Kudmis of Chotanagpur

23 Feb

Kudmis of Chotanagpur

Khudi Ram Mahto

While I was student of class V, went to Circle Office to get a so called caste certificate to appear at examination of Navodaya Vidhalaya. The Circle Officer issued me the Caste certificate mentioning Belongs to Kurmi caste (कुर्मी जाति) of Jharkhand which is recognized as document of residential land. This incident inspired then the researcher to know about his own community. The illiterate family of the researcher could not satisfy the query of the researcher except saying that Dikus outsiders could not pronounce Kudmi (कुड़मी). The researcher kept wandering to know it since his own community and other co-existed tribe pronounce this community Kudmi  Later he came to know that Kudmis of  Chatanapur were enumerated in the in the list of  tribes. The census records of Kudmi tribes have been mentioned Aboriginal Community (1901 and 1911), Animists (1921), Primitive Tribe (1931), Tribal Hindu in Mayurbhanj and Kshatriyas in other areas (1941). Rather this tribe was mixed with Kurmis of Bihar. Since then the identity crisis of Kudmis occurred. How Kudmi tribes of Chhotanagpur are anguishing active and passive deprivation of social and political recognition since post-independent. The Kudmi tribe is perhaps one of the most debated politically and less written tribes academically in India.

 Rationale for the study

The colonial rule has done lot of damage in terms of the identity and culture of indigenous groups in India. Some of the indigenous groups were wrongly listed  as Hindu caste which  deprived  them of constitutional rights in course of time. The Kudmi community is one such indigenous group from central India wrongly listed census during British time as Kurmi caste, in some part they have been listed as Kshatriya Kurmi caste, in some part aboriginal tribes .This has created chaos among the kudmi indigenous group as some started claiming the Kshatriya Kurmi status without  knowing that they have been deprived of constitutional provisions for tribal development. The study tries to understand dilemma, plight and struggle of Kudmi tribe which is originally primitive totemic tribe because of British census operation wrongly listed as Kshatriya Kurmi. The study contributes the understanding of situation of the community which is really backward and tribal but not listed in the Constitutional Scheduled (Tribes) Order, 1950, of India.


Objectives of the study:


  1. To understand and to construct the historical roots of Kudmi tribe.
  2. To explore of socio-economic, cultural and political life of Kudmi tribe.
  3. To examine factors or reasons for deprivation of Constitutional recognition as Scheduled tribe to kudmi tribe.
  4. To study the socio-economic deprivation and marginalization of Kudmi tribe because of its mistaken identity as  Kshatriya  Kurmi caste.
  5. To study the response or reactions and Resistance of Kudmis towards their mistaken identity as Kurmi caste.
  6. To recommend measures for the socio- political empowerment of Kudmi tribe.

Research questions:

  1. In what way Census enumeration during the British rule in India has created problems of ethnic identity among different communities?
  2. What factors have led to considering an indigenous, totemic tribe as non- tribe?
  3. What is the impact of depriving a Scheduled tribe status to Kudmi tribe?
  4. How do the Kudmi tribe react to its mistaken identity as Kshatriya caste?


Literature Review

The Totemic Kudmi tribes are highly concentrated in Ranchi, Hajaribag, Santhal Pargana  and Singhbhum (Chhatanagpur plateau of)  Jharkhand,  In Orrisa (Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Bonai) ,  and in West Bengal  (Purillia, Bankura and Midnapore, Burdan, Malda, Murshidabad and West Dinajpur).  A well-defined territory bounded by the four rivers Damodar, Kanshabati, Subarnarekha, and Baitarni,  it has been a part of lower Jharkhabnd where the Totemic Kudmi tribes have co- existed with other tribal communities. (P.P. Mahto, 2000: 25) But in due course of time . some of the Totemic Kudmi tribes along with other tribal groups have migrated to Assam (Darrang, Sonitpur, Golaghat  Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, and Jorhat), Bangladesh and other parts of West Bengal and Orissa for seeking employment.

From Manbhum, the totemic tribes started to migrate along with other co-existed tribes as contract labours to Assam tea gardens in 1882 from Manbhum, they migrated Mayurbhand, Keonjhore for their existence and survival due to terrible famines of 1770-72, 1866,1872-74 etc. (  Basu,  1994:94) . Totemic Kudmi Tribes possess a single title Mahto in Jharkhand, Mahato in West Bengal, Mohanta in Odisha and Kurmi in Assam, due to linguistic variations.

