Three decades ago, an error made by a government official has created an identity crisis for Pydi, a small tribal community in Andhra Pradesh.
In the 70s, the community was ‘officially stripped’ of its scheduled tribe (ST) status and the government took over their lands. Since then they are treated as scheduled castes (SC).
Now, P Raja Rao, an officer with the All India Radio who is currently posted at Hyderabad — and a Pydi himself — has set out to restore the community’s ST using the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Pydi is a community restricted to the remote areas of Andhra — Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam and Vijayanagaram districts. They sustained themselves by tilling small pieces of land and selling the unique Pydi cloth. After the takeover of their land, the poor, backward and mostly illiterate Pydis were driven to other parts in search of jobs.
With 35-40,000 people, the Pydi population is miniscule when compared to AP's approximately 7.5 crore people. Literacy levels are also low: there are less than 100 graduates in the community today.
However, it is a still a mystery as to how the ‘change’ happened. Rao has been painstakingly digging out old documents, government gazettes and other notifications to establish the Pydis ST status. “In 1995 when I was posted at Tirupati, there was this inner urge that prompted me to take up the cause,” Rao said, on a recent visit to Delhi. He is the first and the only Class I government official from the Pydi community.
According to the documents accessed by Rao, in 1918, the British had recognized the ‘Pydi’ as a hill tribe. The status continued in 1935 with a slight change — the community was mentioned as a sub-tribe clubbed with eight others. In several other documents, including the Tenth Schedule and the 1950 Constitution Order Gazette notification the status remained unchanged. Even in the September 1953 gazette notification — the year when Andhra was carved out — recognises the Pydi community as ST.
“In 1973, the then Collector wrote to the Revenue Board that ‘Pydi is not part of the 1950 Constitution Order’,” he points out. “In 2008, the Andhra government, in reply to my RTI application, said ‘Pydi and Salia’ tribes are deleted from the list of STs. I turned to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs,” Rao said. Later, he approached the Central Information Commission (CIC), who directed the ministry to “consider and initiate” the necessary processes. But that has not happened yet. HT’s queries to the ministry went unanswered.
When the Pydis approached the Andhra High Court, their claims were rejected. The community strongly believes that the ST status would help get them more opportunities with better reservations in jobs. “It is about our identity and our land,” Rao said.