Posted in development, rural, sanskritization, thigalas

The Thigalas of the Hills

_MG_8977HaleKote is a small hamlet of Durgadahalli in Devarayanadurga, located 20kms off Tumkur, Karnataka. There are about 60 families, most of the members happen to be descendants of three large families. They speak Kannada.

HaleKote is a homogeneous village with its entire population belonging to a single caste – Thigalas. But some of them, for instance, Naggamma ajji would claim that they were not originally Thigalas.

The origin of the true Thigalas themselves has been highly debated through time.

A search on Wikipedia reveals that it was King Hyder Ali who encouraged and brought the Thigalas to Bangalore so that they could plan and construct Lal Bhag – the mighty flower garden of Bangalore.

In another article published by ‘The Hindu’, Niranjana Ramesh states that Thigalas were responsible for the popular inscriptions on the walls of the Begur Temple. She goes to claim that it is a sadly less known fact that these inscriptions were carefully carved out by the Christian community of Thigalas who resided there more than four centuries ago. In due time, it was Tipu Sultan who brought the Thigalas to Bangalore, who eventually became responsible in transforming Bangalore into – The Garden City.

On the contrary, some believe that it was Kempe Gowda, the feudatory ruler of the Vijayanagara Empire, who led the Thigalas into Bangalore. Kempe Gowda established Bangalore as his capital and got the Thigalas to help him convert the city into a city of flowers.

One thing in common amongst all Thigalas that came into Bangalore city was that, they all spoke Kannada interlaced with a slight mix of Tamil.

The most factual record of the Thigalas so far is that, a Karnataka state government order issued in 1994 that all Thigalas were a sect of Backward Hindu Caste. Although it was only in 2001 that the residents of HaleKote were included into the Indian caste system by casting them off as Thigalas.

So where do the Thigalas of HaleKote come from?

Some of the people I met in HaleKote vividly recall their grandfathers and granduncles being hunters. They also recall of hearing stories of being descendants of people of the hills, the tribals. They told me that their ancestors lived on the hills and hunted for food. The only reason why they would occasionally come down had been for water, which a mighty well at the bottom of the hill provided. Today, they live at the foot of same Devarayanadurga hills. In due time, Bangalore became the Silicon Valley of India and got inundated with people from across the world. With the city getting crowded and land becoming scarce, it was no surprise that the government soon began looking at expanding the city. Tumkur became one of the first targets under this expansion project. Between the years of the founding of Siddaganga Institute of Technology in 1963 and the later laying of Nice Road in 2014, regions in and around Tumkur began getting much more accessible and developed. During these years of development in Bangalore, urban invasion forced the tribals to come down from the hills. These tribals transformed from food gatherers to food growers. Thus, they got engulfed into the Hindu system as Thigalas of HaleKote. Thigalas, the flower and vegetable reapers.

It has only been about 60-70 years since they have made their way downhill and settled down as villagers and already, they are faced with the enticements of the city of Bangalore. Most villages in India face this enticement today. But this luring of the city has happened after years of living as villagers rooted in their own unique culture for long enough. And this forming of a deep rooted identity is what the Thigalas of HaleKote unfortunately have not had the time for. While some Thigalas of HaleKote today work as carpenters, plumbers, painters, or even in different companies in the city of Tumkur, most of the population are largely agriculturalists. But even through this process of change and adoption of various occupations other than just farming, a large part of Thigalas still hold on to various tribal practices. For example – hunting; some of the Thigalas still go up the hills and hunt for animals and birds.  Hence, it is probably right to say they are stuck in a labyrinth. Not necessarily in an uncomfortable one but still a labyrinth.

By far their transient transition from tribals to villagers has been consistent and smooth. But although they have been casted off as Thigalas they still remain a distinct sect because of their tribal lineage. For example, villagers of HaleKote, after coming down from the hills, worship Goddess Maramma. Maramma is said to be an incarnation of Draupadi and most Thigalas around the country worship her. But HaleKote has personified Maramma and represented her in the form of a large stone deity whose features are ill-defined. This is in contrast to most Goddess’s in the Hindu culture, who have explicit physical features. The reason for this physical ambiguity can be attributed to the fact that the Thigalas of HaleKote, as tribals mostly worshipped stones and trees as it was these forces of nature that guarded and protected them and hence it made sense to pay homage to them.

