Shankarapura: The old woman and the land

March 14, 2015

On a time scale Shankarapura seems to be the earlier avatar of Pakshirajpura. Hindu is the big chief who comes to receive us and we sit down to talk on the ‘dinne’ of his house where people gather. The houses are small, scattered and many still live in deras. “We came here 24 years ago” Hindu says. “And I named this village after my mother, Shankaramma who not only fought the battle to gain rights over the land but also supported my efforts to fight for justice.” Shankaramma, a small weather beaten but bright faced old woman, sits at the door to her house and  regales us with funny stories about how the men used to treat the women and how the women fought back. The colourful language she garnishes her story with in a loud voice that belies her tiny size delights the crowd around us. She giggles covering her face with her hands. Hindu looks on indulgently.

About 12 years ago, a responsible and conscientious  DC took the initiative of buying 3 acres of land on which about 60 of them were given sites and hakku patras for the houses that were subsequently built. As ashram school was also set up in the nearby village. But they have little or no land for cultivation. They were promised the 35 acres over which some are cultivating small plots of half an acre each but this is held up in litigation since they have competition from the neighbouring Gowdas. Parosh Khan speaks indignantly of how they are stopping them from not only cultivating it but even peeing in it. The case is now in the High Court.  Little Praveen speaks about how they are given a rough time in school where nobody sits next to them saying that they are dirty.

We witness a live performance of how they used to hunt complete with cow, hat and bale. “If the government cannot provide us alternative livelihoods to the ones they have taken away from us then we will go back into the forests and start hunting” Hindu  thunders in frustration.

Looking at the stark contrast in the way the Hakki Pikkis live in Pakshirajpura and Shankarapura it is obvious that not all Hakki Pikkis have been able to adapt to the changing environment and the criminalisation of their earlier livelihoods like hunting has pushed many of them into deeper despair.

But the survival spirit shines through the eyes of the children….Vyshali, Paweena, Rahul, Rachel, Shaalu, Ashon. The total comfort with which a little baby monkey, has adopted them as its own and monkeys around with them seems to speak to the natural grace with which they live at one with their own nature and that around them inspite and despite the odds stacked against them. Vyshali’s shy, sharp, serious gaze follows and stays with us as we leave.

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