Velma Dora is so rich and powerful no official will help me.

Soon after Kotnaka Maru had told me this story, he became the victim of another outrage. He was watching his millet crop when the Velma's bailiff brought twenty-five men of Gamaraipet all armed with sticks, and they reaped Maru's crop in front of the owner's eyes and carried the grain away. Maru reported the matter to the police patel , who came to Dugapur and saw the reaped field, but advised Maru to keep quiet lest the Velma Dora drive him out of the village.

The plight of Kotnaka Maru was only one of the innumerable cases of oppression, the accounts of which filled my note-books of the years 1941–43. It would be pleasant to record that such blatant violations of tribal rights could no longer occur, but as we shall see presently, almost identical cases of the exercise of brutal force in the dispossession of Gonds were told to me when I visited the area in the years 1977–80.

In the 1940s the weakness of the Gonds' position was mainly due to the fact that few of them possessed title deeds (patta ) to the land they were occupying. The majority of the tribals then cultivated according to a system of land tenure known as siwa-i-jamabandi . The land they tilled remained government land, and although they had permission to cultivate and annually paid the land revenue they were not registered as owners (pattadar ) in the village register. The allotment of land on siwa-i-jamabandi tenure was within the powers of the tahsildar , who normally endorsed the actions of patwari and revenue inspector without investigating the rights and wrongs of individual cases. The transfer of government land from one cultivator to the other was then the order of the day, and every year many tribals were evicted from land which they had been cultivating on siwa-i-jamabandi tenure, only because an affluent non-tribal, able to bribe the revenue subordinates, had cast his eye on the same land and had been given preference over the tribal cultivator.

The system of siwa-i-jamabandi tenure, which by definition allowed a great deal of flexibility, provided the lower revenue staff with incomparable opportunities for enriching themselves by the shuffling of land from one cultivator to another, and even when government began allotting patta to Gonds and Kolams, large areas of land continued


to be cultivated on siwa-i-jamabandi tenure. Figures quoted in my report Progress and Problems of Aboriginal Rehabilitation in Adilabad District (Hyderabad, 1946, p. 14) show that at that time the total of siwa-i-jamabandi land was 43,729 acres, of which 21,354 acres were occupied by tribals and 22,205 by non-tribal cultivators. Many of the non-tribal pattadar held, in addition to their own land, a substantial acreage on siwi-i-jamabandi . Thus in Utnur Taluk there were altogether 893 non-tribal pattadar , and they held on patta a total area of 27,869 acres and cultivated in addition 3,289 acres on siwa-i-jamabandi . Moreover, there were 698 non-tribals who owned no patta land but held 7,755 acres on siwa-i-jamabandi tenure.

In 1944 the Nizam's government was faced with two alternatives. It could follow a policy of laissez-faire and allow the deterioration in the tribals' status to continue, with the result that within a few decades the majority of Gonds would have become a floating population of landless agricultural labourers and sub-tenants devoid of any occupancy rights, or it could settle the tribesmen as a stable peasant community, secure in the possession of the land they tilled. The government decided on the second alternative and embarked on a bold policy of tribal rehabilitation. This involved above all a solution of the land problem by the grant of patta to as many of the tribals as could be accommodated on land under the control of government.

It was then calculated that at the most 10 percent of all tribal household heads were already pattadar and that hence a total of about ninety thousand would have to be covered by the operation of resettlement. As in some areas, such as the taluks of Both and Kinwat, little land was available for allocation to tribals, a transfer of substantial populations from the plains to the highlands and from the non-tribal area to the newly notified tribal area became inevitable. The task before the district officers and above all the special tribes officer was all the more daunting, as many of the would-be beneficiaries of the new policy were too ignorant and inexperienced or too much under the sway of landlords and moneylenders to grasp the implication of the new regulations for the grant of patta and to apply for land in the manner prescribed by the rules. Hence a systematic settlement of each group of villages had to replace the usual procedure according to which the revenue officers act only on individual applications for specific pieces of land. A particular problem was created by the lack of a detailed survey of land in many of the less-developed regions, and the grant of patta on land not clearly demarcated created difficulties in later years and gave a handle to non-tribal landlords trying to encroach on the tribals' newly assigned land. Some opposition to the tribal rehabilitation policy came as no surprise to those who knew what profits absentee landlords and moneylenders had derived from


the exploitation of the uneducated and helpless tribals. There was resentment among the members of the landlord class because, since the notification of the tribal area and the suspension of all ordinary land allotment in that area, land made arable by Gonds or Kolams and cultivated by them on siwa-i-jamabandi tenure could no longer be acquired simply by applying for its auction and by then bidding against no other competition than that of inpecunious tribals. Obstacles were put in the way, not so much of the allotment of land to tribals, but of the occupation of the land by the new pattadar . In many cases, non-tribal landowners and patel tried to prevent Gonds by threats and even by physical violence from occupying the lands allotted to them by the special tribes officer. The village officers, the lower revenue staff, and the minor police were often in sympathy with locally important landowners, and the tribals could not count on their whole-hearted support. Indeed revenue inspectors and patwari often took unduly long in demarcating the new holdings and handing them over to the new tribal pattadar , and thereby gave the non-tribal landowners time to put forward claims to the lands in question. We shall see that precisely the same type of opposition was impeding the restoration of tribal land in 1977 and 1978.

Despite all such obstacles the allocation of land to the tribals of Adilabad which began in 1944 made good progress. By 1945 a total of 45,417 acres of land had been granted to 3,144 tribals, and by 1949 the amount of land assigned on patta to tribals had risen to 160,000 acres and the number of beneficiaries to 11,198. The work continued until about 85 percent of the tribal householders of Adilabad District were in possession of adequate holdings of cultivable land.

At that time sympathetic observers seemed justified in assuming that the economic basis of the tribal populations of Adilabad was reasonably secure, and even in 1960, when I revisited the district, there appeared to be no serious erosion of the Gonds' hold on their land. We shall see, however, that any optimism one might then have expressed was premature and that the gains achieved in the 1940s were largely lost in the 1970s.

Recent Developments in Adilabad

In a note submitted to the Government of Andhra Pradesh in 1960 at the end of a visit to Adilabad, I commented on the situation of the Gonds as follows: "There appears to be at present no acute land-problem, and as far as I could see there has been no serious encroachment on the tribals' land. The position will have to be watched, however, when the road-link Utnur-Kerimeri-Asifabad is completed, for the


most isolated part of the highlands will then become more easily accessible to outsiders."

