(With Thanks from "Social Scientist," v 12, no. 134 (July 1984) p. 47.)
Class and Caste Differences Among the Lambadas in Andhra Pradesh The Banjara Seva Sangh estimates that there are some 5 million Banjaras in India, who are divided into 17 sub-groups in different states and are known by at least 27 different names.
All of them have a common culture and a common language. The Lambada dialect is predominantly a mixture of Sanskrit, Rajasthani, Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi and bears the influence of the local language.
They live in small settlements, each referred to as a Thanda. One peculiarity about this tribe is that unlike all other tribes which are located only in some districts or some states, the Banjaras can be found in nearly all the states of India.
The Banjaras are treated as scheduled tribes in some states, scheduled castes in certain other states, denotified tribes in some states, and some sections of the Lambadas are even considered as belonging socially and economically forward classes in some states.
For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, Lambadas in the Telangana region were only recently recognised as Schduled Tribes; earlier they were recognised as Denotified Tribes.
Lambadas are of North-west Indian origin, who lived primarily by their earnings from transportation on the pack bullocks. There is evidence to show that they supplied food grains etc. to the Moghuls when they invaded the Deccan. However, there is some dispute about the nature of their Moghul connection. Whether they accompanied the Moghuls as an ordinance corps in the conquest of the Deccan, and some of them later stayed back to continue trade, or whether they were already present as traders, having come in an earlier period, and assisted the Moghuls when the latter came South.
The tribe, forced by the compulsions of trade, was continuously on the move, and this probably helped to preserve its only form of wealth, cattle, from localised droughts, which are quite common even to this day. However, in the absence of concrete historical evidence the reasoning could be reversed to state that the Lambadas, to protect their cattle from drought moved in search of feed and subsequently took to trade which was initially a subsidiary means of livelihood. The development of cheap modern means of road and rail destroyed their occupation.