(Info) Feudal Culture in Bundelkhand

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Bundelkhand

Information About of Feudal Culture

Feudal Culture in Bundelkhand

From the time of the Chandelas, Bundelkhand's ruling clans claimed high Rajput status and behaved accordingly. A feudal culture emerged, which remains quite strong, especially in some MP Bundelkhand districts like Tikamgarh. The chief features of the feudal culture include:

  • a high sense of honour

  • open display of guns

  • 'rule' of 'dadus', which often leads to land-related violence

  • fiefdoms where the state apparatus is inconsequential

Sense of honour

Traditionally, much value is put on honour in Bundelkhand. Honour is understood in the region as 'pat' (rhymes with 'cut' in English). Historically, the most noble deeds were those that secured the 'pat' of 'swami' (religious leader), clan and the state. A line from a popular folk song implored the mother goddess, Mori maya pat rakhiyon bare jan ki ((Dear Mother, uphold the honour of all people).

The sense of honour has been extolled in folk songs and tales, celebrated in historical novels and approvingly mentioned in many academic and semi-academic discussions on Bundelkhand culture.

What is not often mentioned is that the sense of honour was extremist. It encouraged violence and limited choice. Women of higher castes were compelled to kill themselves 'voluntarily' after their husbands lost in battle.

For rulers, 'pat' was more important than creating stable, prosperous kingdoms. The exaggerated sense of honour fuelled relentless internecine warfare in Bundelkhand, and was a major cause of political instability in the region till the British took over.

The exaggerated sense of honour and attendant sense of self pride persisted among members of erstwhile ruling clans even after they were completely overpowered and deposed by the British.

A remarkable description of Bundela pride is provided in the section on Bundelas in a voluminous colonial era publication, The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India. The authors noted that the Bundelas were 'proud and penurious to the last degree, and quick to resent the smallest slight' [Russel, pp 439-440]. They made good shikaris but 'were so impatient of discipline that they have never found a vocation by enlisting in the Indian Army.' Their characteristics were described in a doggerel verse:

The Bundelas salute each other from miles apart, their pagris are cocked on the side of the head till they touch the shoulders.
A Bundela would dive into a well for the sake of a cowrie, but would fight with the Sardars of Government.

Even after losing all power and privileges, the Bundelas were highly conscious of their claimed upper caste status. The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India reported that any low-caste person who passed by a Bundela house had to salute them with the words, 'Diwan ji ko Ram Ram'. No bania could go past their house riding on a pony or holding up an umbrella. Women had to take their footwear off to pass by.

Claimed social status was not diminished by changed economic status. The authors related an incident involving a Bundela, 'very poor and wearing rags', who was brought before a British magistrate on charges of assaulting a tahsil process-server and threatening him with his sword. Asked by the magistrate whether he had indeed done so, the Bundela replied, 'Certainly not. The sword is for gentlemen like you and me of equal position.' If he had wished to beat the tahsil official, the Bundela added, he would have used his shoe.

(Another story told by the authors is of a Bundela who went up to the table of an overbearing tahsildar and said, 'Will the sarkar step aside with me for a moment, as I have something private to say.' The tahsildar got up and walked aside with him, on which the Bundela said, 'That is sufficient, I only wished to tell you that you should rise to receive me.')

Open display of guns

A key mode of assertion of higher kshatriya status is display of one's weapon; in earlier times, it would have been a sword; later it was the gun. Bundelkhand is the only part of India where until recently, people not belonging to armed forces or militant groups were seen openly and proudly carrying guns.

Guns and gunmen are hot status symbols across UP's political class, but in Bundelkhand, even ordinary peasants, riding cycles or travelling in crowded public buses, could be seen with double-barrel guns, with a belt of cartridges slung over the shoulder.

However, in recent years, open display of guns has become noticeably less except during festivities, when expensive cartridges are indiscriminately fired in air. However, guns continue to be used to assert power, or grab wealth.

'Rule' of 'dadus'

Across Bundelkhand's villages, and in its local newspapers, one routinely comes across people being harassed or terrorised by 'dadus' - equivalent of 'dabang', a common North India word for one who exercises power through use of force.

In Bundelkhand, the dadu is usually a member of a family that had enjoyed feudal privileges in the past, and has not accepted the realities of democratic politics and society.

Dadus continue to lord over many villages, maintaining control over key resources like land and water bodies, panchayat affairs, and expenditure of public money. There can be more than one dadu in a village, and they usually work together, with areas of control implicitly demarcated.

