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Bundelkhand is not an administrative or political unit in the map of India and unlike Vidarbha or Telengana, it does not fall within one state. The boundaries of the region have been defined in various different ways.

In this website, Bundelkhand is defined the way it has been done by the governments of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh (MP), for development planning purposes. The region within these boundaries comprises seven districts of southern UP and six districts northern MP, with a total population of around 15.5 million.  Bundeli is the main language of the region.

Located in a hot and semi-humid region between the Yamuna and Narmada, Bundelkhand has a distinctive physical environment that has had important impacts on its development. Compared to many other backward regions of India, Bundelkhand receives fairly good rainfall, but the topography and geology of the terrain, soil types and the nature of precipitation is such that runoff and erosion is very high. As a result, both drought and floods are common.

Add to this erratic weather conditions, highly diminished forest cover and large amount of wastelands, and we get a low agriculture productivity region with low population density. This generalisation has to qualified. Bundelkhand has several sub-regions, with distinctive features.

Bundelkhand's history, from primitive times to present-day politics, does not make a coherent narrative. However, there are some enduring legacies. One such is the continued presence of a feudal culture. Another is the hold of dacoits.

A brief tourist guide to Bundelkhand is provided in this website, covering all the districts, their chief physical features, notable existing and emerging urban centres, major industries, educational institutions and monuments.

Except for the towns of Jhansi, Sagar and to some extent, Banda, towns of Bundelkhand do not have typical features of urban culture. The towns of the region are more like overgrown villages and except in Jhansi and Sagar districts, over three-fourths of the population continues to live in villages. Recent population growth trends however indicate rapid increase in urban population.

A key aspect of Bundelkand's society is that more than the rest of UP or MP, Bundelkhand is a 'Hindu' region. The two main groups of religious minorities, Muslims and Jains, do not constitute more than 10% of the population in any of the districts. However, mainstream Hindu religious traditions gained a relatively loose and late hold in Bundelkhand. Local cults and local deities continue to have a strong hold.

Another notable fact is that compared to the rest of UP and MP, a large proportion of Bundelkhand's population belongs to scheduled castes (SCs). On the other hand, scheduled tribe groups constitute a very small part of the population.

SC groups have advanced significantly in political and economic spheres since Independence. However the advance has not been uniform. People belonging to SC groups and scheduled tribes (STs) suffer from basic disadvantages, revealed in analysis of the caste pattern in land holdings and low educational attainment of ST groups.

The suffering and aspirations of the poor are the source of much of Bundelkhand's folk culture, which has received much attention of academics and experts of the region. Most of this attention has been narrow-focussed on form and language and is in the nature of proud celebration of regional identity.

A similar approach is seen with regard to the status of women. Many regional scholars extol the 'valour' of women who committed sati, and speak about the high status apparently enjoyed by women of certain classes in medieval times. There is little reference to the poor, present-day status of most women in the region.

This brings us to a dominating feudal culture of the region. Bundelkhand is one of the few places in India where until recently, one could see a large number of men (not belonging to armed forces, police or terrorist outfits) carrying guns. Guns are symbols of status; guns were also frequently used in internecine fights and against the poor. Guns have become less visible in recent years, but other weapons continue to be used against the poor, especially in land-related violence.

The culture of fear has been contested by civil society organisations like the Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan (ABSSS).  Spontaneous protests against this or that atrocity or injustice are also increasingly common and reported in the local media.

In contrast to this indication of growing assertiveness and awareness of rights, Bundelkhand has in recent times witnessed a large number of suicides. Not all these deaths are linked to poverty or hunger, but they all reflect desperation in an economy that offers little opportunity and choice.

As reflected in data on employment sources, Bundelkhand's economy is predominantly agrarian. The proportion of women in the workforce in UP Bundelkhand and MP Bundelkhand is generally higher than the India average, and much higher than the UP average. Incidence of bonded labour is found in all districts, especially in the mining and quarrying industry, which is the largest source of 'industrial' employment in some districts. People living in hilly areas depend to a great extent on forest-based livelihoods, which are hindered by skewed policies for management of forests.

There is very little modern industry in Bundelkhand; data on breakup of non-agricultural main workers shows that manufacture of beedis is the single largest source of non-agricultural employment. The handloom industry provides employment in some districts, and there are a few other cottage industries. Tiny and small industries in the manufacturing sector are found in most districts, but they cater mainly to local markets and growth is limited by size of the market and severe power shortages. The tourism industry has not grown due to poor allied infrastructure and fear of dacoits. 

Many new investments are proposed in MP Bundelkhand, including mega projects at Bina, near Jhansi. But the fate of these plans are unclear after the 2008 global economic meltdown. Concern has been expressed about the environmental and social impacts of the investments. There is especially much concern about ambitious plans to promote jatropha cultivation in Bundelkhand in a big way, for production of bio-diesel.

Agriculture in Bundelkhand is marked by low use of fertilisers, low use of HYV seeds and low percentage of irrigated land. Although a number of rivers flow through the region, water availability throughout the year is uncertain due to the erratic nature of rainfall and nature of the terrain.

Traditionally, the main irrigation sources were dug wells and large tanks. Many traditional tanks are in a poor condition. Construction of dams and canals after Independence has been beset with delays and inter-state disputes over use of water. There is some scope for increasing groundwater use through use of remote sensing technology, but ultimately increasing water availability is a complex issue, involving investments in better and more equitable use of water, and maintenance of existing systems.

Government effort is however focused on increasing supply. The most ambitious and controversial project proposed is the Ken-Betwa link.

Data on major and minor crops of Bundelkhand shows that pulses and wheat are the main crops, with wheat accounting for the highest area under cultivation in most districts.

Yields of wheat are however lower than state and India averages. Comparatively, yield of gram (chana) is higher and in terms of production UP Bundelkhand districts constitute the state's 'gram belt' the Bundelkhand region as a whole produces around a sixth of India's gram.

However, in general, profitability of agriculture is low, and large-scale migration, for the short term or the long term, is inevitable in both years of poor or erratic rains as well as years of good rains.

Two kinds of migration can be identified. The first is migration as a coping strategy, driven by survival needs, and is most common, especially among SC and ST groups. The second kind of migration, opportunistic migration, done generally by people from better-off social groups, is also significant, as it improves living standards of family members who stay behind.

Traditionally, livestock has been reared in Bundelkhand in large numbers. It is said, with some degree of truth, that the livestock population of the region exceeds its human population.

However, high ownership of cattle and goats is not matched by fodder resources, which have greatly diminished due to diminishing grasslands.  The cattle 'resource' of the region is today probably more of a liability from a macro perspective, though it does provide some non-cash benefits to individual households.

Fisheries in Bundelkhand are a key source of livelihoods to some social groups, but fishing leases are mostly operated by big landlords or powerful musclemen.  

Due to all these reasons, there is high poverty in Bundelkhand, as revealed by 2002 BPL survey data. The data, several media reports and independent investigations done by civil society activists also shows that there is high food insecurity in the region, especially among ST and other highly marginalised groups.

Bundelkhand is a backward region from other perspectives as well. Data on amenities in villages and households shows that education and health infrastructure is poor, and is reflected in low levels of female literacy and poor health indicators. Substantial investments are also needed to expand the transport network and improve electricity coverage in Bundelkhand.

There are several well-intentioned development schemes of the Central government of relevance to Bundelkhand. The UP and MP governments have also set up a Bundelkhand Vikas Nidhi and Bundelkhand Development Authority respectively for development of the region. However, no development effort will work unless people are aware of their rights and entitlements and mobilised to demand them.

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