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
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
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
(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
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).
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
'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