When I asked Nagamma ajji, the second eldest woman of HaleKote, of the story of the origin of Thigalas, she had a rather interesting tale. This is what she told me:

“One day when Shiva and Parvathi were sitting together, Shiva began to feel very hungry and requested Parvathi to prepare a meal for him. When Parvathi entered the kitchen, she found to her dismay that there were no vegetables to cook. On complaining about this to Shiva, Shiva thought for a while and requested her to give him seven days’ time. It was in those seven auspicious days that Shiva created the Thigalas. He asked us to grow vegetables and become the source of life to him and Parvathi.”

I believe that the Thigalas are at a very interesting phase. A phase that we don’t very often get to witness at such a rapid rate. Although, residents of HaleKote truly believe their identity to be that of Thigalas, there is no doubt that the evidence of their tribal background still (consciously or unconsciously) transude into their lives. It would be fascinating to watch the direction of the growth of these vegetable and flower growers. As much as they hold on to their Hindu identity, the question still remains if – Will the Thigalas of HaleKote rise to a day when they manage to fully and thoroughly sanskritize themselves into the Hindu system and find their place in it? Or will they eventually carve out their own distinct niche that sets them apart from the other Thigalas?

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Posted in development, education, progress, rural, urban

The Curious Case of Development

I’ve been living in HaleKote, a small hamlet village of Devarayanadurga, 20kms off Tumkur, Karnataka, in the name of research. Two weeks down the lane and my entire idea of village life and poverty and development has been thrown upside down, as if someone had permanently messed up your room and suddenly you start to see an order in that mess.

I had my own preconceived notions of a village. It would be poor, people would lack certain basic amenities, people would be eager to learn, people would complain of their difficulties, there would be grave injustice against women, people would narrate to me tales of superstition and be extremely god fearing.

My first slap on the face was about poverty. Taking a look from the outside and seeing their clothes, standard of living, hygiene and life style, you’d surely have the opportunity to slowly shake your head and comment on the lack of development of HaleKote and stretch into an extended discussion of this government, its policies and more. But now that I have spent two weeks here, I find that every individual in the village has three full meals a day and at least two cups of tea/coffee. No matter how small their house/hut maybe, they all had a dish TV installed which was constantly on whenever electricity was available, which was approximately 8-12 hours a day. Water was a problem on occasion but not a big enough issue to lament about just as yet. Emotionally, all of them lived amidst the warmth and occasionally the friction of their family. Of course, they had occasional tiffs about money and property and other issues. But then again does development really eradicate these issues? Keeping this context in mind, I didn’t find that the villagers of HaleKote particularly craved or rather needed anything more. Of course man being man, they sure did have wants and desires. But HaleKote suddenly no longer seemed like a poor village to me. And that puts me in a dilemma as to what poverty really is?

Education has often been noted as the best anti-dote to poverty. But then, one takes a look at the current education system and one wonders about the quality of education. Is the system really equipping one with knowledge of ‘life management’, if I may call it? Or has it merely become a certificate that empowers you with acceptance, a path to power? Does education teach one to handle that power? To channelize that power? To know when to give up that power?

I’m yet to form strong views on this subject but I’ve been told that confusion is a good place to start with.

HaleKote has a government school that provides free education for girls and boys. Men who are currently in their thirties seemed to have studied in school only till 7th or 8thstd while the present school going boys seem to continue their education, sometimes even going on to attend college. Majority of the women who are now in their thirties seemed to have dropped out of formal education by 4th or 5th grade. But lately most girls attempted to stick on to school at least until 10th std. In my judgmental mind I had thought “wow that’s an improvement”. But was it really? When I spoke to some of the women and asked them what they thought of education and if they thought it was important or not, I received a rather interesting answer.

“Education is for people who want to become engineers and doctors. If one simply intends to marry, have children and look after their farm and family then why would one waste time studying in school? They’d rather learn house work and ‘educate’ themselves in what is necessary for their life.”

