Most Sabariya people live in the Janjgir-Champa district. In other districts, such as Raipur, Bilaspur, Korba and Raigarh, the Sabariya population is fewer and is mostly found in the areas that share borders with the Janjgir-Champa District.
A total of 99 villages were identified as having Sabariya members. Some villages have less than 10 members, others have a higher number. The villages with the highest Sabariya populations are Balauda (381 persons), Kamrid (230 persons) and Nawagarh (200 persons).
|Tehsil||District||No. of Villages|
As in the article of Father Britto, the Sabariya do not have their own exclusive villages. They share only a part of the villages in which they live, and at the most, 35 families live in a village. However, they stay a little further from the houses of other communities.
Relation to Chhattisgarhi and Telugu
The Sabariya language belongs to the Dravidian language family. So it is most closely related to the Telugu language. Chhattisgarhi is an Indo-Aryan language. So the linguistic relationship between Chhattisgarhi and Sabariya may be weak. Hence, we paid more attention to the relationship between Telugu and Sabariya on this trip.
K. S. Singh had listed Sabariya as Gond Sabaria in Singh 1998 and 1993. Singh (1993) highlighted the following points on Sabariya:
- They are a Scheduled Tribe.
- They speak Telugu among themselves (in-group).
- They speak Telugu, Chhattisgarhi and Hindi (inter-group).
- They live in Raigarh District, Madhya Pradesh [now in Chhattisgarh].
Most people that we met called their language Telugu, as reported in Singh and Menon 1997. They also called their language Sabri bhasha.
Britto wrote, “They speak a mixture of Telugu and Chhattisgarhi”. There must be a lot of the roots of this language related to Telugu. But their speech is quite different from the Telugu spoken in Andhra Pradesh. Pastor Joseph, who is a Telugu speaker, did not understand their language. He had to learn it and now he can communicate with them to some degree. And, in relation to Chhattisgarhi, the language must be very different so we did not consider even comparing the word lists with Chattisgarhi.
The language is actively used by the community, even though they are widely scattered. All categories (young, middle-aged and old people) of Sabariya people speak this language at home and with one another, and the children continue to learn their mother tongue.
We also asked whether their language spoken in different locations is different. They said everyone speaks the same language, and they all can understand each other. There is unlikely to be significant dialect differences among them.
A 210-item word list was also collected from the four villages we visited: Munund, Kotadabri, Govinda and Putekela. These word lists were compared with a Telugu word list collected by Liju Abraham (1996) because Sabariya is closely related to Telugu.
The decision criterion for comparing the word list is taken from Blair. According to him, two speech varieties showing less than 60% similarity are unlikely to be mutually intelligible and may be considered as two different languages, or at least as very different dialects (Blair 1990:20). For speech varieties that have greater than 60% similarity, intelligibility testing should be done to determine their relationship.
The four Sabariya word lists have similarities among them from 70 to 81%. They are similar to Telugu only up to 41%. That indicates that the Sabariya people would not be able to understand Telugu. And the Sabariya word lists show that there is a stronger relationship among them.
The Sabariya people we have interviewed said they came to Janjgir-Champa District about eight generations ago from Andhra Pradesh. They did not remember the region in Andhra Pradesh where they had come from. They came to Janjgir-Champa to dig a pond for a king, Raja Bhoj. That pond is still there in Champa town and has now been developed as a park. After digging that pond, the Raja did not make any arrangement for them to go back to their homeland, so they continued to live in Janjgir Champa.
They are called by various names such as Gonds (officially), Sidhar, Zamadhar, Sardar, Adivasi Gond and Sabariya. They prefer to be called Telugu Gond (Singh 1998). One man in Kotadabri village said that they were Gonds but they came to be known as Sabariya because they are experts in using “sabal”, a iron rod for digging earth (Singh1998:1064) . The most common name seems to be Sabariya, and people use that name most, so we have used that name in this report.
When we travelled in the Janjgir Champa District, the hospital staff could easily identify a Sabariya person, especially the elderly people. The men usually keep their hair long and tied in a bundle behind their head. They wear “Gamcha” a piece of cloth worn tightly around their loins.
Men and women work in fields, boys look after cattle, and small girls take care of the babies and houses. Their work includes tilling the ground, digging wells and foundations.
They continue to face land issues, so they meet together annually to discuss issues that they need to demand from the government, especially related to the land.
Primarily, the Sabariya people are Hindus and worship multiple gods. Some of the gods they have informed us about are Durga, Narsingha Dev Nath, Burhadev (a household god), Raja Bhoj, Vishnu, Mangal Dev, Sarangani, Paretin Dev, Dulha Dev (a household god).
There is an organization among the Sabariya called “Adivasi Samaj Seva Budadev”, which is just being established. Their office is in Sothi village and the president is Mr Jagdev from Munund village. This organization could become a bond that would unite the people of Sabariya. At this point, there is no strong leadership among them that can bring all of their people to one platform and approach the government.
Marriage takes place only among the Sabariya themselves. They do not intermarry with people from other communities (either giving or taking spouses for their children). Within Sabariya, they must marry someone from outside of one’s own clan.
The population estimate is very vague. Some estimated it as high as 50,000 people. The document provided by the Adivasi Samaj Seva Budadev listed 86 Sabariya villages and a population of 5,744. This may be a reflection of their actual number because the Sabariya villages are widely scattered. The highest populated village has 380 persons, followed by 230 and then 200. All the other villages have less than 200. Some villages have a population as low as nine people.
Though they are tribals, the government has not recognized them as a Scheduled Tribe. The reason is not clear. They are in the process of getting their identity as a Scheduled Tribe recognized by the government.
- Britto, F. M.. 2009. Illiterate, Migrant Children Get a Taste of Education, Thanks To Catholic Priests. http://www.cbcisite.com/cbcinews2972.htm (May 13, 2011).
- DDWS. 2011. Names of habitations in the yearly status report: Rural water supply programme. http://ddws.gov.in/ddwsimis/RuralWaterSupply/Reports/ReportYSRHabitationDistrict.aspx?districtId=0557&districtname=JANJGIR-CHAMPA (May 13, 2011). A report on 13 May 2011, for Janjgir-Champa District.
- Singh, K. S. and S. Manoharan. 1993. Languages and Scripts (People of India: National Series, Vol. IX). Delhi: Oxford University Press and Anthropological Survey of India. Page 105.
- Singh, K. S. 1998. India’s Communities: A-G (People of India: National Series, Vol. IV). Delhi: Oxford University Press and Anthropological Survey of India. Page 1064.
- Menon, T. Madhava. 1997. The Encyclopaedia of Dravidian Tribes, Vol. II. Thiruvananthapuram: The International School of Dravidian Linguistics. Page 88. [Quoted from Singh, with a little additional information on Savaria].
- Blair, Frank. 1990. Survey on a shoestring: A manual for small-scale language surveys. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.