Dear Mr Bellie Jayaprakash,
This is Pratiksha Ramkumar here from the Times of India, Coimbatore. I am doing a story on why Badagas feel they need the ST status……
— First, why do you believe that Badagas deserve the ST status and all the benefits that come with it? Do you not believe that the Badaga community is way ahead in terms of access to education, healthcare and amenities compared to other tribes like Kothas and Irulas?
— Todas have the ST status, how do you believe this has helped the community retain their unique culture and move forward economically?
— Do you know any examples of reasonably affluent Badaga community members who flourished in the tea glory years but today has to find alternate livelihoods and careers because the tea industry is not doing well enough now?
— Can you give me any examples which portray a real need for the ST status for the Badaga community?
Your questions on ST status for Badaga were as I anticipated.
I would like to answer from a different but broader perspective.
Should there be ‘reservation’ in our country at all in terms of access to education, healthcare and basic amenities? Yes, only to the poorest and most deserving who have no means to access the above. Not based on caste, community, region or religion.
But, as long as ‘vote bank politics’ plays the prominent role in our country, ‘reservation’ is a ‘revered’ word and cannot be wished away. Dalits and tribals are considered to be permanently poor and looking ‘after them’ is politically correct.
Who are Badagas and what is their origin?
Badagas, contrary to ‘thrust [their views] down the throat’ researchers who claim that ALL Badagas are migrants from the Mysore plains based ONLY on the name Badaga [one of the meanings of it being North], I firmly believe that we are one of the ORIGINAL hill tribes of the Nilgiris like the Todas, Kothas and Kurum(b)as and irulas.
Badagas have been living in the Nilgiris [Naakku Betta – four mountains] for many, many centuries. Their origin, like that of Todas, Kothas or Kurumas, is still a mystery. With very distinct customs, culture and traditions, not to forget the language, what we know about Badagas is far less than what we do not know.
Many, even among the Badagas, feel that calling ourselves as Tribal is demeaning. I equate these people with those who considered it below dignity to call themselves as Indians a few years back. I am a proud Indian and a proud Badaga. Both are ‘accidents’ of birth. Happy ones, at that.
Now, why do we need the status of ST? Is it only for the economic benefits that come with it?
If you compare with other tribes like Todas, Kothas and Kurumas in the Nilgiris, Badagas are far ahead in almost all the social factors. About two hundred years ago, all the hill tribes of the Nilgiris, were, more or or less on the same ‘plane’. The drastic changes have occurred only in the last hundred odd years when education was given the top priority by this community and girl child was given importance, even if it was not an equal one.
Even poor and daily wage earning Badagas ensure, at least a majority of them, that their wards get educated that too in an English medium school.
The ST status is required not to compare/compete with other tribes but to get the best of education in prime institutes like IITs. Basically being intelligent, Badagas can easily get admissions with some ‘push’, available to ‘STs’. Same would be true for clearing the UPSC examinations. Had there been this ST status granted earlier, there could have been a dozen or so Badaga IAS officers by now.
Secondly, Nilgiris is the only place which Badagas can claim to be their native place. The Nilgiris (district) has only one parliamentary constituency and alas, that one is RESERVED. Meaning Badagas cannot contest as long as this ‘reservation’ remains. Effectively putting a stop to the political ambition of the natives of the land. ST status eliminates this anomaly.
With the tea leaf prices crashing to all time low, Badagas have lost the main source of their economic independence. Added to this is the difficulties in farming or growing vegetables and other cash crops due to the ‘free roaming’ Bisons, elusive wild boars and destructive monkeys. With no industries worth the name located in the Nilgiris, educated Badaga Youth has to seek jobs in the plains. I know of many Badagas who have sold their small land holdings and settled in the plains.
Not that all the Badagas are in highly paid jobs. Many work on daily wage basis. Even in the plains like Coimbatore or Tripur, many work as servers in hotels or as Nurses/aayas in hospitals.
So, ST status helps economically too.
Todas may not have fully benefited with the ST status economically, basically due to the fact that, majority of the community has been addicted to the liquor. The free flow of ‘daaru/drinks’ is the biggest curse for the mountain people. Unfortunately, the State Government has chosen to turn a blind eye and a generation has been destroyed. Though, Badagas too are ‘very liberal‘ with liquor, luckily there are many ‘teetotalers’ as a balancing factor.
ST status, in my opinion, will help the Badagas economically, educationally and politically and will definitely help in preserving the traditions and culture, the most noteworthy being the famous Badaga hospitality.
Wing Commander Bellie Jayaprakash