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#1. What is Gondwana: Central Provinces and Berar along with parts of (now) North Telangana were once known as ‘Gondwana’. Other than several tribal autonomous territories, four major Gond Kingdoms ruled over this region- Garha Mandala (1300 AD to 1789 AD), Deogarh (1590 AD to 1796 AD), Chanda (1200AD to 1751 AD), and Kherla (1500 AD to 1600 AD). The region comprised of many tribes like, Koya, Pardhan, Baiga etc. who consider it as their ancestral land, and share a common history, culture and language.
#2. Early Movements: The demand for Gondwana state emerged during early 40s. It was a result of cultural movement that started in 1916 due to intrusion of Hinduism into tribe’s culture and land. In Gond Mahasabha assembly of 1945, it was asked “what is going to be the benefit of this independence? Even if India gets independence, Christians will leave, but the colonizers of our culture, traditions, and property – ‘Hindus’ will stay right here and will keep ripping us off.” Clearly, the proposed ‘creation’ of India brought skepticism among tribal leaders about the future of their community and land.
#3. Initial Political Mobilization: Kurma Bhimu of Adilabad was the first who demanded a Gond Raj in 1941. Similarly, Narain Singh Uikey, President of the Gondwana Adivasi Seva Mandal, reiterated demand for formation of a Gondwana State, consisting of Gond and tribal regions of Chhattisgarh and the contiguous districts of Vidarbha in Maharashtra, to protect them against exploitation. Another political movement among Gonds was started by Gond Raja of Chanda called Veedikar Gond Samaj Seva Samiti, the movement reached its zenith in 1946. The professed aim of this movement was to unite as many as forty-one categories of tribal groups comprising the Gond, Bhil, Kolam, Baiga, Khond, Pardhans etc; in short all those aboriginals who follow the dharma commonly practiced and the Dev worshipped by Gonds.
#4. Kangla Majhi’s movement: A lower strata movement led by Hira Singh developed in the late 1950s. Durg was centre of his activities in 1948, and he founded Adibasi Kalyan Samiti to promote the welfare of the Gond people in their homeland now split between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Manjhi reiterated demand for formation of Gondwana state and later declared formation of Gondwana Raj, which would solve the problems of the forty lakh tribals of Central India. He acquired a considerable following and mobilized as many as 100,000 tribals in the region. Manjhi and some of his followers were taken into custody for their activities and later only were acquitted in 1962, the movement soon came to an end afterwards.
#5. Unjust ‘States Reorganisation Act, 1956’: Regardless of continuous demands, government neglected Gondwana region at the time of reorganization of states in 1956. It was argued that demand was rejected on linguistic grounds, since Gondi was not a ‘standardized’ language, which was absurd since Madhya Pradesh was carved out with no linguistic homogeneity. Raja Shyamlal Shah of Panabaras, Rajnandgaon (now in Chhattisgarh) Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh presented the demand for creation for Gondwana state to the then Prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The request was turned down by Nehru and Shyamlal resigned.
#6. Post-60s struggle: While state knew presence of abundant ‘natural resources/minerals’ in the region, it’s unwillingness to give political autonomy to an Indigenous tribe became clearer. In years ahead, Indian economy was built on these resources. After continuous rejection of state demand, Gond leaders again demanded the formation of separate state. In a memorandum submitted before the States Reorganization Commission, on 9 May 1963, the Gond leader Narain Singh Uikey, President of Gondwana Adivasi Seva Mandal demanded the formation of separate state for Adivasis to be carved out of the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh and the contiguous districts of Rewa region and Vidarbh.
#7. Formation of Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP): By the time, it was realized that probably the lack of a formal political organization (like Jharkhand Movement) had been a weakness of demand for state autonomy. Therefore after initial mobilization during 80s, GGP was formed in 1991 by Hira Singh Markam and Kausalya Portey. One of the prominent manifestation of GGP was to work towards the creation of a separate ‘Gondwana State’ comprising of the Gonds ancestral territory. In recent years, Janata Dal (United) support for a separate Gondwana state and Sharad Yadav’s affirmed co-operation for the cause has given a positive sign. On similar lines, P A Sangma’s National People’s Party has come forward to join hands with GGP.
#8. Rationale behind the demand: It can be said that Gondwana state demand was overlooked mainly because of absence of support from ruling class/caste at the Centre. While the demand was initially based on the ‘autonomous control over tribe’s territory’. Present demands also include points such as existence of shared history, cultural homogeneity and linguistic similarities. The demand is also meant to challenge states’ colonial expansion into tribe’s territory that has posed serious threats to their identity and culture, at the same time, deprived them off from all social, economic and political rights that they once enjoyed.
#9. Creation of Chhattisgarh: When Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal were carved out in November 2000, it was a major setback to Gondwana movement. Demand for Chhattisgarh state was first raised by Indian national congress in 1924 and then in 1955 (NOT for tribal autonomy). In 1994 Congress ruling Madhya Pradesh assembly tabled a resolution for demanding separate Chhattisgarh state, than in 1998 BJP led Union government drafted the bill and both were unanimously approved by Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. BJP and Congress both conveniently used it for vote bank and finally in 2000, under NDA government Lok Sabha passed the bill for a separate Chhattisgarh. Creation of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh provided a clear explanation of how, regardless of not being a ‘people’s movement’ but an ‘upper caste’ party led movement, succeeded in its political aspirations. At the same time, this separatist demand found space in national political discourse, while almost a century old Gondwana state demand led by Adivasis, hasn’t even been able to be a point of discussion in assemblies.
#10. Challenges ahead: Unlike Gondwana movement, Jharkhand and Telangana movement were successful in their objectives also because they were confined to one territory. While demand for Gondwana state is still scattered across four states and lacks the required political mobilization and solidarity. Moreover, six decades of existence in these ‘alien’ states has weakened the idea of Gondwana. But, in last 20 years, these demands have become more and more visible due to increasing consciousness of identity throughout central India with the help of organizations like Gondwana Mahasabha, Gondwana Girijana Sankshema Parishad, Mahila Mandal, Gondwana Gantantra Party etc. As well as social media, providing a space for people of Gondwana across states to interact and idea of Gondwana is becoming prominent. Even though as of now these demands seem fragmented. It is hoped that ongoing Standardization of Gondi would help in bridging gap within the tribe and would be a boon for the movement ahead.
Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia, Central Province and Berar
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