The identity crisis of Kudmis as a primitive tribe, out of the Scheduled Tribe list remained unseen and unheard a passage of time.  As the Kudmis  became aware of and educated the issue became crucial enough to draw the attention of sociologists,  social scientists, anthropologist, media and the government in general.

Kurmis of Chotanagpur and Orissa belong to an entirely different type. Short, sturdy, and of very dark complexion, these kurmis closely resemble in feature the Dravilian tribes around them. In Manbhum and the north of Orissa it is difficult to  distinguish a Kurmi from a  Bhumjis or a Santhal , and the latter tribe,  who are more particular about food than is commonly supposed , will  eat boiled rice prepared by Kurmis; and according to one tradition regard them , who begot the Kurmis on the elder and the Santhals on the younger of two sisters. (  H.H. Risely, 1891: 529), Grierson, (1906). Coupland (1911) supported the statement made by Risely and Grierson that Kurmis belong to Dravidian stock and concluded the Kurmis  of Manbhum and Dhanbad are different from the Kurmis of Bihar.

The sections in use among the Kurmis of Chota Nagpur and Orissa are purely totemistic and it will be seen from Appendix I that a large portion of the totems are capable of being identified (Risely, 1891: 530). In Chota Nagpur and Orissa, though the tendency is on the whole towards infant- marriage, adult-marriage is still in full force, and sexual intercourse between unmarried people is tacitly recognized, it being understood that if the girl becomes pregnant her lover will come forward to marry her before her child is born. In such intridues the laws of exogamy must be strictly observed, and intercourse between members of the same totem is reckoned as incest and punishment by expulsion of the caste. The marriage is a highly primitive character, and comprises several usages of special interest.  After the preliminary negotiations have been completed and a bride-price (Pan), varying from Rs 3 to Rs 9, has been paid to the parents of a girl. Early on the wedding morning the betrothed pair, each in their homes , are separately married to trees- the bride to a Mahua ( Bassia latifolia), and the bridegroom to a mango ( mangifera Indica) (Risely, 1891: 530-31).


The totemic Kudmi tribes are very particular of their totems (clans) and a Kudmi can merely dare to cross the totem boundary.  The violation of marriage norms and other social norms are socially punishable by the social organisations of kudmi tribes. The social authorities of Kudmi tribe are Mahto,  Paraganait ,and Deshmandal Mahto (headman of the village and assisted Potait) who solves all the socio- political and judicial problems of the village. The post of Mahto is hereditary in nature. After the death of Mahto , it automatically transferred to his eldest son. A cluster of twelve villages form a Paragan which is headed by Paraganait (headman of a cluster of minimum 12 villages) who solves all the inter village dispute under his Jurisdiction. A group of Pargans (about six to ten) forms a Thapal, which is look after and governed by Deshmandal.   As per the traditional Kudmi tribal political system, this Deshmandal is considered as a real protector of Kudmi  tribe. If a totemic Kudmi tribe violates social norms Mahto or Paraganait persuades the Kudmi Panch to induce a fine a feast with hens. Cocks or a goat  that has to be arranged by the deviant family. The feast is eaten first by Mahto or Paraganait and he is called Hard Gilua. Having eaten feast/ food by  mahto is the acceptance of re-inclusion of the deviant family within Kudmi tribe and is behaved as usual. The entire Kudmi tribe is divided into 81 totems and marriage practice is exogamous by totem (clan) and  endogamous by tribe. Monogamy is the common form of marriage practiced by the kudmi tribes, and polygamy is also socially accepted.

………….On the other hand , the kurmis themselves have some curious prejudices in the matter of food, in which  perhaps we may discern traces of traditional antipathy to Brahmans which distinguishes the Santhal, A Kurmis, for example, will not touch fooked food by aby Brahaman escept his own Guru; while a kurmi woman will not eat food prepared by her husband’s guru. Santals will eat food cooked by a kurmi, but the kurmi will not return the compliment , though they will smoke from the hookah as a Santal,  and will take water from his hands. (Risely, 1891: 536).

