The Hakki Pikki Tales

 

Division, Depot, Collector, Government, High Court, Japan, British, English, Revolver Rani, Cycle Rani, Disco Rani, Apple, Orange, Wagon, Police, Inspector, Jailor………

Names that plot the rich memoryscape of  the Hakki Pikki people of Karnataka who are not afraid to reach for the shifting skies even as they hold on to their nomadic roots!

The Hakki Pikkis are a free spirited nomadic tribe who originated in Gujarat and have travelled through and settled in different states of the country where they are called by different names: Vaghris in Gujarat, Nari Koruvas or Kurvi Karans in Tamil Nadu, Haranshikari, Chigaribetegar, Hakki Pikkis in Karnataka etc.

Also called the Shikaris or the hunters, they used to traditionally make a living through hunting and trapping birds in the forest and selling them along with lucky charms and trinkets in the villages and towns that they passed through. Many made a living by begging which was to them a way of life, not a symbol of degradation and misery. A happy go lucky people, they learnt to survive the changing times in any part of the world, with their own resilient strength and canny charm.

However their ways of life and livelihoods revolving around hunting and begging was gradually criminalised. The forests ceased to be a home they could walk into and out from. The city failed to provide any secure alternative since it is not a greatly hospitable space for those who don’t have a home.

Our Story

In the fifties and sixties the then Welfare State of Mysore in the effort to “settle” this nomadic community and bring it into the “mainstream”created several agricultural colonies  to rehabilitate the now estimated 15,000 Hakki Pikki families displaced from their nomadic way of life…particularly in districts around the Southern part of the State…..Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya, Ramnagara, Shimoga, Hassan, Chikmangalur, Tumkur, Dodballapur, Chintamani…. upto the borders of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

One such colony nestles on the edges of the Bannerghatta National Park about 20 kms away from the centre of Bangalore city. Here, in 1962, some families of the Hakki Pikki tribe along with families of the more reticent forest dwelling Iruliga tribe were granted 350 acres of land released for purposed of their resettlement. This perhaps is one of the few Hakki Pikki settlements where members of a more settled tribe have been used to help an itinerant community make the transition to an agricultural one.

Over the years, as a result of the inordinate delay in granting them their title deeds, the community has been wracked apart by upheavals, generated not so much by the fundamental shift from forest to land as their primary source of livelihood but the transformation of land itself as a source of sustainable livelihood in the Welfare State of the sixties to an expendable  resource in the Market State of the nineties. It has not helped that Bannerghatta which was earlier part of the protected green belt area has been transformed into a suburb of the city that is spreading relentlessly greedily gobbling up all the land that lies in its onward march to prosperity and decay.

Our own involvement with the community that has lasted over three generations since the eighties, has been as much personal as organisational. Daya, brother of the late Patrick who was the first to set his idealistic foot into the Colony to live his dream, stayed back permanently to make the community his home and family after falling in love with and marrying  Gundamma, an Iruliga tribal. I, Madhu, who came in as a young woman in the early nineties and has now grown old with them . Amelia, Altaf, Mamta, Munikrishnappa, Shivmurthy and the many others from CIEDS/Vimochana who have related with them at different levels over the past decades.

Sharing some parts of the rocky if riotous journey of these two diverse communities we have borne witness to the relative failure of this resettlement process on the urban edges and the impact it has had on the people.

The questions we began to ask ourselves is whether other members of  the community in other parts of Karnataka have followed the script, set down their roots and settled on land that is their own and not a mirage. Or deprived of land and traditional sources of livelihood are they being driven to a total loss of autonomy over their lives.  Given the current lack of concern and/or vision for their future, are nomadic communities like the Hakki Pikkis being absorbed and discarded as faceless, degraded and impoverished byproducts of the mindless mass society being produced by the contemporary processes of development….or are they still enabled to survive the onslaught of urbanisation thanks to their innate survival skills?

Film Making as a Conversation

Even as these questions haunted us, with the help of Vinod Raja from the Grassroots Media Collective, over the past few years, we had begun informally documenting on video, stories and memories of life seen through the eyes and experiences of some community elders in the Bannerghatta settlement who were among the first generation settlers. Before being consigned to the waste bins of time, these memories and stories were collated into a 20 minute film that is now being used to start an intergenerational conversation, not only within this specific settlement but across the different settlements in Karnataka.

Following the Hakki Pikki trail over resettlement colonies across the state, a small group of community representatives from Bannerghatta, activists and film makers are travelling, speaking , listening and digitally documenting  tales of how their people have survived these changing times.

The blog hopes to capture some memories and moments from the journey that we hope will provide some interesting signposts from the past for the generations to come.

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