While returns from agriculture are uncertain and generally not very attractive in Bundelkhand, dadus have found other methods of making money. Many are contractors for government projects, where they indulge in filching of material or under-payment of labour. They can get away with this because they are politically aligned; they play an important role in bringing or preventing people in large numbers from voting. Many dadus try to maintain a 'good' image by sponsoring religious feasts and other such events.

When a dadu is opposed, he reacts with violence. But he rarely beats up people himself. He has many men to do this job. The dadu's men swear by him, and if required, are ready to spend a few years in jail. The dadu can be from any caste, but is usually from a middle or upper caste; his chelas (followers) could include men from scheduled caste (SC) groups. Many dadus have personal security men carrying guns.

Often, the provocation for dadu violence appears petty. But invariably it involves suppression of assertive people from SC groups or forcible possession of land.

In a typical 'dadu' incident which occurred in August 2004, in Dhaurisagar village of Lalitpur district, the son of a woman called Sarjubai drove out some cattle belonging to a village dadu that was grazing in their fields. Some days later, when Sarjubai and her son were travelling in a bus, the dadu's men got into the bus and trashed them. 'No one tried to stop them,' Sarjubai recalled. 'I was so badly beaten in the chest that I could not speak.' Driving away cattle seems too petty a reason for such violence.

The incident becomes clear when one learns that Sarjubai was an SC woman, a vocal member of the village panchayat, and when she was beaten up, she was returning from a training programme organised by Bundelkhand Sewa Samiti (BSS), an NGO partner of ABSSS.

In a majority of instances of violence related to dadus, the root issue is land (see Land-related Violence).

Fiefdoms

In some parts of Bundelkhand, especially in Tikamgarh district, erstwhile feudal clans virtually run fiefdoms. PV Rajagopal ('Rajaji'), founder of Ekta Parishad, described them as follows in a diary he maintained during a padyatra through MP in 1999-2000 [Rajgopal, pp 11-12]:

A friend drew up a list of 14 families in Tikamgarh district who the run the parallel government there. They have carved out their own spheres of influence, and those inhabiting their fiefs are bound to obey them. I was told of block and district elections where candidates were elected unopposed. No candidate opposes the nominee of a given household within that fief. This household holds all the resources therein - contract for fish, control over ponds and other common property resources and control over good land.

'The presence of the government is felt but rarely', Rajaji noted. 'Where such presence is felt, it seems more of some local state than a government ruled from Bhopal. All resources are concentrated in the hands of those who direct the bureaucracies and run the state.'

The fiefdoms were not restricted to rural areas. In Kharagpur, a small town in Tikamgarh district, Rajaji found that the hold of a feudal household had made the state apparatus 'inconsequential'.

Within Kharagpur city, around 29 acres of land have been distributed not on the orders of the tehsil office, but by the writ of the feudal household; all decisions on pricing, renting and leasing are taken by the [feudal] household rather than the tehsildar. The government that pulls down jhuggis [slums] of the poor and evicts tribal people from the forest is unable to confront the feudal setup.

The struggle for justice and rights in the Bundelkhand region, he concluded, was 'not only against those functionaries of the state who have abdicated their duty, but also against the feudal families that have under patronage of the government exploited the hapless citizenry.' It was difficult to hope for help from political parties in this struggle, he added. Both ruling and opposition parties are connected to the feudal overlords.

The fiefdoms are also found in remote areas, such as the Rawatpura region of Mahoba district, which juts into MP, and falls into something like a no-man's land sandwiched between two states.

Arunoday Sansthan, an NGO associated ABSSS, tried to enter this region in 2005 after a violent incident involving an SC youth. About 30 landless SC families had been allotted surplus land by the UP government. However, the land was cultivated by gun-wielding upper-caste landlords. The SC families were forced to work as labourers on their own land.

In February 2005, an SC youth who protested against the cutting of mahua trees on land allotted to his family was severely beaten up and had to be hospitalised. When a field worker of Arunoday Sansthan went to the village to enquire about the incident, he was shown the gun and told to keep away. Abhishesh Mishra, head of Arunoday Sansthan, said this was not an exceptional case in the Rawatpura region. 'There are many villages in this area we cannot enter.'

Continued presence of fiefdoms is one reason for continued prevalence of bonded labour in Bundelkhand.

Courtesy : bundelkhandinfo.org

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