A comparative Anthropometric  study  among Kudmi, Santal, Munda and Bhumij tribes  done by H.H. Risely:

Table 1.1


Stature Head Breadth
Bhumij                                                  1592 Bhumij                                                      139.5
Kurmi                                                    1600 Kurmi                                                        140.5
Santal                                                     1614 Santal                                                          140.7
Munda                                                    1589 Munda                                                         138.6
Head length Cephalic index
Bhumij                                                   185.2 Bhumil                                                          70.0
Kurmi                                                      185.6 Kurmi                                                           75.7
Santal                                                      184.8 Santal                                                           76.1
Munda                                                     185.2 Munda                                                         74.5

Source : Mehto, B.K. (1989), ), Kudmali Chari, P: F,  Ranchi, Mulki Kudmali Bhakhi Baishi


The 17th session of the All india Kurmi Kshatriya Conference held at Muzaffarpur in the year (1929), AND three delegates from Manbhum were present as representatives of the Chotanagpur Kurmis. (Singh & Mahato, 1983: 113). On the other hand Kudmi community passed a resolution in January 15, 1931 for Jenav Todo (जनेऊ तोड़ो) campaign (Break the Sacred Thread) was lunched. The large number of Kudmi population gathered against Kshatriyazation of Kudmis. To scatter the large gathering police had to fire as result Chuna Ram Mahto, Govind Mahto, Gokul Mahto, and Shital Mahto died and Janew Todo Abhiyan was subdued by state.

No. 550- whereas the tribes known as the Mundas, Oraons, Santhal, Hos, Bhumis, Kharias, Ghasis, Goands, Kandhs, Korwas, Kurmis, Male Sasurias, and Pans, dwelling in the province of Bihar and Orissa have customary rules of succession and inheritance incompatible with the provisions of the Indian succession Act, 1865, and it is inexpedient of apply the provisions of that Act to the numbers of those tribes. (The Gazette of India , May 3, 1913,  PP 471).

No. 3563-J, Whereas the tribes known as the Mundas, Oraons, Santhals , Hos, Kharias, Ghasis, Gonds, Kandhs, Korwas, Kurmis, Male Sasurias and Pans,  dwelling in the province of Bihar and Orissa  have customary rules of succession and inheritance incompatible with the provisions of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (XXXIX of 1925), and it is inexpedient to apply certain of the provisions of the said Act to the members of those tribes.

In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Indian Succession Act 1925 and in supersession of notification No. 550, dated May 2, 1913 of the Government of India is the Home department, the Government of Bihar and Orissa are pleased to exempt all Mundas, Oraons, Santhals, Hos , Bhumis Kharias, Ghasis, Goands, Kandhs, Korwas, Kurmis, Male Sasurias, and Pans, dwelling in the province of Bihar and Orissa  from the operation of the following provisions of the said Act. Namely sections 5 to 49, 58 to 191, 212, 215 to 369 retrospectively from the sixteen day od March, 1865.

Provided that this notification shall not be held to affect any person in regard to whose rights a decision contrary to its effect has already been given by a competent civil court. (The Bihar and Orissa Gazette, Dec. 16, 1931)

Besides the above facts the Kurmis of Jharkhand (Chotanagpur) enjoy the benefit of a special measure of protection from the laws of the Chotanagpur, for instance transfer of their holding to non- aboriginals was not permitted under section 46 of the C.N.T. Act, 1908.

Ignoring the above facts , the Government of India, Ministry of Law, notification No. SRO 510 Dated Sep.6, 1950, published the Constitution (Scheduled Tribe) order 1950, where Kudmi tribes of Chotanagpur were not scheduled in Scheduled Tribe list.

The president’s order in 1950 under section 342 of the Constitution, however, left the vague and Dr. H. N. Kunzru and fifteen other members of the Parliament wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on the 17th Dec., 1950 seeking clarification on the issue.  The reply on 15th February 1951 made it clear that the “primitive tribes mentioned in 1931 census, as distinguished from caste, were to be included as Scheduled Tribes, unless the State Government concerned that certify the omission of a particular tribe was incorrect and that the community was in fact not only a tribe but a primitive or backward tribe.( S.R.O. 510, Sep 6, 1950 and No 2/38/50- Public Dated the 5th October 1950).

