Sunday, September 08, 2013

Book Review: The Branded (Uchalya): A First Hand Experience Of A Criminal Tribe Uchalya

The Branded (Uchalya) written by Laxman Gaikwad is originally written in Marathi that was later translated to English for getting the message conveyed to a larger audience. Uchalya is an autobiographical novel that carries the memories of Laxman Gaikwad right from his childhood till he became an adult. Laxman Gaikwad took birth in a criminal tribe of India belonging to Orissa/ Maharashtra. This tribe named as Uchalya was labelled as criminal tribe by British under the Tribal Act of India.

People belonging to Uchalya lived in their own world with their own systems. Their major trade was looting and theft. They had their own internal groups divided and a newborn kid was handed over or sold to one of these groups to groom as a perfect thief. They had literally no living standards. Laxman remembers his childhood days in this book as carrying a small piece of cloth that he used as his bed on bare land. Nearby cattle urinating in the night used to flow the liquid to this cloth being used as bed. when this urine used to wet the cloth or kid's body, it used to give him a warmth. And that was only a relief point for those kids during the winter season. They had no cemented building or roads. They used to move from one place to another for land, food, trade, small kind of jobs etc.

The tribe often used to get visits of police in search of stolen gold, and other valuable items. Laxman was the only child in tribe who got admitted in a school nearby. He remembers his embarrassing days there when he was the only child in the class from a low caste or tribe and rest of the students used to make fun of him. Not only in school but the same happened to him within his tribe also where his family was scolded to break this trend of years of not sending any child to school. There was no regular washing of clothes in this tribe. Their clothes were used to be washed once in many months only when they used to get a chance to go near a river. Otherwise Laxman used to put his piece of cloth that he used to sleep on, on the roof of his hut everyday morning after waking up. 

This tribe had no cleaning mechanism or structured homes. Their open space was utilized for multiple tasks at the same time. On one hand where some people used to cook food, on the other hand the same space was used for wasteful activities.

Uchalya got Sahitya Academy Award in Marathi in 1988 and is also winner of National Award. 

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