The system of education puts one in a box, an inevitable feature of any rigidly structured system, and prepares one only for certain aspects of life. In a nation that requires a holistic developmental growth is it really necessary for every single individual to be part of that ‘system’? Maybe, it is only healthy for a country, that few people choose to form their own structure of education and thus contributing to the different dimensions of progress and development that our education system does not address and cater to.

My ‘feminist-ideology-fed’ mind first rebelled when I heard the women say that. I wondered why a woman should be confined to her home and be forced to look after the family. But then I thought, ‘What if this was a conscious consensual decision taken to ensure a balanced and smooth running of family?’

For instance let’s look at Hemalatha’s case. She was a class 9 student and detested going to school. She did not score well in her exams and preferred to stay at home and engage in household activities. Shwetha on the other hand is in 12thstd and loves to study and is hoping to get a job in a bank. Both the girls come from the same village and chose their paths. Yes of course, there are situations when the girl wants to study but the family cannot afford it or doesn’t believe she should. But here I’m talking about instances where there is a choice and being able to choose your path.

If education was said to eradicate ignorance, to me suddenly, awareness of ones choices seemed to be the one that eradicated ignorance.

Since it has been largely established that education can be a solution to poverty and thus lead us to development, allow me the freedom to question the problem, now that we’ve questioned the solution.

Jonathan Glennie, writer, researcher and currently director of policy and research at Save the Children, stated that “Development is dignity or it is nothing. The opposite – development without dignity – is not worth having.” So now I ask…how do we derive at dignity? What dignity is to me could be a shame to someone else. Hence I wonder, does dignity come by practicing the Gandhian policy of live and let live? In that case, could dignity also mean, being a silent witness to something that defies your morals, on the basis that you taking/voicing your offence itself could be offensive to someone else? And thus, in that process you fail to deliver true dignity?

It’s quite perplexing to think of it this way, isn’t it?

Development has given birth to a rather discriminatory term: ‘the haves and the have not’s’. This is a frequently encountered concept especially in a third world country like ours. I’d urge you to step outside your bubble and look at things this way for a few minutes… What if you didn’t see the two groups of people as ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’? What if they were just two groups of people coexisting parallelly? One group would be the one that received structured and certified education, the one that engaged in foreign relations and lived in an urban space. The other group would be the one that got experiential education; largely engaged in farming, animal husbandry, and maybe even in cottage industry and lived in rural spaces. What if these two groups were not constantly juxtaposed against each other? What if they weren’t compared and looked as better or worse? Again, we come back to the point of stepping outside the ‘educational box’.

It would be fine to say one group was better than the other if the path that, that one group adopted guaranteed happiness, equality and liberty. But when the concepts such as happiness and liberty itself are so highly subjective how do we arrive at a formula that can be administered to all?

Amartya Sen, economist and philosopher, puts forward a rather interesting take on development in his book ‘Development as Freedom’. He formed the Capability Approach (CA) which revolved around two vital elements: People and their capabilities. He believed that a particular place can be said to be truly developed when its inhabitants have had the freedom to fully explore their capabilities with the resources and facilities available to them at that given time. Having the capability and not exploring it was not development. For example, simply having a pen didn’t mean that the person would write very well. Unless the person fully understood and used the pen to its maximum capacity, the pen would be of no meaning.

This is one take on development that I find myself agreeing to most. Although, another part of me finds this approach far too idealistic. The process of being able to explore ones potentials, even when the resources are available itself, depends on so many factors such as interest, or proper mentorship, or priorities etc. And to go into those factors now, would be slightly too mind boggling.

I’ve been repeatedly warned not to mix politics and philosophy. But I always wondered how it is possible to separate ones believes and ideologies from the kind of lifestyle and discipline one decides to live by? Could it be that the people asking me to separate the two are scared? Afraid that when one mixes philosophy with the current state of politics in our country, one might just sit back in fear and confusion? It’s not a conclusion I’m arriving at, but merely a suspicious doubt.

Once again, the room has been messed and I grope around to make sense of it.