ARE KODAVAS A SEPERATE RACE OR A TRIBE?
I am grateful to Justice (Retd) P P Bopanna for his comments on my article – ‘ Kodavas through the Ages’. This is to clarify certain points raised by him so that there is consensus among Kodavas on the issues.
I gave quotation from Sir Winston Churchill, merely to highlight that we Kodavas have to dig deeper into our past and get a true version of our history, instead of blindly accepting what others wrote about us with vested interests. Only then, we will be better placed to plan our future.
I am glad that Justice Bopanna agrees with me that Kodavas are not Hindus. However, he has rightly pointed out that we presently come under Hindu laws – a fact that I had not mentioned in my article. This anomalous situation has arisen, as Govt of India had taken a decision that small communities like Kodavas who do not belong to any major religious groups are bracketed with majority Hindus, as it is impractical to have exclusive laws for every community in India, due to large numbers involved.
Therefore our customary laws, which was first codified by Maj Gen Rob Cole in 1871 have changed and are bound to change in future also, till we have Uniform Civil Code as envisaged in Art 44 of our Constitution. I consider that these changes are good for us and the country. This decision of the Govt, does not mean that we are Hindus and not a separate community. Under Art 25(2) of our Constitution, even bigger religious groups like Sikhs, Jains and Budhists come under Hindu laws; but that did not prevent them from getting minority status.
As regards, Justice Bopanna’s contention that Kodavas are a separate ‘race’ and not a ‘tribe’, it is true that a number of earlier writers have referred to Kodavas as a separate ‘race’. However they had also mentioned, Kodavas as an unique ‘tribe’. For example, G Richter in his book ,‘The Gazetter of Coorg’ writes –‘ The Coorgs or Kodavas as they are properly called are the principal tribe of the Country and from time immemorial, the lords of the soil………..’ The same author elsewhere writes ‘ Coorgs are a hardy race and bear with fortitude a great deal of hardship…………’ Both the terms were used earlier by many writers rather loosely to indicate that our community is different from others in many ways.
After, Independence, in pursuance of Govt’s policy to discourage distinction between communities based on race, the 1951 Census of India did away with racial groups in India altogether. The National Census of India, does not recognise any racial group in India any longer.
Prof Ponjanda Appaiah in his book ‘A History of Coorg’ gives out the views of UNESCO published in 1951, that no race today can be called pure and that there is not the slightest scientific basis of inferiority or superiority in physical and mental capacities of people. I have consulted a fellow Kodava, Dr Cheyanda Manu, who teaches anthropology in the University of Mysuru. He has confirmed that Kodavas are a separate tribe and not a race. Even constitutional expert, Prof Balveer Arora has this to say – ‘ While earlier the Kodavas referred to themselves as a distinctive race and/or nationality, a more accurate description of the Kodava people would be in terms of a linguistic and cultural community with distinctive tribal characteristics.’
Therefore to call ourselves as a separate race would be wrong and will not be accepted. To call ourselves boastfully as a ‘martial race’ is doubly wrong as it is insulting to other communities who are as brave. Codava National Council needs to drop the word ‘National’ from their name as all of us belong to only one nation i.e. India – let us be clear about it.
Some recent authors are referring to Kodavas as ‘ethnic minority’ meaning of which is – ‘ a group within a community which has different national or cultural traditions’. According to Dr B S Ghua, a noted sociologist, the people of India are derived from six main ethnic groups viz Negritos, Austrics, Mongoloids, Dravidans, Western Brachycephols and Nordics. He thereafter, lists various communities coming under these different ethnic groups. Coorgs and Parsis are the two communities in India who belong to Western Brachycephols. Parsis have been given minority status. Why have not Kodavas been given the same status? The answer is, except Codava National Council under N U Nachappa, none other Kodava organizations have bothered to asked for it. There has to be consensus among all Kodavas to project such a demand effectively.
A comprehensive list of tribes in India has already been prepared in alphabetical order and is available on web site www.culturopedia.com. Kodavas are rightly included in this list and it has been correctly stated that Kodava Tribe live in Kodagu region of Karnataka, which lies in Western Ghats. I have gone through the entire list of these tribes. Out of 645 tribes in India which are 8.6% of the total population of India, only Kodavas have been denied scheduled status ( request others to cross check my findings).
