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Author: Site Administrator
Article Category: Community, Opinions
  Published on Nov 03, 2003 : 11:34:12 PM
by Dharmalingam Venugopal

Are the Badagas a Scheduled Tribe? This has been a contentious as well as a controversial question. A recent report in the Indian Express brought the issue to the fore again. Following the letter is Prof. Paul Hockings rebuttal which provides a perspective to the touchy issue. But unfortunately the Indian Express did not carry his rebuttal. Finally, I have given my views which should hopefully put an end to wasteful bickering among the Badagas on the subject and lead to meaningful action. The Indian Express carried an edited version of my letter.

Union Government Move Leaves Badagas Angry - Indian Express, Coimbatore Edition, November 1, 1999, by R. Haldorai.

Udhagamandalam, Oct 31: The decision of the Union Government to include Badagas in the Backward Class list has shocked them since they were promised to be included in the Tribals list.

Badagas, the single largest community existing only in the Nilgiris hill district, have been demanding every successive Central Government to take steps to include them in the Tribals list. The Government has approved 116 communities, including Badagas and Thorayas (also from Nilgiris district) from 17 States for inclusion in the Backward Class list making them eligible to avail 27 per cent reservation in Central Government jobs.

What has come as a surprise is that the community figures in the list recommended by the Mandal Commission as early as 1991 during Janata Dal regime led by former prime minister V P Singh. Since then a sizable number of Badagas were recruited and are employed in various departments. This being the case, the Union Government is reportedly modifying the old list to bring it in the form of a Bill for legislation.

One of the reasons for the confusion on the part of the Government is due to the fact that the origin of Badagas has been disputed by noted authors like Proof Paul Hakkings. This may have influenced the Government from including the community in the Scheduled Tribe list.

Prof T M Kullan, retired Principal of the Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam and a senior leader of the Badagas and Mr. H N Kalla Gowder, president of the Nilgiris chapter of Tribal Badagas are the original sons of the Nilgiris soil and their customs and traditions are unique.

Solidarity, claimed that the book on 'Ancient Hindu Refugees' written by Paul Hakkings has been taken into account by the Government before branding Badagas as refugees. The blatant lie mentioned in the book has been referred to in the Nilgiris District Gazetteer of 1995 with the intention of singling out the community for harsh treatment, they alleged.

The author is neither a research scholar, an anthropologist nor a sociologist. He is a mere fiction writer. Commercial writings cannot be a guiding factor to form an opinion on the genesis of a community. Badagas are the original sons of the Nilgiris soil and their customs and traditions are unique, they claimed.

They brushed aside the common belief that the Badagas have migrated from Mysore. It is a totally wrong notion. Nilgiris was an integral part of a series of empires which ruled Mysore from time immemorial and they were the loyal subjects of those dynasties.

After the Mysore war in 1779, the treaty of Srirangapattinam was signed recognizing the British hold over Mysore State. This paved the way for the separation of Nilgiris from Mysore and its amalgamation with the Madras Presidency due to geographical and administrative reasons. Even after Independence, Nilgiris remained with Tamilnadu. Hence, there is no question of Badagas being refugees, the leaders said.

Even Ootacamund and Coonoor are Badaga names. Coonoor was a Badaga hamlet and due to increasing disturbance, it was shifted to the present spot,. which was earlier known as Kodamale, they said.

Prof. Paul Hockings's Reply to the Indian Express article

Dear Sir, Your recent article, Union Government Move Leaves Badagas Angry, by R. Haldorai (Coimbatore edition, Nov. 1), is so full of inaccuracies that one hardly knows where to begin in trying to correct it: perhaps with my name, which is certainly not Hakkings even though I am indeed the author of Ancient Hindu Refugees, a book that is the only available social history of the Badagas of the Nilgiri Hills. It is certainly not fictional nor even commercial in a popular sense.

So perhaps I should start by correcting what I know about myself. Far from being a fiction writer, I have never published any fiction in my life. I am a fully trained, professional anthropologist with a Ph.D. in that subject from the University of California. Moreover, I have been teaching anthropology constantly at two major universities for the past 35 years. More pertinently for your correspondent, R. Haldorai, is the fact that I am the author of numerous academic articles on the Badagas as well as five books devoted to them and a sixth which is the definitive Bibliography of the Nilgiris District. No other person has ever published as much material on the Badagas, or done so many years of field research on their language and culture.

Whether one looks at the facts from the point of view of legend or from historical linguistics, the only available evidence (summarized in the above-mentioned book) leads to the conclusion that the Badagas were refugees, or migrants if you prefer, from villages of southern Mysore at the end of the 16th and early 17th centuries. An Italian priest who visited the Nilgiris in 1603 states in his still-extant report that there were three Badaga villages then. Since that time the number has burgeoned, and today amounts to 463 villages and hamlets. The suggestion that the Badagas have always lived on the Nilgiris is ludicrous, given that elderly informants have themselves told me time and again not just that their ancestors came to the Hills from the Mysore Plain, but actually which villages they originally hailed from. So far as we can tell, Badagas have been on these hills for about four centuries, and they are not even mentioned in the ancient legends of other local tribes, which speak only of relations between Todas, Kotas and Kurumbas.

Your correspondent's statement that Ootacamund and Coonoor are Badaga names is also partially incorrect: Coonoor is certainly Badaga, but Ootacamund is not. It is in fact the only town name in India that the British borrowed directly from Toda, meaning one stone hamlet in their Dravidian language. The Badaga name which was derived from this is Hotege or Ottekalmandu. (And incidentally, there was never any mandalam there either.)