The last sentence of this comment proved prophetic, for since this motorable road was constructed a great wave of non-tribal immigrants has swept over the highlands, and many of the Gonds and Kolams who had been settled and provided with patta in the 1940s were once again deprived of their land. When in 1976 I began an intensive restudy of the Gonds of Utnur, I found a scene completely transformed by the presence of innumerable settlers, most of them emigrants from Maharashtra. There were Marathas, Hatkars, Mahars, members of various merchant castes, and many Muslims, mainly from the districts of Nander, Osmanabad, and Parbhani, as well as newly arrived Banjaras from Berar. It is not quite clear what triggered this invasion, but local Gonds as well as officials tell of the long columns of bullock carts on which the immigrants carried household goods and grain stores, and of the herds of cattle which they brought with them. It seems that this movement of non-tribals into the tribal area of Utnur reached its climax between 1965 and 1975, but even at the time of writing, i.e. 1980, it has not completely stopped. It coincided with widespread illegal fellings of forest, which resulted in the almost complete deforestation of most of the land along the road between Gudi Hatnur and Utnur.

It seems that a few senior district officers made some feeble attempts to stop the flow of immigrants, but on the whole neither revenue nor forest officers succeeded in stemming the tide. As many of the newcomers were able to occupy cultivable land, there can be no doubt that the minor revenue officials, and particular patwari and revenue inspectors, were won over by the immigrants, many of whom were wealthy enough to pay large bribes. The laws prohibiting the acquisition of tribal land by non-tribals were obviously ignored. Otherwise it would have been impossible for recent immigrants with no claim to tribal status to acquire house sites and arable land at the expense of Gonds who lost all or most of their land within a span of a few years. The methods used to achieve this aim were similar to those which forty years earlier were used to dispossess the tribals of the lowlands. Apart from outright trickery and the bribing of patwari and members of the revenue staff fraudulently to change entries in the land register, the newcomers deliberately led Gonds into debt, then induced them to lease their land for limited periods, and finally refused to return the leased land to the owner. With the connivance of patwari and revenue inspectors, it was then not difficult to enter the new occupier's name as "owner" in the village and tahsil records.

The results of this process of large-scale land alienation are obvious to anyone familiar with the area. Villages on or near the motorable


roads, which in the 1940s and 1950s had still a purely tribal population and consisted of the usual thatched huts, are now teeming with newcomers, whose shops and large masonry houses, often painted in garish colours, have completely transformed the scene. Many of these villages no longer contain any Gonds, whereas in others small clusters of Gond houses in traditional style form incongruous accretions to the modern settlements. Thus Indraveli, once the seat of a Gond raja, has grown into a large commercial centre with brick houses and cement structures lining both sides of the road. Jainur, which in 1946 was a small Gond hamlet surrounded by forest, now contains a market centre with many shops and masonry houses, all owned by non-tribals who settled there less than ten years ago.

Visual impressions of the process of ethnic and cultural change are supported by demographic figures. While in 1951 the population of Utnur Taluk was only 34,404, the majority of whom were tribals, by 1961 it had risen to 55,099 and by 1971, to 93,823. No official census figures are available for later years, but according to a malaria survey of 1977 the population of the taluk had then reached a total of 112,000. This phenomenal increase is clearly due to immigration, and all the newcomers are non-tribals. The change in the composition of the population is reflected in the figures for tribals in individual circles. Thus in the Marlavai Circle, which in 1941 was almost totally tribal, the percentage of tribals in 1961 was still 90.38 percent, but by 1971 it had dropped to 65.52 percent, a figure which undoubtedly has diminished since then.

A similar, though perhaps less rapid, displacement of tribals by recent immigrants occurred in Asifabad Taluk, as described by Michael Yorke in chapter 9. There too the mechanism of land alienation followed the pattern observed in the 1930s and 1940s.

Neither in Utnur nor in Asifabad Taluk are figures for the tribal land alienated in recent years available, but the population figures for Utnur alone speak in very clear terms. To enliven these figures and illustrate the process of the exploitation and dispossession of tribals by members of advanced communities, I propose to quote from entries in my notebooks written in 1976, 1977, and 1978, when numerous Gonds approached me with stories of oppression by non-tribals and minor government officials.

On 7 December 1976, Kumra Boju of Kerimeri came to see me in Kanchanpalli and told me the following story:

My father Somu owned fifteen acres of patta land, but for the last thirteen years Rama Gauru of Asifabad [a man of toddy-tapping caste] has been cultivating this land. When my father died I was a small child, and Rama Gauru occupied our land. Some time ago I applied to M.


Narayan, the special deputy collector, for restoration of my father's land. The deputy collector decided the case in my favour and restored the land to me. I was very happy and ploughed the land in preparation for sowing jawari. But when I was ready to sow Rama Gauru, supported by some villagers of Keslaguda, stopped me cultivating. Then the tahsildar , the revenue inspector, and the patel came to the village, and told me that my father's land was mine by right. But at the same time they advised me not to cultivate that land, but to occupy instead the adjoining field which belongs to a Muslim. How could I do this? Then Rama Gauru brought some men and sowed on my land. Moreover Rama Gauru had reported to the police that I had illegally ploughed his land. So the subinspector of police came to my house with some constables and wanted to arrest me. But in the end they did not take me to Asifabad. Rama Gauru has occupied also the patta land of three other Gonds, who are my mother's brothers. They all died but they have sons who have a claim to their land. Now none of us has any land of our own because Rama Gauru has all of it taken away.

This story, which recalls the days of the worst oppression of tribals in the early 1940s, is typical of the way in which corrupt minor officials frustrate the intention of government and fail to carry out the clear decisions of superior officers. It also demonstrates the partiality of the local police officers, who almost invariably side with locally powerful non-tribals.

The latter point is highlighted even more clearly by a case which I recorded a few days later. On 14 December 1976, Purka Maru of Ballanpur in Asifabad Taluk told me the following story:

I own eighteen acres of patta land in Sautiguda, which is a hamlet of Ballanpur. Three years ago a Muslim of Asifabad, Mohammed Isuf, drove me from my land. He repeatedly assaulted me and used to come at night to my house. I complained to the subcollector, and after some time the tahsildar and the revenue inspector came to Sautiguda. They did not give me back my land, but told me to cultivate a piece of land which was then cultivated by Kotnaka Somu. My own land they gave to Mohammed Isuf. For the next year I cultivated Somu's land and reaped some crops. I stored the grain in bags in my house. Then Mohammed Isuf with four other Muslims armed with axes and knives broke into my house at night. I managed to escape and hid in the jungle. When I returned next day I found that the Muslims had robbed me of my grain and all my valuables. They took 2 1/2 quintals of jawari , 1 quintal of castor and all other stores, and stole also 1 tola of gold, 60 tolas of silver, and several brass pots.

