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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 00:44 GMT
Indian kings proud amid poverty

By Rajeev Khanna
BBC correspondent in Dangs, Gujarat

King Chandra Sinh Suryavanshi and Queen Sushila
King Chandra Sinh Suryavanshi and Queen Sushila at their small hut
Their forebears once ruled as kings but now they cut trees to bolster a pension as meagre as $40 a month.

The five tribal kings of Gujarat state's Dangs region have not ascended the political and economic ladder as have many of India's ex-royals.

Instead, they struggle for survival, clinging to an institution that now lingers only symbolically in the jungles they once ruled.

As with all former kings, princes and maharajahs, the Dangs rulers lost their states with the departure of the British in 1947.

All they own today is a small hut for their family which has one or two broken chairs for furniture and a few ancestral idols that specify their lineage.

A prince of the Vasurana area, Dhanraj Sinh Suryavanshi, says: "We now survive on a paltry political pension of 2,000 to 3,000 rupees a month (about $40-60). We also till the land and get some money from cutting trees that the government allows us."

I find Queen Sushila sweeping the dirt when I reach her house.

She and other queens live in abject conditions. They are illiterate and most of their time is spent managing household chores and looking after the children.

But these royals are also emotionally attached to the jungle and do not want to move out of the Dangs, the region around the town of Ahwa, near the border with Maharashtra state.

The biggest city any has visited is the Gujarati capital of Gandhinagar. Some have travelled to a couple of small towns in neighbouring Maharashtra.

Economic burden

The Dangi society of 300 villages and around 200,000 people still affords due recognition to its kings in tribal functions.

They are still addressed by their former title of rajaji.

They are even given an annual ceremony of recognition by the Gujarat government, which pays their pension.

But their supporters say this is not enough and that the kings should be treated on a par with government ministers at public functions in the Dangs.

Five kings of Dangs
Despite poverty, the five kings do not want to leave their subjects

Shyam Sinh Pawar, one of the pensioned courtiers the Gujarat government allows the kings, says: "Just because they have not been able to become rich like royalty in the other parts does not mean that they cease to lose their status in Dangi society.

"The kings should be given their due place."

Dheeraj Bakul, who has formed a trust to help the kings, says: "They have always belonged to the forests and the forests used to belong to them. They were never after materialist possessions."

None of the kings has a high school education.

"Almost everyone has more than one wife and a number of children. Living in a joint family set-up adds to the economic burden on them," Mr Bakul says.

Some of the royal children are now studying but they, too, want to stay and work for their "subjects".

Queen Sushila says simply being a royal is not enough.

"True, I enjoy the status of a queen but my life is very difficult. The government should do something to improve our plight."

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