As to whether the Badagas should be treated as a tribe at this time or not, I would suggest that tribes are not timeless social entities. The Badaga refugees in the 17th century modeled their social organization on that of the Toda tribe, and thus became the only example in Indian society of formerly caste people who became tribe-like in order to fit in with the other Nilgiri tribes. I am not alone in suggesting that their status should be that of a Scheduled Tribe. It is interesting to note that in K.S. Singh's authoritative The Scheduled Tribes, published in 1994 by the Anthropological Survey of India, the Badagas are referred to in passing as one of the four Nilgiri tribes- though of course they are not dealt with in detail in that book because they are not classified as a Scheduled Tribe.

Going much further back in time, one finds that the Census of India, in its Madras volumes for 1911, 1921 and 1931, referred to them as a tribe too. It was only in the 1971 Census that it was claimed for the first time that Badaga is considered to be a dialect of Kannada in the Kannada, Badaga and Kodagu Sub-group of the Dravidian family. Dialect or not, a total of 104,392 Badaga speakers was still published. But in 1981 the Badagas simply disappeared from the national census, their numbers having been absorbed into the much vaster numbers of Kannada speakers!

This decision of the Census officials to treat Badagas as a dialect could certainly not have been based on anything in my book Ancient Hindu Refugees, for that book only appeared at the end of 1980.

So, in conclusion, the only blatant lie we are looking at here is the suggestion that my book could possibly have had the intention of singling out the Badaga community for harsh treatment, as your correspondent suggests. In fact, I would agree that Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi should indeed take up the issue of Scheduled Tribe status with the Centre, and the Census of India should begin enumerating the Badaga community once more.

Paul Hockings
Professor of Anthropology
University of Illinois, Chicago

In closing, by Dharmalingam Venugopal

What I think is the Issue and the Action needed.

This has reference to the news item, Union Government Move Leaves Badagas Angry (IE dated Nov 1, Coimbatore edition). Badagas have only themselves to blame if their representation seeking to be declared a Scheduled Tribe has been turned down. Demanding that status is one thing but making a convincing case and successfully lobbying for it is another. In any case, it is plain silly and utter nonsense to make a learned Professor of Anthropology the scapegoat for the failure.

The credit for putting the Badagas in the anthropological map of the world solely goes to Prof. Paul Hockings, whose body of research and writings on the Badagas for over three decades, including a full fledged Badaga-English dictionary, has done more to preserve the Badaga culture and history for posterity than anything else. Prof. Hocking's conclusions are based on the available published material on the Badagas dating back four centuries. However, he has never denied that new archeological or other evidences, if forthcoming, could lead to fresh thinking on the origin of the Badagas. But unfortunately neither Nilgiris nor the antiquity of the Badagas seem to be among the priorities of the government or the Archeological Survey of India. Coming back to Prof. Hockings, the title of his book, Ancient Hindu Refugees was not his but of the publishers who had also quite imaginatively changed the title of another of his book on Badaga medicine from Badaga Therapeutics to Sex and Diseases of a Mountain People!

The refugee or migrant status of a community cannot be the major consideration for it to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes. Such a decision is concerned more with the cultural and social significance of that community along with its economic backwardness. In the case of the Badagas, the uniqueness of their cultural and social life and practices have been too well documented to be disputed. They have always been called a tribe in the past along with the other tribes of the Nilgiris. In fact, not many of the Badagas are aware that but for the good-intentioned objections of some of the leading members of their own community, Badagas would have been included in the Scheduled Tribes list the first time itself when the schedule was prepared in the fifties. Such was the Badaga spirit of self-denial and self-esteem then.

But much water has flowed under the Nilgiri bridges since then. What has now prompted the Badagas to seek the protection of a Scheduled Tribe status is the mounting threats to their culture, society and economy from the unprecedented commercial exploitation of the Nilgiris in the last three decades. No more than 10 to 15% of the Badaga population has benefited from the economic boom. Another 30% are, by and large, self-sufficient, being professionals, teachers and government servants. The rest 50 to 60% are subsistence farmers increasingly being impoverished by the diminishing income from their land. The fact that the caring-and-sharing Badaga social system does not give room for extreme poverty or privation should not weaken their case for economic help and cultural protection.

There could also be an indirect pay-off to the state government if the Badagas are declared a scheduled tribe. The representation from the state in the annual selection of candidates to the all-India administrative services has been getting fewer and fewer every year raising serious concern. Badaga students who are generally studious, hard working and God-fearing could safely guarantee around ten to fifteen seats in the various services if the concessions of a scheduled tribe are extended to them. The Government of Tamil Nadu would do well to think about it.

If the Badagas are determined that their community should be declared a Scheduled Tribe, which they fairly deserve, let them go about it in a professional manner. First, let them prepare a strong case, by hired professionals if need be, based on the vast material available on the subject, notably those collected by Prof. Hockings. Secondly, let them make a visual documentary, again by professionals, of their unique way of life- their culture, religion, music, dance, homes, dress etc. Let them, then, launch a sustained campaign and lobby with the state and central governments till their case gets a due and proper hearing. Both the Nilgiris parliamentary constituency and the Ooty assembly constituency are represented by leading Badagas and part of the ruling national coalition. Let them lead the campaign. Are you listening, brothers?

Dharmalingam Venugopal
Flat F, 13/F, Cathey Mansion,
7, Tung Lo Wan Road
Causeway Bay Road,
Hong Kong


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