Next day I complained to the subcollector and the subinspector of police in Asifabad. The subinspector then came to Sautiguda, went to a Muslim's house and made inquiries. After several hours he came to my house, blamed me for wrongly accusing Mohammed Isuf, and beat


me. He then said that he would not allow me to stay any longer in Sautiguda.

Purka Maru had to leave his house and the place where he and his forefathers had lived and go to the main village of Ballanpur. There he found work as an agricultural labourer. Mohammed Isuf remained in occupation of his land, and Kotnaka Somu's land was not cultivated at all. M. Isuf had one house in Asifabad and another in Sautiguda. He owned twenty-one acres of patta land and cultivated eight acres of parampok land, as well as Maru's eighteen acres. He also occupied ten acres of patta land belonging to Kodapa Maru, whom he had frightened away and who had gone to live in Madura. He had also usurped nine acres of Dhurwa Moti Bai's patta land.

This, as well as the case of Kumra Boju, shows how by threats, bullying, and the unashamed use of force non-tribals are able to occupy tribal land, and that the tribals cannot rely on getting redress from the officers of government, many of whom, instead of upholding the law, make common cause with the exploiters of the tribals.

However, physical force is not always needed to dislodge a tribal from his land. In many cases non-tribal creditors take over a tribal's land and never return it to the owner, or the accidental loss of a tribal's patta documents is used to gain possession of his land. The following case is typical of many such tricks:

In 1945 Soyam Sone Rao of Hasnapur in Utnur Taluk, a village swamped by non-tribals, had been given fifteen acres of land under the scheme for land assignment to Gonds. In 1951 his house burned down, and all his papers were destroyed. For many years he did not worry about this loss, but fifteen years after the fire an Inkhar immigrant from Maharashtra, who had been living for some time in the village, induced the patwari , a man of goldsmith caste, to connive at his occupation of Sone Rao's land. When Sone Rao complained to the tahsildar , the revenue inspector came to the village and told Sone Rao that he would be alloted five acres of land somewhere else, but Sone Rao did not agree to accept five acres instead of the fifteen acres to which he was entitled. In the meantime he maintained himself by working as a daily labourer.

The land of Gonds is also in jeopardy if a pattadar dies leaving a widow and young children. This is demonstrated by the following example:

Maravi Ganpat, a Gond of Pochamlodi in Utnur Taluk, owned twenty acres of patta land. When he died the patwari , Abdul Rahim of Jainur, who had come to the locality only eight years previously, attached all the land on the plea that at the time of his death Ganpat had owed him Rs 3,500. Ever since, Abdul Rahim has cultivated the land and


Ganpat's widow and children cannot regain possession of it, for Abdul Rahim is a rich man and his position as patwari enabled him to manipulate the land register.

In Utnur Taluk a great deal of Gond land has passed into the hands of Banjaras, an immigrant community who had moved into Adilabad District from Berar only at the turn of the century. Well organized, aggressive, and often affluent, they succeeded in dislodging many Gonds from their holdings. A recent case, in which even the intervention of the special deputy collector (tribal welfare) had no lasting effect, demonstrates the methods by which Banjaras acquired much of their land:

Ara Lachu of Balanpur in Utnur Taluk owned fifteen acres of land. In repayment of a loan this was given to a Banjara on lease for three years. But when the lease expired the Banjara refused to give up the land. In 1973 the special deputy collector restored the land to Ara Lachu, but when Lachu and his brother started sowing on the land they had just ploughed, fifteen Banjaras armed with sticks and whips beat them and prevented them from sowing. Then the Banjaras cultivated the land. In 1976 Ara Lachu again applied to the special deputy collector, and in June of that year the latter restored the land to the Gond and told him that he might start ploughing. When he did so the Banjaras came and beat Lachu so severely that he had to be taken to the hospital. In the meantime, the Banjaras sowed cotton on the field. Subsequently the tahsildar came to the village and directed the revenue inspector to give possession of the land to Lachu with the standing crops.

When the cotton was ripe for picking, the Banjaras came and started picking the cotton. The Gond owner and his two sons protested, and there was a quarrel. In the course of this, thirty Banjaras set upon the three Gonds and broke Aru Lachu's arm. Lachu was admitted to hospital in Adilabad.

The next time I heard about the case, the Gond owner had not been able to regain effective possession of his land.

In the 1970s there were innumerable cases of illegal occupation of Gond land by Banjaras, but at that time there was at least the theoretical possibility of restoring the land to the Gond owners because the Banjaras were not notified as a scheduled tribe. In 1977, however, the Banjaras were included in the list of scheduled tribes (see chapter 8), and ever since then there has been no legal bar to the transfer of land from Gonds to Banjaras, for such transactions are permitted between tribals.

The foregoing examples of the alienation of Gond land are only a small selection of the innumerable cases which I recorded in 1976 and 1977. They show that the stabilization of the Gonds' position brought


about by the efforts undertaken in the years 1944 to 1949 has been largely undone. Indeed it seems that, notwithstanding the existence of legislation apparently adequate for the protection of tribal interests, the position of the Gonds is as precarious and insecure as it was in the 1930s and early 1940s. There is, however, one important difference. In those years there was still some vacant land in the forested highlands where Gonds evicted from their holdings could find at least temporary refuge. This possibility no longer exists, and many Gonds are once more threatened by the likelihood of being reduced to the state of landless labourers.

It would be unfair to the officers charged with the protection and restoration of tribal land to give the impression that nothing was done to counteract the powerful forces engaged in the ongoing process of the illegal alienation of tribal land. The records of these officers reflect the magnitude of the problem and allow us to assess the progress made so far.

The following statistics compiled by the special deputy collector (tribal welfare) in December 1979 relate to the acreage of originally tribal land occupied by non-tribals, the number of cases registered for restoration procedures, and the decisions reached.

From the beginning of the scheme of restoring alienated tribal land to the original tribal owners in 1976 until the end of November 1979, 3,985 cases involving an acreage of 31,943.15 acres were booked. Of these, 2,296 cases involving 19,386.15 acres were decided, including those rejected because of the inapplicability of the Land Transfer Regulation. Of the total cases, 1,642, involving 13,639.5 acres, were decided in favour of the tribals. These include causes in which an appeal by the non-tribal parties resulted in a stay-order issued by a higher authority, and such stay-orders covered a total of 1,270.3 acres.

The cultivators evicted from tribal land illegally acquired can be divided into three categories:

Scheduled castes: 108 persons evicted from 1,075.8 acres.

