The Banjaras, also known as Vanjaras, Lambadas, and Lambanis, originated as the gypsies of Germany and Austria. Being nomads, they kept travelling all over Europe in search of the exotic orient, and made contact with the Moguls and other martial dynasties. They started following these invading armies, providing them with their services, livestock, food, and getting intelligence reports of enemies. When the Mogul armies completed their conquests in the Deccan plateau and went back to their base, the Banjara tribes stayed back and scattered around the areas now covering Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka. They chose nomadic life, camping for a few days on the outskirts of villages, providing implements, livestock, traditional medicines etc. to the villagers before moving on to a different location. They have a different culture of their own, different worshipping practices, language, dressing style, and a very rigid values and moral upbringing, answerable in all ways to the elders of their ‘thandas,” the shifting villages. They remained isolated from other communities for centuries, perfectly contented in their simple living, not seeking any benefits or luxuries.
Our association in the early fifties, before Ali was born, was through his father, who was an anthropologist, and was awarded a United Nations Fellowship to study the movement of these tribes from Europe to India, to understand their needs and to support them in getting rehabilitated. As an IAS officer, he set up the first Tribal Welfare Department in the government, and also was instrumental in settling them down (including building his own house to be with them), in the area which is now known as Banjara Hills in Hyderabad. After finishing his studies at IIT Bombay, Ali went back to Hyderabad and spent considerable time helping them become a recognized Scheduled Tribe, brought out their first publication ‘Banjara News’ and was a counselor and Mentor to this community of simple, dedicated and honest nomads.
The birth of Banjara Academy
The name ‘Banjara’ was, therefore, the most appropriate when an institution was to be formed to reach out and connect to people. What began over forty years ago as an ‘extra-curricular’ activity, slowly evolved into a full-fledged institution, which is not just appreciated, recognized and praised all over the country, but is one of the few organizations from India to be granted full membership of World Federation of Mental Health, with voting rights. The first step was to open our doors for free counselling. It has been a joy to see that since 1983 anyone can feel comfortable to walk in, phone up or write to our ‘Helping Hand’, and for the sake of confidentiality, we do not maintain records, so we do not know the number of people who have benefited. Many other activities evolved over the next 30 years making Banjara a true oasis in today’s world of emotional turmoil and loneliness.
We started offering short-term courses in 1990 and the demand kept increasing, leading to the thought that we should have a full-fledged year-long program where the participants experience the issues being dealt with every week, come back and clear doubts, and put their learning into practice as the course goes on. When starting long-term counselling courses two decades ago, we were even offered an opportunity to affiliate with a top university, which would have given us credibility and an official stamp. But we resisted that temptation since it would have involved having a curriculum, textbooks, formal exams and lots of theory to memorize. We were very particular to keep this as a fully experiential course, enabling students of all ages and backgrounds to sharpen their practical skills of reaching out, understanding emotions, giving support and empowering counselees – while enriching their own life. Improving, innovating and bringing inappropriate changes every year, we now have the DCS course enriched with the experiences and feedback of twenty one batches, and this is the journey on which you can embark to become a Banjara with us.