History of a Kondh clan – dispossession and migration of the Saraka people

This is the story of how the Saraka clan, one among the many Kondh clans of Odisha, evolved. Yudhishtir Saraka recounts the evolution story as he learnt from his father and grandfather ……… “Originally the people from the Saraka clan inhabited the mountains of Kandhamal district in three major areas called Odabundru, Dandra and Erpiguda. The Odia King who ruled over us was told by some people that the Sarakas are very intelligent but cunning people and also thieves. So the King asked his minister to find and bring some Saraka people. When elders from five Saraka families were brought to his court, he gave them a cot to sit, lamb meat to eat and wine to drink. He had thought that if they did what any common intelligent person would do, then he would have all the Saraka people killed as it would prove that they are cunning people ! But the wise Saraka people instead acted insane. They sat on the floor and only put their legs on the cot. They plucked the wool of the lamb and ate it but did not eat its meat. They only licked the wine but did not drink it. The King realised that they were indeed insane people and let them go. The idea of acting insane was suggested to the Saraka elders by leaders of the Kutruka clan as they knew that the King wanted to eliminate the Sarakas. However after this incident the Saraka people were very scared that the King may again try to kill them so of the five families who were called by the King, three escaped to Rayagada and two went into hiding in Kandhamal itself. The Saraka people later realised that the King’s mind had been poisoned against the Sarakas by the Brahmin, Gouda and Kumuti people close to the King in order to drive them out of Kandhamal so that they can grab their lands. As soon as the three Sarakas left for Rayagada or two others went into hiding, the Brahmins, Goudas and Kumutis took over the former’s lands and homes”.    

Yudhishtir says that while this is the folklore around how the Sarakas came to Rayagada, he says, “the real reason behind their forced migration was grabbing of their homes and lands by non-adivasis of Kandhamal. There were 22 padars(villages) of Saraka people in Kandhamal before the King called us Jorenga (thugs or thieves) and tried to eliminate us. Taking advantage of this the Brahmin, Gouda and Kumuti people ganged up against us and thrashed us. The Saraka people were beaten up and they forcefully took away our household things because they do not know how to make plough or other agriculture implements. So they grabbed our padars by force and pushed us deeper into the forests and hills looking for land and shelter. After losing our padars we endured immense hardship and never had enough to eat. And that is why the Saraka people wandered and reached Rayagada district and cleared the forests and settled in 22 padars here in the same way as they had settled in 22 padars at Kandhamal district. This same fate also fell on the Dongria Kondhs, our fellow community members. They were also driven out of their lands and homes and they moved up into the Niyamgiri mountain range. Unlike us, they armed themselves with their traditional bows and arrows and became very aggressive towards any outsiders due to these past experiences of exploitation by non-adivasis.

Gradually we gave up parts of our 22 padars to other Kondh clans in exchange for seeds of different crops because these other clan people were also driven out of Kandhamal and other adjoining areas by the Brahmins, Goudas and Kumutis. For example, we have given away a whole padar called Badimapadar in exchange of a bowl of velvet beans or kursa to the Wadeka people. Similarly Mundagotupadar was given away to the Kulesika people. Few of the 22 padars given away are Mundrumaska, Bandili, Pipalpanga, Lelinpadar, Munda, Hudijamba, Dehamkupa, Jabakhalu, Rimbati, Hidpa, Godadi, Hurlu, Rupapadar, Baldaguda, etc. All padars once belonged to the Saraka people. But the past experiences of being dispossessed and forced into migration put the fear of non-adivasis in the hearts of the Kondh people and this fear forced them to fall prey to the exploitation by thieves, police, forest guards, home guards, etc.”

Yudhishtir goes on to explain how this happened. Due to their fear of the outsiders, Kondh adivasis retreated into their community and avoided any contact or relationship with any section of the non-adivasis. This isolation led them to be deprived of government’s social, educational, economic and even political benefits but this also led to their ignorance of the government’s administrative and legislative provisions for adivasi communities like revenue settlement, land alienation protective laws, etc. Taking advantage of this ignorance, the above category of people entered the Kondh villages and extracted money, jewellery, brass utensils, crop yields, etc using threat of law, rules, administrative notices, jail, etc. And to this day these forms of exploitation continue among the Kondhs though the new age educated Kondh youths have begun to resist ! 

This resistance according to Yudhidhtir began two decades back when the first young Kondh adivasi children got educated and formed their youth groups. Thus education played a very crucial role in Kondh people’s resistance to their exploitation and this education, which changed their lives, was not a formal education by rote but through their own Kui songs, folk stories, etc.      

Profile of the Village : 85 households, all Saraka Kondh clan people with 4 Dalit families
Village Details : Kachapaju, Dukum Panchayat, Bissamcuttack Block, Rayagada District

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