Badaga - Sociopolitical Organization



India is a constitutional and democratic republic, and the Badagas have been involved in electing representatives to the state legislature since 1924. But their own traditional sociopolitical organization also is still alive.


Social Organization. The community is divided into a number of phratries. It is not correct to call these units subcastes, for they are not altogether endogamous and they have no forms of occupational specialization. They are like subcastes, however, in that they form a hierarchy, with the conservative Lingayat group, the Wodeyas, at the top and the headmen's official servants, the Toreyas, at the bottom. Between these two extremes there are one phratry of vegetarians and three phratries of meat eaters. It is arguable that meat eaters and vegetarians constitute two moieties. The Christian Badagas, started by the first Protestant conversion in 1858, now constitute a separate meat-eating phratry ranked below the Toreyas but respected for their progressive habits. Each phratry is made up of several exogamous clans: two each in the case of Toreyas, Bedas, and Kumbaras, three in the case of Wodeyas, and more in the other cases.


Political Organization. Traditionally Badagas lived in a chiefdom, and they are still under a paramount chief. This is a hereditary position always held by the headman of Tuneri Village. Below him are four regional headmen, each in charge of all Badaga and Kota villages within one quarter ( nadu ) of the Nilgiri Plateau. At the most local level a village has its own headman, and several neighboring villages (any number up to thirty-three) constitute a commune. Each commune takes its name from its leading village; its headman is also the commune headman.


Social Control. The Badaga council system still has some influence, although its judicial authority has been greatly undermined by modern courts of law and the Indian legal System. Each headman has his own council, made up in the case of communes by the constituent village headmen; the Regional council is made up of the commune headmen; and the paramount chief's council, rarely called together, consists of all the headmen from all levels. The legal procedure requires that a dispute or crime be considered first by the hamlet council—with the headman's judgment being final—but a decision can be appealed up through the hierarchy of Councils. Major land disputes and cases of murder formerly would be brought to the paramount chief after consideration by councils at a lower level. In early times the headmen could dictate severe punishments, including ostracism and hanging. Today the headmen are mainly involved in small disputes and in ceremonial duties, and the district magistrate's court handles more serious cases.


Conflict. Although intervillage feuding and factionalism are still common, and the massacring of supposed Kurumba sorcerers sometimes occurred in the last century, warfare as such was unknown between the Nilgiri peoples in pre-British days, although it often occurred on the adjacent plains of south India. Badagas have no offensive weapons, only the nets and spears that were once used in hunting. A few now own shotguns for the same purpose.

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