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Home > British Colonial Rule > How The British Colonial Rule Created The ‘Criminal Tribes’ In India | C Surendranath | Thuggs

How The British Colonial Rule Created The ‘Criminal Tribes’ In India | C Surendranath | Thuggs

In terms of infrastructure, the model which very often worked was, where the local infrastructure was largely funded, managed locally. So, for example, if you had, Professor Bajaj has done a lot of work on traditional waterworks on one very important factor in an agrarian economy is water, especially where we large parts of the country gets rains only in a part of the year and the rest of the year you have to survive with either on the basis of perennial river. If you are on the banks of a perennial river like the Godavari or the Kaveri you are doing well. But very few parts of the country actually had, were co-situated with the, with a perennial river like that. There were parts of the country which had to do without a perennial river where the irrigation was rain-fed and through tanks. And there Professor Bajaj has gone out into the villages of North-Tamil Nadu and there is a very evolved system of local self-governance for water, managing water.

So, when the British came, in terms of things like policing, was very, was ultra local. Policing was ultra-local, water management was ultra-local, the focus for water management would probably be about five to six villages which congregated around a tank or five to six villages were, which were along the banks of a river and which would talk about how they would share the canals and how they would share the water between themselves. And Professor Bajaj talks about a man, a certain man who had a hereditary function. He was called the Khambamgatti, in Tamil it means, Khambam means pole and he Katti means, he ties a pole. So this man would tie a pole and he had this thing, he had a kind of system of locks by which would release water to a specific village at specific points in time and another village, it’s another point in time. And this man was lived away from all of these villages and since this man lived away from all of the villages, it was assumed that he was an untouchable and they were later categorized into the, one of the Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu.

But actually, this man was a very powerful man, because he controlled the water works for four or five villages and since he had to be neutral, he was not part of any village, he was in the middle of all of these villages. So he was neutral and whenever there was any dispute between villages, even if it is not related to waterworks, they used to come to this man, because he was independent of the villages. Same way as the Brahmin communities used to live outside the village, in the Agrahara. And in the Agrahara, because they were not related to any village, people used to come here, for you know arbitration, because these people were seen as neutral. Same way this Khambamgatti, this mas later was put into a dalit community, that man was seen as neutral and people of the village would come to him for arbitration.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that a lot of the arbitration, water management, policing was hyper local. There was another system, whereby you know, there was a community called the Kalar, Piramayikalar, who had the responsibility in a few palayams or states or small microstates, regions. They had responsibility for local police. So the principle was that the village a gives a part of the produce of the collected produce, which would be collected as revenue for the temple or local temple or for the local village assembly, a part of the produce was given to this man. It was hereditary function and the family got a part of the villager’s produce and their job was to be guard, guard of the village. Guard, as in the policeman for the village and the principle was that if a particular property was lost, the man was given three days to recover the property, failing which a portion of the property’s value would be recovered from his share of the villager’s revenue.

So, when the British came they said we will give you police station, they said we already have this person to take care of our things. And they said, this man, I just need to go and tell him and usually the network among this community, they were all part of the same community and there’s network among people in the surrounding, you know 20-30 villages was so good, that a thief, I mean in those days a thief could either run or walk or take a bullock cart or whatever. If we took a bullock cart you would be seen, if you rode a horse, so he would be seen, so he would be noticed immediately. So, a thief had to run, so how far can he run within 2 or 3 days he would probably go five villages away or six villages away and the network would usually catch up with him and he would be brought back.

So, these people said, we had this system. He said we will put a police station in your village and how will the guy, who will come to the run the police station, will it be this man. They said, no, we will appoint somebody who is trained. And how do I tell him, he doesn’t know me. He said, no you have to write and give him a complaint. So, they said, but we don’t know to write and so they said we will employ a person called a writer who will listen to you and who will write down your complaints and give it to the person in the police station. They said, we don’t need it, we don’t need to write anything and this is already working and for this piece of wisdom, the Kalars were made, were notified as a criminal tribe. So, these people were 72 different communities in just the Madras presidency, which were notified as the criminal tribes, which means a child born I the tribe, from its birth is seen as a criminal.

So, among these communities, there were these guard, local policeman communities, then there were people like Narikuravar, which is another community which was a nomadic community and they used to bring, they were a kind of, the logistics network, or the lohanas, or the lambadis in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana region. All of these communities were notified as criminal tribes and basically anything happens, the simple thing was even today there was, even today there is, if you see the list in some of the remote parts of southern India, there were a known delinquent list, its called the KD list, known delinquent list, will have people from these tribes. So, anything happens, something gets stolen pickup somebody from the nearby camp, Narikuravar camp and bring him to prison, keep him in lockup.


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