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Ethnography of Contemporary Communities

Meena Radhakrishna

By Bhangya Bhukya
Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2010, pp. 296, price not mentioned

Edited by Birinder Pal Singh
Routledge, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 151, price not mentioned

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 12 December 2010

It is somewhat difficult to review these two books together as they have so little in common and would not bear comparison in either form or content. Bhukyas, a monograph dealing with the Lambadas of Hyderabad state under the Nizams, is essentially a historical study. Singh has edited socialanthropological findings based on field research on a set of contemporary communities. In one essential particular, however, they share a concern: the subject matter of both texts is the so called criminal tribes. Bhukyas work covers an impressive array of concerns regarding the Lambada community. He begins by focusing on the history of the Lambadas as long distance caravan traders and transporters. He chronicles the way the emergence of the new market economy and regulations along with the coming of modern transport systems destroyed the Lambadas trade. Their low position in the trade hierarchy denied them access to institutionalized credit, leading to their falling in the hands of usurers of higher social status, and gradually they were reduced to being hired workers. Bhukya also discusses the Lambadas as cattle raisers and cattle traders during the colonial period, and the implications of the loss of their access to grazing land. Such land was not available to them once the grazing tax was instituted by the colonial government, and a critical community resource was no longer available to them. Regulations regarding cattle trespass, forests, fodder, cattle breeding and health etc. further marginalized them as cattle raisers. Bhukya mentions in passing the Cattle Trespass Act of 1871interestingly the same year in which another CTA i.e. Criminal Tribes Act was institutedgrievously affecting the livelihood of nomadic communities like the Lambadas. Over a period of time, the Lambadas lost their edge in long distance trade as well as the cattle economy, and gradually took to settled agriculture by occupying wasteland and became smallscale cultivators. Here too, a combination of the British notion of rule of property in land, colonial agricultural policies and market economy created a situation where the Lambadas lost their land, largely to dominant, moneylending communities. The slow dispossession of the Lambada community which the author charts out in the initial chapters is very valuable as we learn precisely how a nomadic community becomes extremely vulnerable and loses its main means of livelihood at different points in time, when drastic and systemic changes in economic policies and processes take place. However, these would obviously ...

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