Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Custard Apples and Denotified tribals


Every year approximately during august, I used to make rounds of a small park approximately 2Km from my house. I was waiting for the banjaras or lambadas, as we called them. These were people of a nomadic tribe. They would sell custard apple very similar to how it is portrayed in the picture above. It was always worth waiting, as the same fruit in the regular local market would have cost more than double their price and when you count the haggling you could do with them, the cost benefit was even more stark.

I learned about that time that custard people was not a fruit grown as crops and these banjaras would go into the forest and get it from there. It was also around that time when I was regularly going around trips of about 100 Km from Hyderabad. I used to see that there were rows of these bullock carts of lambadas carrying custard apple which were being taken to the city. These lambadas would come to the city for 2-3 days selling the fruit and then moving on to their next location.

An activity which they have probably been doing since centuries. It was only yesterday that I learnt they were part of the "criminal tribes" of the colonial British empire. However this was not my first interaction with these "type" of tribes. Many tribes which refused to bow to the British authority or were nomadic and thus were considered "uncivilized", were entered into a list and notified in 1871 as "criminal tribes". The corrupt police started using this as an excuse and started pushing more and more unsolved crimes on to them. This created a social stigma for these tribes. Upon attaining Independence, this act was withdrawn and these tribes were "denotified". Unfortunately the attitudes persisted.

My first interaction with these tribes was during my college days, when one of my professors showed us a street play. It was played by members of these tribes which tried to show police brutality towards them. The reality and the stigma attached to these tribes sunk into me, two months later when the lead artist of the troupe was arrested!!

I am sorry to inform that I have no idea of what happened next. All I know was, that professor worked hard for his release, though I seem to remember a faint rumor of the lead artiste dying within 2 months from this incident.