Backward castes: 1,273 persons evicted from 10,339.7 acres.

Forward classes: 261 persons evicted from 2,224 acres.

The scheduled castes concerned include Mahar, Mala, and other Harijans; the backward castes include such Sudra castes as Kapu, Perka, Golla, Gaur, and Besta; and the forward classes include Brahmin, Komti, Reddi, Velma, and Muslim.

In October 1980 there was a balance of 1,536 undecided cases involving an area of 11,051.38 acres, and it stands to reason that, even with the help of a modest staff of assistants, a single special deputy collector would not be able to dispose within a reasonable time of so many hundreds of cases, investigate the circumstances of the alienation, and


follow up his verdicts to restore possession to individual tribals. This assessment of the situation is confirmed by the fact that, despite strenuous efforts by the special deputy collector in the first nine months of 1980, only 54 cases involving 454 acres could be decided in favour of tribals. It is obvious that the administration would have to adopt more effective measures to redress the loss of tribal land, and it is regrettably not at all likely that this will happen in the foreseeable future.

Indeed, there are ominous portents that mounting pressure by vested interests and political groups is eroding the government's determination to implement the legislation designed to protect tribal rights to land. Thus, in August 1979 the Revenue Secretariat issued instructions to district officers that further evictions of non-tribals from tribal land should be carried out only in cases relating to encroachments by persons owning more than five acres of irrigated land or ten acres of dry land. By the end of 1980 these instructions, which legal experts regard as conflicting with existing legislation, were still operative, and this leads one inevitably to the conclusion that the policy of restoring alienated tribal land no longer enjoys the support of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, even though protective legislation has so far remained on the statute book.

Warangal District

The land problem of the Koyas in the region now included within the Warangal District shares many aspects with the situation of the Gonds of Adilabad. In both areas there were until half a century ago large stretches of country where tribal populations were the only inhabitants. Whereas in some parts of Adilabad the hilly character of the terrain contributed to tribals' isolation from advanced Hindu populations, in the taluks of Mulug and Narsampet of Warangal District, dense forests constituted the tribesmen's main defense against the infiltration of land-hungry outsiders. No doubt, there too were at one time centres of Hindu civilization, and the exquisite carvings in the thirteenth-century Kakatiya temple of Palampet and the existence of such irrigation works as the Ramappa Lake, also stemming from Kakatiya times, show beyond doubt that in these great forests there were enclaves inhabited by people of sophisticated culture. But as the Kakatiya dynasty, which ruled for two hundred years from the middle of the twelfth century onwards, relinquished its hold on the region, tribal populations most probably akin to the present Koyas asserted themselves, and there is every likelihood that for several centuries the eastern part of the present Warangal District remained tribal territory similar in character to the adjoining tribal areas on the left bank of the


Godavari and in the highlands of Bastar. The fact that after the capture of Golconda by Aurangzeb Warangal came under Mughal rule had as little effect on the Koyas of the forest areas as the Mughal conquest had on the Gonds of the Adilabad highlands. After 1724, Warangal was part of the Nizam's Dominions, but it seems that only in the last fifty years of Hyderabad rule were there any serious attempts to open up and develop the forest tracts of Mulug and Narsampet Taluks. By 1940, when I first visited the areas, motorable roads led only as far as the western fringe of the tribal area, and the majority of Koya villages could be reached only on foot or by bullock cart.

The acquisition of tribal lands by immigrant Hindu and Muslim cultivators from other parts of the district had then already begun, and the Koyas and Naikpods of the villages near Palampet no longer owned any land, though they were engaged in the cultivation of irrigated land belonging to non-tribal landlords, many of whom were of Reddi caste.

The same measures of tribal rehabilitation which had proved effective in Adilabad were resorted to in the tribal areas of Warangal, and between 1946 and 1950 special social service officers allocated thousands of acres on patta to Koyas and Naikpods. But the beneficial effects of this policy initiated in the last years of the Nizam's rule were of even shorter duration than in Adilabad District. When I visited the area in 1960, I found that in the taluks of Mulug and Narsampet tribal land was once again under attack by non-tribal settlers. Immigrants from Guntur and other Andhra districts, many of whom were of Kamma caste, had infiltrated into tribal country. Even then many Gunturis had settled in such roadside villages as Chelvai and Pasra. They had begun by buying up quite legitimately the land belonging to local non-tribals, but once established they ousted their Koya neighbours by various more or less devious means. Though the Koya owners' names were still entered in the patwari and tahsil records, non-tribals were firmly in occupation of the land. Koyas had little chance of ever regaining it, and many of them worked as labourers for the Gunturi settlers who had usurped their land.

By the time I returned to Mulug Taluk in 1978, the process of land alienation had progressed even further. Chelvai, which in 1940 had been a purely tribal settlement of twenty houses of Koyas, was now a large village with a mixed population. There were many masonry buildings of non-tribals, shops, a brand new Hindu temple, and even a cinema. Only fifteen out of fifty-two Koya families possessed land of their own. Many had been allotted land in the 1940s but were induced, presumably because of indebtedness, to sell that land, though such transactions were illegal, as Chelvai is scheduled as a tribal village. Some cases falling under the Land Transfer Act had been booked,


and in three cases orders for the restoration of the land to the tribal owners were issued, but the illegal occupiers obtained stay-orders from the high court and remained in possession.

Where there had been forest a large expanse of land was irrigated from the Laknavaram Lake, and all this wet land is now in the hands of non-tribal new settlers. In the nearby village of Pasra, now also on the motor road linking Mulug with Eturnagaram on the banks of the Godavari River, the situation is similar, and new settlers have occupied most of the cultivable land.

Koya villages at some distance from the motor road have fared better. Thus in Kamaram, a village of fifty-two Koya and four toddy-tapper houses, all the Koyas, with the exception of two newcomers, still held their land, and the Koya patwari had even succeeded in acquiring a holding of 30 acres. Some disputes over land between Koyas and non-tribal toddy-tappers were in 1978 still unresolved. Of 350 acres of land in the possession of Koyas, 150 acres were irrigated, 100 acres were used for the cultivation of rain-fed rice, and the rest were under such dry crops as maize and sorghum.