Bishnu Charan Mahto and Khudi Ram Mahto were the delegates of  Chotanagpur Kudmi Panch submitted memorandum to Delimitation Commission  and Backward Commission  in 1955-56. (Mahto, K. 1991: 53-54) .

The various social organisations of Kudmis resisted on several occasions to de-scheduling from Scheduled Tribe list and submitted memorandums to State and Union Governments re-inclusion.

Despite of all efforts Governments did not respond, the All India Kurmi Mahasabha organised a conference in Patna unanimously resolved a resolution to rescheduled the Kudmis of Jharkhand into Scheduled Tribe list in 1971 and submitted memorandum to Government of Bihar.

The conference of Adivasi Kudmi Samaj held on December 27, 1987 at Junjhka, PS- Arsha, district- Purulia, West Bengal under the Presidentship of Takur Das Mahato (IAS, Reted) . There were near about one lakh aboriginal Kudmis present in the conference. The conference unanimously passed the following resolutions:

Resolution No. 1

This conference of the Adibasi Kudmi Samaj unanimously resolved that the Aboriginal Kudmi (Mahatos) community of the two Chatanagpur Division and Santhal Pargana Division in Bihar and Districts Purulia, Bankura, Midnapur and other areas within the state of West Bengal and districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh and other areas within the state of Orissa which had been included in the tribal list before 1931 and which has now  been included in Annexure one (1)  of the Backward Classes list in the state of Bihar is a Tribal community  and accordingly the conference request the Government of India to take immediate legal and constitutional steps foe re- inclusion of the aforesaid Aboriginal Kudmi community of these areas in the list of scheduled tribes in accordance with the provisions of Article 342 of the Constitution of India.

Resolution No. 2

Further this conference also unanimously resolved that the Kudmali language be recognised as a regional and tribal language in Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa.

The conference request the concerned governments of West Bengal , Bihar and Orrisa to take necessary steps for its teaching in all Educational Institutions with immediate effect like Ranchi University where teaching in Kudmali language from intermediate to Master degree has been already introduced (Basu, 1994: 12-13).

Conference of Kudmi , Ranchi (1972),  Conference of Kudmi in Ramgarh, (1975),  conference of  Kudmi in Mayurbhanj, Orissa (1977), conference of Kudmi in Ranchi (1978), conference of Kudmi in Jamshedpur (1979), conference of Kudmi in Jharkhand (1986), coference of Kudmi in Raipur, Bankuda, West Bengal (1986),  conference of All Jharkhand Students and Intellectuals (1986),  conference of Kudmi in Sili (1987), conference of Kudmi in Purulia (1987) and Conference of the Jharkhand Co-ordination Committee in Ramgarh  (1989). (Mahto, K. 1991: 53-54) .


In the 17th session of the All India Kurmi-Kshatriya Conference held at Muzaffarpur (1929), it was resolved that Chotanagpur Kurmis were sililar to all other Kurmis living in India (Lacay, 1933, Singh and Mahato, 1983). In this conference three delegates from Manbhum were present on behalf of the Chotanagpur Kurmis and They also wore the sacred thread there. Who were these three delegates of Kudmis never identified?

Mahato observed that in the district of Purulia and its adjoining regions of Bihar and Orissa, the Mahato (Kudmi) and other peasants still use the term Khila This word already refered to in the Gupta land grants of the North and Eastern Bengal has been interpreted as uncultivated plots of land given to the Bhahmins (Mahato 1982).

In Jharkhand among the tribals and peasants the collection of paddy and money for worshipping the village deitied under sacared grove or Sarna or Jahira or Gramthan is decided by the elderly members of the village and is officiated by Deouri  (Priest).

Having harvested the crop the Mundas and Kudmis moved on to another area and adopted the same method of agriculture there. Reference to the cutting of forests of the Vindhya region in the Harshacharita might refer to this practice might refer to the practice. The Munda and Kudmis were pushed by powerful Gond and Kamar from Kaimur of Vindhaya region preferred to settle in this forest country. ( Mahato, 2000: 28).

The views of Roy were supported by Ghurye (1943). Kudmis as a settled peasantry first tried to settle down in Sankhbasin of district Palamu.  At that point their settlement of Kudmis were fast absorbed into the tribal-cluster group of Chotanagpur plateau. In a folk song of Karam festival , the Kudmis still remember the Sankh river: ( Roy, 1912)

Aijre Karam Raja

Ghare duare, ghare duare

Kal re Karam Raja Sankh nadir pare

(Today the Karam god is within our households , tomorrow Karam god will go far, crossing the Sankha river).

