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Batgama A significant Sri Lankan caste predominantly in the Kandyan provinces, the traditional occupation of which was the cultivation of rice paddy. Hence the name Bath (rice) and Gama (village) in the Sinhala language.
As with most other occupational castes in Sri Lanka, the traditional occupation of this caste too was agriculture under Sri Lanka’s feudal land tenure system. This community has escaped the British period consolidation of cultivator communities as the Govigama caste and exists as an independent but rather disenfranchised caste. Some writers have attempted to call it the “Palanquin bearer” caste.
The late British period saw the proliferation of native headmen and a Mudaliyars class drawn from natives who were most likely to serve the British masters with utmost loyalty. (Mudaliyar is a South Indian and Tamil name for ‘first’ and a person endowed with wealth.) This class resembled English country squires, complete with large land grants by the British, residences of unprecedented scale (Referred to by the Tamil word Walauu or Walawoo) and British granted native titles.
The British Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon (1883 – 1890) and his predecessors effectively used divide and rule policies and created caste animosity among the native elite and finally confined all Native Headmen appointments only to the Govigama caste. The British Government Agent Layard was advocating this as an effective policy for easy governance. Mahamudliar Louis De Saram’s family of Dutch and Malay ancestry had Sinhalised and Givigamised itself during the Dutch period and had a strong network of relatives as Mudaliyars by the late 19th century. This “Govigama” Anglican Christian network expanded further with the preponderance of native headmen as Mudaliyars, Korales and Vidanes from the Buddhist Govigama section of the community.
The creation of the above Mudaliyar class by the British in the 19th century, its restriction only to the Govigama caste, production of spurious caste hierarchy lists by this class and changes to the land tenure system, resulted in this caste too being classified as a low caste during this period. Although contrary to history, some modern Govigama historians even go to the extent to now suggest that this caste was traditionally bound to serve the Govi caste.
The influential Mudaliyar class attempted to keep this caste and all other Sri Lankan castes out of colonial appointments. They also used all possible means to economically and socially marginalise and subjugate all other communities. The oppression by the Mudaliars and connected headmen extended to demanding subservience, service, appropriation of cultivation rights and even restrictions on the type of personal names that could be used by this community.
Despite the above setbacks, several members of this caste are now successful entrepreneurs and are recognised as members of the local elite. They are gaining an increased say in modern Sri Lankan politics mainly through the alternative political party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna as the leadership selection processes within the two main political parties are not democratic.Some scholars from Batagama community dates back there presence in Srilanka to the time period of pre histiic King Ravanna period.Historically they have made fine soldiers and trusted body guards. Some common surnames such as " muthudarage" "illandarage"'Hewapedige"'Rankothpedige""Wagasenevige" shows their relevance to military services and some of these surnames dates back to aking adutugemunu era. Even at present Bathgama people together With "Deva" people make up the most of the bodyguards for political leaders. Due to marginalisation form mainstream Sinhala Buddhist society there are siginificant number of christian converts since colonial period since it provided much easier access to good education and government jobs.Still vast majority of Bathgama people are Boddhists and large number of prominent Buddhist monks of "Ramagna" and "Amarapura" sect are from Bathgama Caste. '
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