A complete contrast to this situation was provided by the village of Chinnaboyenapalli, a few miles further on the motor road to Eturnagaram. Not long ago this village was a small, purely tribal settlement, but in 1978 I found twenty Koya families outnumbered by eighty non-tribals, most of whom had within the past ten years immigrated from Nalgonda District. They had sold the land they had owned there and with the money obtained land from Koyas of Chinnaboyenapalli for Rs 200–300 per acre, whereas by 1978 the market value of land in the area had risen to Rs 3,000–5,000. Only six of the twenty Koya families had retained all their land. Of the remaining fourteen families, three had sold all their land, six had sold between four-fifths and two-thirds of their land, and five had sold between one-fifth and one-half of their land. The reasons they gave for this depletion of their capital varied from the need to repay loans obtained for such enterprises as the digging of a well to the expenses of a wedding or a funeral, or to the need to meet household expenditures. Inability to cope with the hazards arising from the change-over from a subsistence agriculture to a cash economy seems to be the underlying cause in all these cases of land alienation. The local officers were unable to enforce the law prohibiting the transfer of tribal land because the new settlers had political support and threatened to use force in resisting the implementation of restoration orders.

In two neighbouring villages, Shivapur and Gogpalli, similar conditions prevail, though there the Koyas have retained relatively more of their land, and some decrees for the restoration of tribal land have been carried out. Koyas and non-tribal settlers live there side by side,


and settlers not only employ Koyas as agricultural labourers, but occasionally themselves work for wages on the land of Koyas. Such a situation makes the implementation of land-transfer laws particularly difficult, for politicians favouring the new settlers argue that both communities are of similar economic status, and Koyas should not be given preferential treatment.

In the riverain tract north and south of Eturnagaram, there has been heavy infiltration of settlers from other districts, and the same process can be observed on both banks of the Godavari in Khammam District. As the Godavari is navigable during part of the year, it acted like a road in facilitating the influx of newcomers into the tribal area. Experience has shown that legislation alone is not enough to safeguard the rights of the local tribal population and to stem the advance of settlers backed by influential politicians. Only continuing practical support for tribal communities can give them the strength to resist the pressure of affluent newcomers intent on acquiring tribal land. A few miles upstream from Eturnagaram lies Buttaram, a Koya village which the officers of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) have selected as an object for development work. There the agency has established a "colony" by constructing twenty-eight solidly built living quarters and in addition has provided agricultural advice and improved seeds, as well as distributing on a basis of 50 percent subsidy twenty-five milch buffaloes. The constant attention of officers of the Tribal Welfare Department protected the village against encroachment by non-tribal settlers. In 1978 there were thirty-two Koya families owning on an average two acres of irrigated and one acre of dry land. Though the yield of their fields did not satisfy all their food needs, they could make ends meet by collecting and selling minor forest produce and working occasionally for contractors or landlords in neighbouring villages. The cement houses constructed by the government did not so much improve housing standards as act as a visible sign of official interest in the village and also as a warning to potential land-grabbers. As a matter of fact few Koyas actually lived in the modern houses. Most families built next to the "colony" house a dwelling in traditional Koya style, and used the cement building as a store house for grain and other agricultural produce.

A few minutes' drive brings one from Buttaram to the large village of Rohir, and there the results of a lack of official protection become apparent. Rohir is not a scheduled tribal village, and 35 Koya and 25 Naikpod families are entirely overshadowed by 185 immigrant families belonging to non-tribal communities. Most of the land belongs now to caste Hindus and Harijans, and the Koyas are either entirely landless or own an average of about two acres. Twelve Koya families had cleared the forest on government land and started cultivation, but


in 1967 the same land was assigned to non-tribal landlords resident in Eturnagaram, and these landlords then sold some of this land to Harijan families of the village. This is a common process we have observed also in Adilabad: tribals undertake the heavy work of making wooded land arable, only to be evicted when the covetous eyes of non-tribals are cast on their land and venal officials fall in with the plan to dispossess the tribals.

While in the 1940s there were many purely tribal villages tucked away in the interior of the forests of Warangal, by 1978 one had to go a long way over rough cart tracks to reach any village where Koyas still lived undisturbed by the claims of aggressive outsiders. The streams which throughout the monsoon impede access to such settlements are the last bulwark against the infiltrations of prospective settlers, and every bridge or causeway constructed on such forest tracks constitutes a breach in the natural defenses of the tribals' traditional habitat.

In November 1978, I visited three villages where one could still savour the tranquil atmosphere of a traditional Koya settlement. One of these was Korsela, which I had last seen in 1940. At that time the village consisted of fifteen Koya houses and one household of Madigas, but by 1978 the number of Koya houses had increased to forty-two, not only owing to natural growth but also because some families from less favoured villages had joined their kinsmen in Korsela. A tank recently constructed by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency at a cost of Rs 535,600 provided irrigation for 100 acres and could irrigate 200 acres if the Forest Department would agree to release 100 acres from the Reserved Forest. The houses stood in small clusters in between vegetable plots and rice fields, and a few mahua trees were scattered over the cultivated area. Here the Koyas had nothing to fear from encroachment of outsiders, and in the surrounding forest they could find edible roots and tubers to supplement their food supply. The villagers owned altogether 300 head of cattle, and a few families who had no bullocks used cows for ploughing. There was an ashram school where sixty-five boys from various villages were taught by a Koya teacher.

In Narsampet Taluk, which adjoins Mulug Taluk, the condition of the Koyas has developed on very similar lines. Wherever motorable roads touch previously tribal villages, part of the land has been occupied by advanced Hindu castes and in some cases also by Banjaras. Much of this immigration occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. The village of Sitanagaram provides a good example for this process. Here as elsewhere Koyas were the original inhabitants, whose forefathers had cleared the land of forest growth and established cultivation. Some time in the days of the Nizam's government, a Muslim by name of Abdul Aziz was granted a maqta for the whole village. He did not


reside in the locality and left the Koyas in possession, charging only a moderate rent. After the break-up of Hyderabad State the owner of the maqta estate was approached by Reddis and Telegas from other parts of Warangal District who offered to purchase parts of his land in Sitanagaram, and he agreed to the sale regardless of the fact that Koyas had been in occupation for at least three generations. However, some of the Koyas, too, offered to buy some of the land they were cultivating, and they borrowed money to raise the purchase price. They did not realize, and the local revenue officials certainly did not tell them, that according to the law they were shikmedar , i.e. shareholders, and could have obtained patta free of cost if they had applied for them. In the end they could not repay the debts they had incurred to buy the land, and had to sell it to Reddis in order to pay off their loans. The result of all these largely illegal transactions was that by 1978 forty-four Koya families held only 53 acres out of a total of 1,240 acres, and that sixty-two Reddi families, thirty Telega families, and a number of other non-tribals cultivated the bulk of the land. Though the village is notified as a tribal village, the complication of the one-time existence of a maqta gave the non-tribals the possibility of contesting the Koyas' right to claim restoration of the land according to the Land Transfer Act.