Mehta observed that none of the important rivers in this areas like Sankh, Koel, Damodar, (Pushpakran, Pokarna), Swarnrekha etc is named in Mundari Language. Then who were the the settlers here earlier, than the Mundas? (Mehta, 1982). The Kudmis had to migrate from central India to the forestof Jharkhand because of the pressure from the Gonds and Kamars, in recent past when the Kudmis were still doing shifting cultivation. Kamars are found in all Kudmi villages in Jharkhand (Ghurye, 1943,  as cited in Mahato, 2000: 28).

Dalton’s claim a settlement of Kudmis of 52 generation back; in the province of Chotanagpur the ancestors of the people now called the Kudmis appear to have gained a footing with the aboriginal tribes at a very remote period (Dalton, 1872).

In the Santhal rebellion, in an encounter with police Chanku Mahato, a kudmi was shot dead in Barhet. He was the first martyrs of the Santhal rebellion which depicted in the folk songs of the Kudmi of Godda and Pakur, So the Mahatos are never considered by the Santhas as Dikus  and they were accepted in the regional moral order of Jharkhand as sons of the soil or indigenous people (Mahato, 1989).

It was settled that the Kurmis of Chota Nagpur and Kurmis of U.P. and Bihar are akin to each other and there will be inter-dinning and inter-marriage among the said Kurmis; the Kurmis of Chota Nagpur would join closely with the All India Kshatriya Association and will be guided by the directions of it— the Kurmis are Kshatrira and they have right to wear sacred thread. (Lacy in the appendix V of Census of India 1931: Bihar and Orissa as cited in Chatterjee, 2008: 4).

The scholars’ views and findings are the divided one about the about the origin  and validity of Kudmi as a caste or a tribe, moved with co-existed other tribes or caste groups with Kurmis of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But the scholars like Daltan (1872) in Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal writes the Kurmis as ‘unquestionably Aryans’, Risely (1884), in Tribes and Castes of Bengal describes the Kurmis of  Chotanagpur much alike those of the tribes of Dravidian stock. Sir George Grierson (1920), in Linguistic Survey of Chota Nagpur, are an aboriginal tribe of Dravidian and should be distinguished from the Kurmis of Bihar are designating themselves as Kudmi with a smooth instead of a hard ‘r’ .  The researcher found this significant observation in the field work that the Kudmis themselves and the co-existing other tribes in the study village pronounce Kudmi instead of Kurmi. These population neither heard nor read about the above mentioned scholars. Coupland (1910) in District Gazetteer of Manbhum describes the Kurmis of Chotanagpur aone of the Kolarians tribes, he finds —- the Mahto or village headman of the Kurmis corresponding exactly with the Majhi of the Santhals, the Sardar of the Bhumij and Munda of the Ho races. The researcher observed in the village under study that the co-existing Ho tribes have their own Munda Mehta (1982: 94) claims the similarity between the Kurmis of Chotanagpur region and those of the Gangetic Bihar—–with anthropological data he concludes that the totemic Kudmis of Chotanagpur were much similar to the tribals (Adivasis) of the regions and were distinct from the caste Hindu Kurmis living in Gangetic North Bihar and other region. Sengupta (1980, 2003), describes the Kurmi Mahtos of Chotanagpur region as originally tribals and cites the instances of a simultaneous initiation of the Gossaiyan Movement (Kudmi Movement) by Kudmi Samaj (society) of  Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam to preserve snd protect their cultural and ethnic identity from the threat of assimilation  coerced  by the Kshatriyasation Movement. Mahato has considered that Kshatriyasation is an attempt towards cultural silence and ethnic memocide of Kudmi in his Sanskritization vs Nirbakization.


2 Responses to “Kudmis of Chotanagpur”

  1. praveenjohn October 12, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    at book in in tamil

  2. mitraprof October 15, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    scholarly written. To me Mahatos are original tribe. They have totem practices, they follow sarna(Nature-worship), language is keen to Mudari, Social system is alike to santhals. In course of time assimilation with Hindus noticed. Kurmis of Purulia have distinct identity. More researches are required.

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