I feel that this decision of the Govt, is justifiable as we Kodavas are mostly land owners, having houses of our own, with better education and therefore do not meet the criteria laid down for measuring backwardness of a community. Armed with facts and statistics, the Country must be made to accept that Kodavas are, a rare and one of its kind tribal community in India which needs to be given constitutional protection. We definitely meet the criteria for earning minority status and special status for our homeland Kodagu where our Ain Manes, Kaimadas and Jamma lands are located. We have been accorded linguistic minority status (thanks to the initiative taken by some Kodava educationists) which is not the same as full minority status which entitles us, to many more benefits.
As of now, we Kodavas, can blame no one but ourselves for not jointly asking for our rights under the Constitution. We do not belong to the majority communities who enjoy political power. We also do not belong to the privileged classes like minorities, OBCs and SC/ST to get more benefits. Kodavas would prefer, that all citizens are treated equally; but due to highly communalised politics, it is not going to happen. This is aggravated, due to division of the country on linguistic basis in 1956. I do hope that during the state wide social and educational survey of families planned from 1 Apr to 30 Apr 2015, all Kodavas will register ourselves as Kodava Tribe and not as Hindus. These statistics are vital for projecting our demand in future.
Unfortunately, our politicians on whom, Kodavas had so far shown great faith, have failed to project our legitimate demands as they do not want to be on the wrong side of their political masters, who belong to the majority communities. Their subservient attitude and survival instincts are understandable; but some of them have been guilty of coming in the way Kodava unity. Prof Balveer Arora in his speech at Gonikoppa, on Dec 2007 on an invitation of Codava National Council ( text was published in Coffee Land News dt 14 Dec 2007) stated- “ The Codavas will need to be made aware that unless they themselves claim these as distinctive markers of their identity, the efforts to seek and gain constitutional recognition will not find adequate support in policy making circles”.
Kodava’s main drawback is that we do not have a common non-political organization based on democratic lines, where we can sit together, discuss our problems, find solutions and project our demands in an appropriate manner. This was discussed in detail by a group of concerned Kodavas called ‘ Temporary Association for forging Kodava Unity’ ( TAFKU) led by senior retired Defence Service officers settled in Kodagu more than a decade ago and a detailed written suggestions were sent by the Chairman LT Gen C N Somanna, PVSM (Retd) to the heads of a number of organizations in Kodagu working for the welfare of Kodavas and Kodagu.
The suggestion was to transform ‘TheFederation of Kodava Samajas’ (FKS), as an apex body of Kodavas to be called ‘Federation of Kodavas’ by taking in representatives according to their size, from all other organizations also and get their bye-laws ratified by all, to get legitimacy. This way, the existing organizations can continue as they are and at the same time entitle them to be part of the common bigger body of Kodavas, where their voice too could be heard.
We received enthusiastic support from smaller organizations; but it is painful to know that ‘The Federation of Kodava Samajas’ which was to take the initiative and ‘ The Codava National Council’(CNC) which was to agree to join, went into ‘Manmohan Singh mode’ and did not even have the courtesy to reply. It must be conceded that in the meanwhile, FKS has built an impressive infrastructure at Balagod near Virajpet with single minded dedication.
They can keep it for themselves and serve the community in the future as visualised by them; but as the largest organization formed by absorbing Kodava samajas which were already functioning effectively without taking the consent of the members and getting their bye- laws ratified by them, they have an obligation to help in forging an united organization for Kodavas. There is no use invoking the fair name of Field Marshall K M Cariappa and Gen K S Thimayya at every opportunity by these leaders without showing a fraction of their values which brought credit to our community. In their desire to immortalize themselves as great leaders of present generation, they are doing everything possible to prevent the unity which is easily achievable and of foremost necessity. These leaders need further nudging.
I request Justice Bopanna being a very senior and respected member of Kodava community, to counsel the above mentioned leaders to rise above their individual aspirations and use their enormous clout to evolve such an organization, as suggested by Gen C N Somanna. The rank and file of Kodavas, especially the presidents of Kodava Samajas should get involved in the larger interest of the community, instead of remaining passive.
Maj Gen C K Karumbaya, SM (Retd)
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