Gonds, ancient forest dwelling aborigines, hunter-gatherer tribals, were supposed to inhabit the vast wild areas of Deccan peninsula even before Aryan invasion. They are nature worshipers, believed as the descendent of Mother of creation and follower of many other animal gods. In their culture, they allowed cross-cousin marriage (daughter of a sister can marry son of a brother) as well as by mutual choices. A major change came in their clans, during the dominating time of Mughals and Rajputs that was very remarkable.
A small part extracted out as the ruling class and built four powerful Gond dynasties in the region of Central India. The rest of the tribals remained as their subjects, never knowing their coming fate. How these rulers emerged was not much clearly defined, but it is assumed somehow to be the result of inter-community marriage between Rajputs and them.
These Gond Kingdoms were:
1- Garha Mandla (Modern Mandla and Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh), formed by Jadurai in 14th-15th century, whose birth was a mystery
2- Deogadh (Chhindwada in Madhya Pradesh and Nagpur in Maharashtra), formed by King Jatba in 15th century
3- Kherla (Baitul in Madhya Pradesh to Chikhaldara in Amravati district in Maharashtra) by Narsingh Rai, during the Deogadh period
4- Chanda (Chandrapur in Maharashtra), in the same time period of Kherla and Deogadh kingdoms
It was really strange that the rulers of each of these kingdoms were so different from their native brothers and never showed much inclination towards them anymore.
- Firstly, now the rulers chose their religion and customs to either Hinduism or Islam according to the necessity of being in power. But they never forced their motivations to the countrymen. That may have created larger gap between the two classes and an ultimate distrust too.
- They focussed on their growth by adopting new policies particularly influenced by Mughals and Rajputs – like clearing of forests, implementing agricultural activities, making of water tanks and expansion of trades. These were difficult for the tribal Gonds to adhere, since they never did it before. Hence, they were substituted with people from other parts, like Kohlis from North India were invited in the reign of Hir Shah of Chanda kingdom, who were expert in farming and water managements. That deprived the Gonds and made them more and more reclusive from the prevalent developments.
- The tribals along with Hindu and Muslim subjects were given equal right over the land, as was done by Bakht Buland Shah of Nagpur. That was useless, since the tribals could not make use of the land. Gradually, they lost and sadly, degraded to helpless misery. This actually gave a chance to the Maratha chief Shivaji by lending money and turning them towards him for support against Mughal power.
- The Gond rulers engaged in frequent warfare, sometimes to support or else against Rajputs and Mughals. That brought no good to their State. About 12,000 native Gond tribals lost their lives in the honour battle between two Gond-turned-Muslim royal brothers in the last phase of Gond rule. The kingdoms at last crippled before the Maratha power in 18th century and then, went under the British command afterwards.
Worst things happened then, during British rule, when they were extorted and tortured for heavy tax. Gond tribals were left with no other option than to go back to the forests, secluded, making groups and take the part of disregarded anarchist.
By Arkaprava Das