Khond women wash their feet and hands in Kothavidhi village in Chedikada mandal of Anakapalle district, Andhra Pradesh, to welcome someone who is not part of their tribe. 60 year old Mr. “It has been our tradition ever since I can remember, ever since we came here and started growing fruit trees,” Chilkamma explains.
Sitting under the shade of lush greenery, sipping sweet coconut water, eating freshly cut papaya and tree-ripened guavas, it’s easy to leave the numbing noise of the city behind. Except that, the town is coming under the grip of Khonds, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), who claim that they have been residing in this village for the last 40 years.
10 families who migrated from G Madugula mandal to this village are facing the threat of eviction today. “We have found that our names have been removed from the digitized land records and this practically makes us homeless despite being farmers of 65 cents of land (a little less than an acre),” says Vanthala Nageswara Rao, who was the first to move here with his wife Vanthala Kumari and friend Gemmili Balaraju, Chilkamma’s husband. Here their children and grandchildren were born.
“I came here when I was barely 13 years old. I gave birth to a child here and now I have grandchildren. They trek 3 km to school every day,” says Vanthala Kumari.
They have never known anyone as the owner of this ancient land before, they say, and there is no tenancy agreement between them and any private party.
Despite an uncertain future, Chilakamma smiles, her sunburnt face wrinkled, as she wipes her guests’ feet with her sari, which she wears like a knotted sarong around her neck. Any objection is taken as an insult. Her heavy gold nose ring is a symbol of being married.
Many villages in Devarapalli, Chedikada, V. Madugula, Ravikamatam, Rolugunta and Golugonda mandals in Anakapalle districts where tribal people live face similar problems of being alienated from the land they live on.
It is not easy to reach Kothavidhi, a village nestled between three hills: Volabu Konda (Konda means hill in Telugu), Palli Konda and Madinagopu Konda. At least 3 km of walking along the cattle tracks meandering through thick forests bearing diverse trees like cashew, mango, tamarind, jackfruit, banana and jamun. The old banyan, peepal and other forest fig trees have till now hidden the land with its dense forest from the prying eyes of real estate agents.
“We are living a peaceful life here,” says Balaraju, living in simple brick houses with asbestos and terracotta Bangalore-tiled roofs. But about a year ago, some officials arrived in his village, termed him as an encroacher on private land, and he was verbally asked to vacate Kothavidhi.
The area in question is about 37 acres, most of which is cultivated by the Konda Dora tribe of Gunti village, also in Chidikada mandal. The land in question comes under Tehsildar (Revenue Administrative Officer) of Chidikada.
Like many tribes, the Khonds have traditionally been hunter-gatherers, accustomed to living in the low hills of the region, having previously migrated from place to place as they practiced podu (shifting agriculture).
In this part of the country (they also have a presence in Odisha), their language is a mixture of Kui, Oriya and Telugu.
A large number of Khonds were drafted into the army by the British during World War I and II for their natural skills in jungle warfare, says PD Satyapal, former head of the Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, who has studied the socio-cultural traditions of tribes in the Eastern Ghats. was included in
That is why the banned CPI (Communist Party of India – Maoist) is wooing them to join their movement in Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra-Odisha border region of Andhra Pradesh. In practice, they have been the main fighting force for Left-wing extremists, says Andhra Pradesh DGP KV Rajendranath Reddy.
land rights and wrongs
When land is surveyed by the state government, it takes into account the people who are enjoying the natural resource, though not necessarily the owner. This aspect is clearly highlighted in the Land Transfer Regulations (LTR) and the Operational Manual of the Survey and Boundary Act 1923.
As per the LTR and the Survey and Boundary Act of 1923, before changing any records, revenue officials have to conduct a physical survey to ascertain who is cultivating or using the land. This is also mandatory as per the Record of Rights Act.
The threats from private entities began about a year ago when the Andhra Pradesh government ordered a re-survey of land and digitization of land records two years ago, when families realized their names were out of the record books.
“As a tiller or user of land, our name should be included in the ‘Land user’ column of the register. But they are missing and the land is registered in the names of some other non-tribals who have never visited the village,” says Nageswara Rao. Konda Dora is also at risk of losing her land.
Ajay Kumar, general secretary of the All India Agricultural Rural Laborers Association (AIARLA), explains that it is a non-scheduled tribal village. “Had it been a scheduled village, this problem of calling the tribals illegal occupants would not have arisen,” he says. A scheduled village is one in which only tribal people have rights over the land.
Since the 1980s in Andhra Pradesh, about 805 villages were listed for inclusion in the United States (before the separation of Telangana), as they were inhabited by tribal people in forest areas. But in the last 40 years, successive governments have not taken any decision, says former bureaucrat EAS Sarma. With the bifurcation of the district (a part of it went to Telangana), these villages have now come out of the purview of the Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs) and are now under the local urban bodies. This has left them vulnerable to land sharks, says Mr. Sarma.
Kumar says the private person is trying to evict them using verbal threats and muscle power, and will not serve legal notices. “Once the notice is given, it will be challenged in the court and they are trying to avoid it,” alleged Kumar. He said that earth movers have been brought in to demolish the houses.
“Where do I go from here now? I cannot go back to my village located in the Agency (as the British used to call tribal areas) area (now under Alluri Sitarama Raju district). This is my village,” says Balaraju, in his mid-60s, as he sits on the ground under a jackfruit tree in front of his house.
The families are questioning not only the ownership of the land or threats of eviction, but also how their names were removed from the records without conducting an Anand survey or giving them an official order.
Village revenue officers, mandal revenue officers and revenue circle officers had visited the village between 2022 and 2023, says Mr. Sarma, but had apparently left out the status of the occupants. Also their claim that tribal people will have to be evicted clearly indicates the discrepancy in the report, he says.
The families say that Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has always taken the side of the tribal people. “They have extended various welfare schemes to PVTGs even in the most remote parts of tribal settlements,” says Balaraju, who acts as the unofficial head of the village. They believe that lower-level executives are making records to benefit realtors.
The directions given by the Chief Minister clearly state that no tribal should be evicted without following due process of law. He has also said that if it is government land, it should be regularized by giving pattadar (land deed) passbook in favor of tribal people.
When the tribal people approached CCLA (Chief Commissioner of Land Administration), the apex authority of the revenue department, the CCLA sought a detailed report on land transactions, records of any extent and surplus land, status of PVTGs and told the concerned officials That they should transfer the disputed land to the Disputes Register and the possession of PVTG should not be disturbed.
Residents of Kothavidhi have Aadhaar cards which establish both identity and address. They have voter ID cards and ration cards, even have electricity connections and bore-well pump sets for their homes in their names. “Despite all this, our presence on the ground is being ignored,” Balaraju said.
Revenue Divisional Officer HV Jayaram claimed that the tribal people do not have documents to support their claim that the land belongs to them. “But yes, they are enjoying it,” he admits, adding that unless they have the documents it will not help them to establish the land in their names. He also said that the tribal people are tenant farmers and the owners have produced the documents.
“If such documents exist, they are fabricated,” alleged Kumar. He said that he should be taken to court.
Meanwhile, Chilakamma, despite being illiterate, is determined. “We will fight for our rights,” she says as tears stream down her face.
“Had it been a scheduled village, the problem of calling the tribals illegal occupants would not have arisen.” Ajay Kumar, General Secretary, All India Farm Rural Labor Union
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has always taken the side of the tribals. He has extended various welfare schemes to PVTGs even in the most remote parts of tribal habitations. Gemmili Balaraju, headman of the Kothoveedhi villages
The tribals are sharecroppers and do not have documents. But we are working on a model to benefit them. HV Jayaram, RDO