In the nearby village of Chinnayelapuram the position of the Koyas was even more unfavourable. Their forefathers, too, had made the land arable, but within the past twenty years, i.e. at a time when the Hyderabad Tribal Areas Regulation and subsequently the Andhra Land Transfer Act were in force, Gollas occupied most of the land, and in 1978 there were only eight Koya families left, each of whom owned about half an acre of land.

Only in the interior of Narsampet Taluk, in villages far from motorable roads, have the Koyas been able to retain their land and their independence. In such villages as Madagudem and Gangaram, close to the borders of Yellandu Taluk of Khammam District, the Koyas hold virtually all the land. Their large and well-built houses reflect a prosperity such as most tribals used to enjoy before the invasion of settlers from other regions deprived them of their ancestral land. It is their misfortune that plans are afoot to link Pakhal with Yellandu by a motor road cutting right through the tribal area and undoubtedly bringing in its wake the petty traders, moneylenders, and land-grabbers who in other parts of the district have established themselves along all motorable roads.

The examples chosen from a cross-section of villages which I revisited in 1978 show that, despite stringent rules prohibiting the transfer of land from tribals to non-tribals, alienation of tribal land has progressed at an alarming rate. This development is all the more sur-


prising as administrative machinery for the restoration of alienated tribal land was established at the same time as in Adilabad District. A special deputy collector (tribal welfare) is in charge of these protective measures, and is assisted in each of the taluks of Mulug and Narsampet by a deputy tahsildar . But official figures on the alienation and restoration of land tell their own story about the effectiveness of the legislation and the machinery for its implementation. According to the information available up to November 1975, about 5,025 non-tribals were illegally holding 32,790 acres in scheduled areas by the alienation of tribal land. In 1,924 cases enquiries were initiated under section 3(2) of the Land Transfer Regulation, covering an area of 3,244 acres, and about 1,494 cases involving 2,358 acres were disposed in favour of tribals, yet only 1,313 acres were actually restored to tribals. The reasons for the failure to protect and restore tribal land are basically the same as in Adilabad, i.e. lacunae in the legislation and the imprecise drafting of the orders regarding the transition from the Hyderabad Tribal Areas Regulation to the Andhra Pradesh (Scheduled Areas) Land Transfer Regulation, lack of zeal on the part of some of the officials entrusted with the implementation of the regulations, and above all frequent interference by politicians and particularly members of the Legislative Assembly supporting non-tribals against tribals ousted from their land.

The Land Problem in Khammam District

In the areas adjoining Narsampet Taluk to the south, the position of Koyas and Naikpods is very similar to that of the tribals of Warangal District. In the villages close to the main motorable roads, Koyas have retained little of their land, but in the forest areas of Yellandu Taluk there are still villages with a majority of Koyas who own the land they cultivate. In 1977 I visited Gundela for the first time since 1940. The composition which I had noted then had remained much the same, with Muslims, Komtis, Ayars, Gaondlas, and service castes occupying the main village and Koyas living in the surrounding hamlets. The number of non-tribals had considerably increased, and a Komti had built a pretentious masonry house with two towers. Much of the village land was in the hands of non-tribals, who employed Koyas as agricultural labourers, but many of the Koyas in the hamlets also had land of their own.

In the southern part of Khammam District, roughly between Paloncha and Ashwaraopet, there is also a mixture of Koya settlements and the villages of non-tribals. The ability of the Koyas to retain their


land stands in inverse relation to the accessibility of their villages. Where there are no or only recently constructed motorable roads, one still finds Koya villages where all, or nearly all, the land is in tribal hands.

A totally different situation prevails in the villages on the banks of the Godavari. Whereas before 1947 only the right bank belonged to Hyderabad State and the left bank formed part of the Agency Tracts of Madras Presidency, now both sides of the river are comprised in Khammam District. Originally the entire riverain region was inhabited mainly by tribals, though the small temple town of Bhadrachallam has long had a population of Brahmins and merchants.

Within the past thirty years, however, the character of the riverbank villages has been completely transformed. The alluvial soil found there is ideally suited for the cultivation of tobacco and chillies, two commercial crops yielding very high profits. In 1977 an acre under either tobacco or chillies could yield a crop worth Rs 3,000–4,000, and the labour charges were only about Rs 1,000. The prospect of such profits, far greater than those attainable by the cultivation of food crops, attracted many people from the coastal districts, such as Guntur, Krishna, and West Godavari. They came with some capital, and succeeded easily in securing the land of Koya villagers who had used the land for subsistence farming, growing food crops rather than tobacco and chillies. The Land Transfer Act of 1917 stood in the way of outright purchases, but did not prevent the leasing of tribal land, and leases often turned into permanent occupation by non-tribals.

Most of the riverside villages between Bhadrachallam and Kunavaram are now inhabited almost entirely by non-tribals, the original Koya inhabitants having withdrawn away from the river. But in the vicinity of Kunavaram the process of land alienation can still be observed. In Repaka, for instance, a village some ten kilometers inland from Kunavaram, nearly all of the 125 householders are Koyas, but 30 percent of the land is leased to non-tribals. The largest leaseholder is a Muslim who cultivates sixty acres. In the late 1960s he came as a penniless pedlar to Kunavaram, where he opened a small grocery shop and sold goods to tribals on credit. By 1977 he had become rich, and had built a two-storeyed house in Kunavaram, part of which was—ironically—rented by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency. His self-assurance and arrogance were so great that he publicly reproached the block development officer for having taken me to Repaka, where I had collected information on the land problem.

The process of land alienation has also affected Arkuru, a village of 187 Koya and 3 non-tribal households. There 40 percent of the land was cultivated on lease by non-tribals residing in Kunavaram. There I


Thrashing paddy with bullocks in a Koya village in the Godavari Valley; 
the palmyra palms are used for tapping palm wine, and their leaves are 
used for thatching.

talked to the Koya headman and his educated young son, the former in a loin-cloth (langoti ), the latter in a pair of smart trousers and a patterned shirt. "Until ten years ago," said the headman, "when the first newcomers began to take land on lease, none of the people of this village had to borrow money. Our needs were modest and easily satisfied by what we grew on our fields. But now people want all sorts of new things which the men from the coastal districts have introduced, and so they lease out their land for cash, getting an annual rent of Rs 300 per acre."

Downstream from Kunavaram are the Godavari gorges, an area which I described in my book The Reddis of the Bison Hills . There the riverbank villages are accessible only on foot or by boat, and in 1941 the population was almost exclusively tribal. Some villages were inhabited only by Konda Reddis, while in others Konda Reddis and Koyas lived side by side. They cultivated the hill slopes by the slash-and-burn method—which will be discussed presently—but used ploughs for the cultivation of the flat land close to the Godavari, and on this they grew mainly sorghum and pulses.

