Chikanpalya: In the beginning was the tent

Proceeding to Chikanpalya bumping across barren lands where no road dares to go, we begin to get some sense of how the Hakki Pikkis set down their fragile roots….in wide open spaces on the edges of rapidly receding forests… far from civilisation. One reason they used to do this was to have the freedom to do their ritual habba involving animal sacrifice  without the fear of the police or squeamish neighbours. This particular site was chosen because an empathetic Revenue Inspector  (rare find!) showed them some gomaala that they could occupy and get regularised. The familiar blue tarpaulins flapping in the breeze visible from a distance showed signs that the settlers were trying to find a home in the middle of nowhere.

The story of this ”occupation” was told to us by Kilo whose parents obviously named him well! The very burly and manly persona of Kilo is softened with the little grandchild he is carrying tenderly in his arms. As is very normal, since most times it is the men who are looking after the little ones while the women go out selling their wares They came and settled here three years ago after they were first chased out by the forest department  from nearby Hoskere and then by the police from Kengeri Upanagara. Kilo himself was beaten up brutally one evening by the police while coming back home late. Here too, as in Kengeri, the Dalit organisation to which Chandramma belongs is helping them get Hakku Patras over the land. Other communities also live in the 6 1/2 acre spread including the Koramru, the Korachru, Dasasu and Lambanis. About 200 families from different settlements are trying to make and get a permanent home.

Many in this colony are known faces. Banian’s son Muthanna who we had met in Kaldoddi; many from Bannerghatta…Doctor’s brother, Permanent; Gopals’son Parthiban; Pak Reddy’s brother, Parmesh; Express’s brother, Suryakant who has built a lovely little dwelling with adke patti. Many are unknown but the names are familiar….Karyadarshi, Secretary, Number, Percent.

The small deras that are trying to evolve into semi permanent tents tell their own story of a fragile community trying to find its feet amidst the desperate, if matter of fact, poverty. Not unlike the small children who are trying to morph into little adults performing very routine domestic chores. School is a distant dream. Only a few dare to travel the distance to get an education that lapses into irrelevance in the face of their reality.The settlement had no source of drinking water till recently when a borewell and tank were installed. Till then they had to be content drinking red water from the nearby ditch.

Reaching out for medical help in emergencies like deliveries is next to impossible given that there is no road to the settlement. It is only the odd auto that dares to negotiate the moonscape to come here. One braveheart rattles its way through the rocky terrain and comes to a stop near us. A bunch of women and children who had gone to the nearby towns for business spill out. A fierce argument breaks out with the auto driver who finally resigns himself to the fare he is given. The women walk home, tired, but triumphant. Small victories!

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Kilo continues with his story…..”We have voter ids, aadhar card, ration card but no electricity and no hakku patras (title deeds). Yes the social welfare department has put up 8 solar street lights  and it is promising that it will build us more permanent homes. But it is taking so long. We will have to go and do dharna in front of the DC’s office if there is more delay. If the Government continues to neglect us we will have to go back to hunting. Yella Sullu..yaavdu sathya illa (Everything is a lie. There is no truth)We can not afford to give bribes to get our work done. We have neither the riches of the Bomman (Brahmin) nor the Himmat (courage) of the Mussalman. Where do the poor go for justice??”

On this desperate note Kilo draws our conversation politely to a close. He has to crank up his kitchen and start frying bajji and bondas for selling to the hungry hordes returning home from work. It is only then that we realise that we have been sitting on his makeshift stove!

We take the mandatory community photograph and pack up to leave. The board at the entrance proudly proclaims the name of the settlement, Yellamma colony; the name of its patron, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and that of its caretaker, Kilo. We depart hoping that by the time we come back next, with the blessings of Yellamma and Ambedkar this hardy little settlement would have found its feet against all the odds it is fighting.

When we reach the mainroad again we realise that the name Chikanpalya does not come from Chicken as we had thought, but from the neighbouring village of Chikka Annana Palya….the village of the smaller brother! Appropriate we think… since big brother Kengeri Upanagara lives but a few kilo meters away!

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