Comparing the Four Kathkari Hamlets
As a part of this course we visited 4 communities of the Kathkari’s.Kathkaris are the woodcutters. TheKatkaris are one of the 75 tribes identified as primitive tribal groups by the Ministry of Welfare under the Central Sector Scheme. In Maharashtra there are only three primitive tribal communitiesGond , Kolam , and Katkari and the state and central government are bound by the Constitution to take special care of the communities which comes under the primitive category.
The Katkaris have been listed as primitive tribal groups due to very low level of literacy, stagnant population, pre-agricultural stage of existence and economic backwardness. Populations of Katkaris are concentrated in Raigad and Thane districts of Maharashtra. Traditionally, the Katkaris lived off the forest for fuel, food and water. Today the Katkaris earn their living by working as landless agricultural laborers by taking fields on lease, fishing from the nearby river and working as construction laborers.
For this course we visited four hamlets. They were the Mangaon, Khanau, Belivand Mirkutwadi.
With the help of a resident we arrived at the Mangaon village. On our arrival we were welcomed by a group of people at the local school that consisted of the Marathas and Kathkaris. Our first observation was that the Kathkari people were made to sit in the school while the Marathas took charge and were managing and coordinating the setting. There were also school children seated in the middle and Kathkari men and women on either side. As it was a very formal setting, theKathkari people seemed uncomfortable and distant. We felt a sense of tension and uneasiness and that’s when we decided to break the ice. We extended out hands and introduced ourselves as students from FLAME who wished to study and learn about their community. We also mentioned the fact that we wouldwant to help in anyway we can. We requested them to continue with their daily routine and that we would just like to observe and ask a few questions. The Marathas on the other hand thought we were there to give work or donate funds and indirectly pointed to their needs of funds.
As mentioned above we wished to break the ice, however language was a barrier to some extent. During our field trip, we made few observations about this community. One of the first things we observed was the number of tattoos on the skins of the women folk. They had three dots on the center of the forehead in a triangle formation and one to the side of the right cheek. In order to understand the community better, we had to get involved however we had to be very culturally sensitive.
We asked them for their folk song or any song they knew. They were extremely shy and did not want to sing. They denied having the knowledge of any songs. One woman seemed to know the songs but was too shy to sing. So we said we will have an exchange of songs. First we sing a song and then they share a song.So a team member sang a Bhojpuri folk song, which really seemed to break the ice and in return we got to hear the song of their community.
The Kathari’s did not own any land, only theMarathas owned the lands around the village.We did a social mapping exercise with them and they showed an interesting inclination towardsthe mountains and forests. During the exercise one observation was that there is a special distinction between where the Marathas live andwhere the Adivasis reside. We found this outduring our conversation with the girls. Where we asked them to draw the houses and one avoided pointing out where her house was in the map and later she drew it further away from where the Adivasis stayed and said that she was aMaratha. But what was interesting to note was the unity amongst the Adivasi’sand Maratha’s children. On the last visit they also shared with their dance. The elder women folk danced and there was one middle-aged man on the drums and one lady with a tin box. The songs were a dialect of Marathi language.
Next we visited the hamlet near the Mangov community that was called Bayliv. This hamlet was situated in the higher ground. We had to climb a bit of the slopes and on the way we passed the Marathas situated there and then reached the Kathkari community. But when we reached there, not many people presentas they went for work and to the market.
When we visited this hamlet on another day we were able to meet more people. It was a small village with around 20 families. They harvest rice once a year and apart from that they go to nearby towns for menial jobs. They deny having a separate god but have started worshipping gods such as Sai Baba, Shiva, and Ganesh by the influence of nearby towns. Most families grow livestock as a source for income.
Very few children go to school. They have access to television for entertainment. Most of the women speak only Marathi. Whereas the men speak both Hindi and Marathi.
However through talks we had come to know that in this hamlet, there might be a upcoming project regarding a dam construction which is near that village andwhich will lead to the shifting of the community eventually.
The next community we visited was Mirkutwadi. This particular hamlet was located on the side of the highway. There we again were seated in a hall in which there were about ten men and ten women. The community seemed patriarchal asthe men were the ones who were speaking to us and the women were on the side. They initially seemed very disinterested and they wanted to know whether we came for giving work or giving donations. They were business minded in general. When asked about tradition they again were denying that they didn’t know much. One of the first observations was that they had connections with political parties and maybe were under their influence. They shared some details of how their marriage ceremonies takes place and that it’s not very different from the usual Maratha style of marriages.
They also mentioned the fact that they are involved with many organizations and associations of Adiviasis in india. They were also pressed for time. When asked if we can visit them on the festival of Holi they advised us not to come asthere would be rowdyism and they would be intoxicated.
We felt the community, as a whole would be difficult to work with.
The first impression of the village was that we could see a lot of opportunity to work with the community. On our entrance we could see from our far right a resort owned by a big industrialist.
We then entered the village and laid mats and tried to invite a few residents into a circle to talk about their traditions and culture. But only women folk were around as men of the village had gone for work and unfortunately the women were too shy. We tried different ways to make them talk but they were too hesitant so we requested out contact to show us around and we saw theindustrialist’s farmhouse from a distance. There seem to be many problems because of the industry but at the same time most of the men in Khanau workedfor the industrialist. We then stumbled upon a lake forbidden for the Adivasis as the lake belonged to the industrialist.
The Adivasis seemed to have an enthusiastic music band that seems to have started becoming modern in sense of dressing and style. We did the mapping exercise with them and they seemed to mark the resort a bit far away.
There is a school named after the industry in which a local lady, who is from another village who comes to teach the young children. She is also endowed with the duty of vaccinating and ensuring nutrition for the children; this is an initiative of the government.
People have a lot of pre-conceived notions when it comes to Adivasis, hence many stereotypes are created with respect to them. Our experiences with theKathkari communities of Raigad district abolished all of our prior impressionsand notions of the tribes. We did not come to them with promises of money or infrastructure. Rather we went in as students who longed to learn of them. We wanted to encourage them to realize their own identities, make themselves more productive and establish a platform for their communities in the wider global society.
The four communities have a lot of similarities with regards to their lifestylessuch as they speak the same language, they have a similar sense of dressing, they seem to depend heavily on the forest, they practice poultry farming, they do menial jobs like working in brick kilns and farms.
But the major differences that were observed were because of the geographical location of these hamlets. For instance the location of the Mirkutwadi is beside the highway so they are highly influenced by certain factors on the jobs they take up and reach they have. Similarly the other communities evolve and adapt according to the surroundings. So I feel the main difference between the four communities is that they seem to be no longer from the same Adivasicommunity, except for the way people look at them and the laws that move them further away from their culture. Another difference in the four communities is the lack of cultural identity at different levels.
According to me it seems like Mangaon and Beliv still have more sense of their cultural identity than Khanau and Mirkutwadi.