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Korku is a scheduled tribe (ST) community predominantly found in the East Nmar (Khandwa and Burhanpur), Betul and Chhindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh and adjoining areas in Melghat region of Maharashtra in India speaking the Korku language, which is a member of the Austroasiatic language family.
Korkus have derived their name from the combination of the word ‘koru’ meaning man and ‘ku’ which makes it plural meaning tribal men (Russell and Hiralal, 1916). The Korkus are a branch of the great Munda tribes and are placed here in the vicinity of the great tribe- the Gonds (Deogaonkar et al., 1990). Korkus are initially believed to be a hunting gathering community dwelling in the forests of Satpura ranges on either sides of the river Tapti.
The Korku tribe lives in small groups of huts made of grass and wood. Every household has elevated stage like structure in the front side of the house. This elevated stage is used as a storage space of farm produce such as cattle feed. They socially consume liquor made from the flowers of the Mahua tree which is prepared in almost all the houses. Predominantly, a rural-based community with 98.74 per cent living in rural areas, Korkus are primarily cultivators. Whilst they share the love of the forests with the Gonds, they are also excellent agriculturists and in Bhainsdehi tahsil of Betul district have pioneered the cultivation of potato and coffee.
According to the 1981 census, 46.42 percent of them are workers. Of these, 48.38 percent are cultivators, 46.47 percent are agricultural labourers, 2.30 percent are engaged in rearing livestock, forestry, fishing, etc. The remaining 2.85 percent are engaged in various other occupations such as mining and quarrying, household industries, construction, trade and commerce, etc. They have achieved a literacy rate of only 6.54 percent as recorded by the 1981 census. While 11.68 percent of their males are literate, among females the literacy rate is 1.24 percent. Women play significant roles in the economic life of the society as they work as agriculturists and agricultural wage laborers.
The community is the home to a unique and distinct culture, possesses a rich heritage of age old traditional systems more pertinently in terms of indigenous knowledge, beliefs, customs and social system. Traditional representative body of the society known as ‘Korku Panchayat’ is found in many villages. Headed by a chief known as Patel, other members in the Panchayat include Padihar (priest), Kotwar (Chaukidar) and ten to twelve older male members of the community known as Panch. It plays a decisive role during traditional occasions mainly in festivals, marriages and intra- and inter-village conflict resolutions. Known for poverty, hunger, malnutrition, mass-scale exploitation by moneylenders and traders, the community confronts with numerous socio-economic challenges in the day-to-day life partly due to the poor natural resource bases. Agriculture though the primary source of livelihoods for most of the community members, many of them earn their livelihoods seasonally employed as agricultural labourers.
- Deogaonkar, S. G., & Deogaonkar, S. S. (1990). The Korku tribals. Castes and tribes of India, 1. New Delhi, India: Concept Pub. Co. ISBN 81-7022-297-4
- Fuchs, Stephen. (1988) The Korkus of the Vindhya Hills. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications.
- Russel, R. V. and Hiralal. (1916). Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India. III.
Media related to Korku people at Wikimedia Commons