One of the villages with a good deal of fertile flat land between the riverbank and the wooded hill slopes is Koida. Here the land was owned by Reddis and Koyas who were also engaged in bamboo cutting for wages. In 1946 the Social Service Department established a


Koyas of the Godavari region at a weekly market, where they barter agricultural 
produce for commodities such as salt, kerosene, cloth, and metal implements.

bamboo-felling cooperative society, which also ran a shop to supply the tribal members with their basic necessities. But after the winding up of this society in 1962 (see chapter 4), the Reddis and Koyas worked for the agents of the Sirpur Paper Mills, who had taken a contract for the exploitation of forest coups (i.e. specific areas of bamboo forest demarcated for felling).

Up to then contractors and merchants had not been interested in acquiring land, but in the late 1950s a man from the coastal area, Kodiala Venkatswami, came to Koida and established a liquor shop. Soon Reddis and Koyas got into the habit of consuming distilled liquor, while previously they had drunk only palm wine. The shopkeeper supplied liquor on credit, and soon many of the tribesmen were indebted to him, and one by one mortgaged their land. K. Venkatswami was then joined by his brother-in-law and several other relations, and by 1977 forty families of non-tribals, mostly from the coastal area, had settled in Koida. They occupied the greater part of the land, some cultivating as much as forty acres, whereas most Reddis and Koyas were left only with small plots of one or two acres. The non-tribal settlers supplied them with grain at exorbitant rates of interest. Thus a man borrowing one bag of millet during the rains, which is a lean season because there is no work in the bamboo coups, had to return two bags after the harvest. If a Reddi could not repay a


debt, the merchants took away his cattle or attached his land.

It is not surprising that the tribals got deeper and deeper into debt and that more and more land passed into the hands of the non-tribal settlers. Throughout this process the revenue and police officials supported the merchants, and the dominant man among the settlers was appointed as police patel , displacing the previous tribal incumbent. Even funds allocated by the Tribal Welfare Department were diverted to the use of the non-tribals. Thus a well constructed with tribal money was situated in such a way that it irrigated only the tobacco field of the non-tribal patel . The merchants' power is so great that when accompanied by an officer of the Tribal Research Institute I collected information on the economic position of the Reddis and Koyas, they threatened to cut off supplies of grain from all those tribals who had given us information.

It seems that all the gains achieved by the Social Service Department in the 1940s and 1950s have been lost and that the tribesmen have slipped back into a bondage as oppressive as that which I described in some detail in The Reddis of the Bison Hills and Tribal Hyderabad . But at that time this region was extremely difficult of access and moreover was situated in the Samasthan of Paloncha, and hence not under the direct control of the Nizam's government, which had remained ignorant of the tribals' plight but hastened to take remedial action when alerted by my reports. Now, the exploitation and tyranny of non-tribal settlers, whose occupation of tribal land is clearly in breach of protective laws, occurs under the eyes of the local officials and largely with their connivance, exemplified by the appointment of the chief exploiter as police patel of Koida.

Yet the picture is not one of unrelieved gloom. In Katkur, a village within an hour's walk from Koida, the Reddis freed themselves from the dominance of an outsider by their own efforts. There over one hundred acres of their land had been acquired by an immigrant Muslim, who leased the fields suitable for the cultivation of tobacco and chillies for as little as Rs 100-150 per acre, mainly from people indebted to him. Inspired by a tribal leader (and subsequent member of the Legislative Assembly) from the left bank of the Godavari, the Reddis of Katkur revolted against the Muslim landlord and forcibly occupied the land he had unfairly taken from them. In this case the special deputy collector supported this act of self-help and formally restored the land to its rightful owners.

The position of the Konda Reddis in the Godavari Valley as well as in other areas is the subject of a separate case study contained in chapter 10, and a further detailed discussion is therefore redundant.


The Problem of Shifting Cultivation

There are many areas in Andhra Pradesh, as indeed in other parts of India, where the terrain offers little scope for agriculture other than shifting cultivation on hill slopes. This type of tillage, also known to anthropologists as slash-and-burn, or swidden, cultivation, is described in Telugu as podu , a term equivalent to bewar in the usage of Madhya Pradesh and jhum in that of Northeast India.

Several tribes of Andhra Pradesh were traditionally podu cultivators, and it is only in the last fifty years that considerations of forest conservancy led to various measures aimed at the restriction or total elimination of podu . In Adilabad District podu was practised as late as the 1950s by Kolams and Naikpods, but has now been completely suppressed. In the districts of Khammam, West Godavari, East Godavari, Vishakapatnam, and Srikakulam, however, slash-and-burn cultivation is still the main method of tillage of a number of tribal communities and is carried on side by side with plough cultivation wherever tribals are in a state of transition between the two systems. In the hills on the border between Khammam and West Godavari, there are communities of Konda Reddis who practise podu as their only type of cultivation and whose manner of land use has hardly changed during the past thirty-eight years. Two villages typical for their traditional podu cultivation are Gogulapudi and Motagudum, both of which I visited in 1941 as well as in 1979.

The system prevailing in 1941 is described in detail in The Reddis of the Bison Hills (pp. 79–85), and this description applies largely to present conditions also. However, there is one difference. Referring to the practice in the 1940s I mentioned that a Reddi seldom simultaneously worked fields cleared in different years, but that he usually cultivated a field adequate for his needs for one, two, or even three successive years, according to the fertility of the soil, and then abandoned it altogether and cleared a new podu . In 1979 the area open to the people of Gogulapudi had been limited by the forest officials, who allowed them to clear the forest on the hill slopes to one side of the village, but not to the other. Hence the Reddis had adjusted their cycle of rotation and cultivated each year a piece of old podu as well as a newly cleared plot. Thus a man would every year abandon a plot after two years of cultivation, continue to cultivate on the area cleared the year before, and cut the forest on a part of the hill slope adjoining that cleared the previous year. Wherever possible all these plots were adjoining, and only when such a sequence of clearings on one hill slope was completed would a man return to another slope where the forest had


grown up sufficiently since the land had last been tilled. As long as a man resided in the village, his right to re-occupy land last cultivated by him would not be contested by any other villager. Thus certain individual claims to land were recognized, though parts of the village land not recently cultivated by men still living in the village were regarded as common property which anyone was free to clear subject, of course, to new restrictions imposed by forest officials. On an average every householder had a total of about two acres of old and new podu under cultivation, and from this he could expect an average yield of about eight quintals of grain of various kinds, mainly sorghum and small millets as well as some pulses, all sown as mixed crops. (See also chapter 10.)

In East Godavari District the areas under slash-and-burn cultivation are far larger, and, particularly in the hills of Chodavaram Taluk north of Maredumilli, podu is the predominant form of tillage. Restrictions imposed by forest officials are here not very rigorous, and, particularly in villages where no or very little level land is available for cultivation, it is clearly impracticable to forbid podu . Whereas the Reddis of the Godavari region use only digging sticks for the cultivation of their podu , in Chodavaram the Reddis dig over their podu with iron hoes.

Thirty years ago most villagers had only podu fields and did not use ploughs, but within the past ten to fifteen years many Reddis prepared paddy fields and began using ploughs. It was mainly the muttadar , hereditary chieftains recently deprived of their special status as collectors of revenue (see chapter 6), and some of the village headmen who developed flat land near their villages as paddy fields, usually rain-fed but in some cases also irrigated by hill streams. They had the advantage of already possessing cattle, even though the yoking of bullocks to the plough was new to them. In Perikivalasa of the Mohanpuram mutta , for instance, there were only podu fields in 1941, but by 1979 flat land had been cleared of forest and used for rice cultivation. The villagers said that in the old days they reaped sufficient grain on their podu fields because land was plentiful and they could cultivate as much as they liked, growing mainly small millets and oilseeds, whereas nowadays they grow paddy for their own consumption and castor to sell for cash.

The cultivation of paddy was not introduced by any outside agency, but with the improvement of communications Reddis became used to visiting markets at Chodavaram and Addatigala, and there they became familiar with the sight of paddy fields and ploughs drawn by oxen.

Wherever the terrain lends itself to the cultivation of rice and hill streams facilitate irrigation, the transition to such permanent cultivation relieves the pressure on land used for podu . Such pressure has


arisen where the Forest Department has claimed large parts of the land for plantations of commercial species, such as teak or eucalyptus, but a shortage of land has also come about in certain hill villages owing to the natural growth of population. An example of the latter situation is provided by the village of Kanivada. When I visited this village in 1941 I remarked that "a growing though by no means serious pressure on land has brought about the curtailment of the individual's freedom in the choice of cultivable land. Here the consent of the headman must be sought before a piece of jungle is taken under the axe" (The Reddis of the Bison Hills , p. 79). By 1979 the village had grown from thirty-five to eighty houses, and the shortage of land had become serious. There was no possibility of extending the boundaries of the village land into areas still well wooded, and the villagers complained that even timber for building houses was no longer easy to obtain. Such examples demonstrate the limitations of slash-and-burn cultivation, which is a system of land utilization practicable only where small populations have access to large forest areas.

The argument, often put forward by forest officials, that podu cultivation is inherently wasteful and detrimental to the preservation of forests is nevertheless not without flaws. In the areas inhabited for centuries if not millennia by shifting cultivators, there are some of the largest natural forests, whereas the expansion of intensive plough cultivation has nearly everywhere led to a disappearance of forests. This becomes obvious in many parts of Andhra Pradesh. In Adilabad, where Kolams and Naikpods were practising podu cultivation and even the plough-cultivating Gonds frequently shifted their fields and then allowed forest to grow up on the abandoned land, there were vast stretches of forest as late as the first decades of the twentieth century. The same applies to the tribal areas of Warangal and Khammam, and in East Godavari District, the habitat of the podu -cultivating Konda Reddis, there are some of the most extensive areas of natural forest in the whole of Southern India.

The largest areas under podu cultivation to be found in Andhra Pradesh are in Srikakulam District. There most of the hills in the blocks of Sitampeta and Bhadragiri, close to the border of Orissa, are covered with the typical patch-work pattern of current podu , abandoned podu fields, and secondary jungle. The tribals most dependent on podu cultivation are the Saoras, whose small villages lie mainly in the high hills, where level land suitable for plough cultivation is very limited or non-existent. Even very steep slopes are being cleared of jungle growth, and small millets and pulses are broadcast or dibbled in the ashes of the burnt trees and brushwood. As the tree stumps are left standing, there is little erosion. Moreover, some of the stumps sprout again and thus facilitate the growth of secondary jungle after the podu


has been abandoned. Even slopes covered in rubble are used for cultivation, the crops being dibbled in between the stones, which are said to protect the soil from the heat of the sun and thus help to preserve moisture. Saoras usually cultivate a podu field for two years and then allow it to remain fallow for several years. Yet the period of fallow is sometimes no more than three years, and it is surprising that so short a cycle of rotation is sufficient to retain the fertility of the soil.

Wherever suitable terrain and sources of water make rice cultivation possible, Saoras construct irrigated terraces, and though podu seems to be the traditional basis of Saora agriculture, some Saoras evince considerable skill in the construction and maintenance of terrace-fields. The combination of slash-and-burn cultivation with the raising of rice on irrigated terrace-fields reminds one of the agricultural system of the Bondos of nearby Orissa, like the Saoras a Munda-speaking people.

The Saoras share their habitat with the Jatapus, the second largest tribal community in Srikakulam District. While in some villages Saoras and Jatapus live side by side, though each community is in a separate street, the Jatapus favour the broader and lower valleys. They hold more flat land than Saoras, and this they till with ploughs and bullocks; yet many Jatapus practise in addition podu cultivation on nearby hill slopes.

The government, which in the past eight years has pursued a very effective policy of tribal rehabilitation, recognizes the part podu is playing in the economy of such tribes as Saoras, Jatapus, and Konda Doras. Relatively small plots have been assigned to tribals on patta on the assumption that the occupiers augment the yields by crops grown on podu fields. Whereas in Adilabad the Forest Department has fought a relentless battle against podu cultivation and ousted innumerable Kolams from the valleys and hills they and their forefathers had inhabited since time immemorial, in Srikakulam only limited areas have been declared reserved forest, and the majority of the hill slopes are open for podu cultivation. Here the government has accepted the fact that the tribesmen have an inherent right to the hills and valleys of their ancient homeland, while in the forest areas of Adilabad the tribals were at best tolerated, but often ruthlessly evicted from land claimed by the Forest Department without regard for the Kolams' long-standing occupation.

To some extent the difference in official attitudes is undoubtedly due to the fact that in Srikakulam the tribesmen, instigated and led by Naxalite revolutionaries, had risen in armed revolt against oppression by outsiders, whereas the tribesmen of Adilabad are now too cowed and docile to take up arms in defense of their rights.


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