Golla(s) are nomadic tribes from the state of Andhra Pradesh. For generations, the gollas have been practising migratory pastoralism. Gollas in other states are known by the caste names Idaiyar, Kuruma, Kurmba, Peyya, Gampa, etc. The gollas settled in the Babusapalaya suburb in Bangalore identify themselves as Krishna gollas or Hanabaru and find themselves assimilated to the Yadav caste group. The tribe is struggling to eke out a living amid the pandemic. The photo essay captures the hard life of this tribe.
Shalini S | TwoCircles.net
BANGALORE – Meenakshi looked up at me with her longing amber eyes. When asked what she likes the most, she said, “buvva (food)” for the second time. Her chipped baby tooth was visible as she answered.
For the kids from the golla community, the reality seemed to be held within the captives of wanting to eat good food and play all the time. Meenakshi ran away as soon as her thathayya – grandpa – emerged from one of the tents. Her thathayya, Vallala Chinna Gangaiah is a 55-year-old man with a proud aura, perhaps because of his handlebar moustache.
Gangaiah is the head of the golla clan settled in the Babusapalaya suburb of Bangalore, Karnataka.
Golla(s) are nomadic tribes from the state of Andhra Pradesh. For generations, the gollas have been practising migratory pastoralism. Gollas in other states are known by the caste names Idaiyar, Kuruma, Kurmba, Peyya, Gampa, etc. The gollas settled in the Babusapalaya suburb in Bangalore identify themselves as Krishna gollas or Hanabaru and find themselves assimilated to the Yadav caste group.
Kancha Ilaih Shepherd in his essay, Meat and Milk economist remarks on GollaKurumulu that cattle–rearing “is a holistic economic and humane activity.” He writes, “Unlike the Brahman community, which cannot claim to have built shelters for housing the animals who needed protection as much as the human beings needed, the Yadavas, built an umpteen number of dwellings for both human and animals.”
The statement couldn’t be truer as Gangaiah flaunted his intimate relationship with Ramudu. Ramudu is a six and a half-year-old Ox and a companion at the work of Gangaiah.
“We take good care of our cows and show respect to them. The cows love us back, but if we disrespect them, the cow will definitely show its anger” laughs Gangeshwar, a 29-year-old golla man. The gollas leave their oxen and cows at the temples as they get old.
In the golla settlement of Babusapalaya, there are about 50 families who migrated from the Ongole city of Andhra Pradesh. Gangaiah migrated from Ongole at the age of 25 as soon as he got married, “I started life anew here,” he said. His relatives followed suit from Payapalli, Madicheruvu, Kandrika (different parts of Ongole) and started settling one by one with Gangaiah in Babusapalaya, with him making the important decisions for all the families.
“We moved to Babusapalaya as it is near Ongole. Busa (cattle food) and other crops are costly in Ongole and it is cheaper here. The villagers in Ongole are all farmers, and when we start our day, there will be no one in the houses to tell fortunes or stories and ask for money, so we moved to the city,” added Gangeshwar.
The gollas of Basupalaya take their cows out as early as 7 a.m. in the morning and stroll in different streets going from house to house, and shops to shops asking for money. Gangaiah takes his Nadaswaram with him and recites Oggu Katha – traditional folklore of Hindu gods and goddesses.
“There were days where people of the house used to invite us to perform Rama and Seetha Kalyanam, nobody follows such traditions these days,” said Gangaiah. The gollas earn a maximum of 1000 rupees per day on festive days and make a living of 300 to 400 rupees on normal days. The gollas also occasionally take to construction and welding works.
Their settlement lies abutting the railway tracks that run from KR Puram station to KSR main Junction in Bangalore. Many small tents are established. Animatedly, the locale looks like a science student’s environment project designed on a thermocol sheet.
As the children from the golla community were following me hoping that I would take pictures of them, a water tanker drove into the settlement and stopped in the midst of the colony. “The families call for water tankers once a week. A family of five pays 500 to get water and fills them in these blue barrels for a week’s use,” explained Gangaiah.
The government hasn’t provided water or electricity supply to them as they do not possess any legal documents concerning the state of Karnataka. “We move around a lot, the government didn’t have any problem with us so far. But if they ask us to move, we will move. Already ten families went back to Ongole in Covid,” added Gangeshwar.
What leaves one disconcerted is the “toilets” they have built for themselves. While men defecated and took baths in the open, women had raised a tent-like structure with the roof open to the sky to take baths.
The women of the community didn’t bother to stop. They were busy cooking, fetching water, tending the cows or at best chasing away kids who got mischievous. As I approached a middle-aged woman adorned in pink sari to enquire about the dangers of bathing in almost an open space, she simply shrugged. “Our women don’t speak much to outsiders,” chuckled Gangaiah.
The people of the community used candles to survive the night as they started settling in the early 2000s. “One candle costs 5 rupees. So we installed solar panels with one light bulb per house seven years ago,” Gangeshwar said.
The only educated youngster in the settlement, Durga, a 20-year-old high school graduate, stopped his studies midway due to online education. “I am looking for a job. I am not interested in studying further,” he said with a lazy smile. The other children of the golla community are sent to a nearby Anganwadi or sent back to Ongole to stay in their relatives’ houses and pursue education from government schools.
Interestingly, none of them has contracted Covid-19 even while living under such cramped conditions. “We could not mobilise at the beginning of the lockdown. So we went back to our hometowns. When all the other workers left by walking from state to state, we managed to get on a goods lorry to transport us to Ongole. We had to pay him a huge sum. We started coming back as they eased the lockdown early this year,” Gangeshwar said.
The gollas get help from the pastors from a nearby church, and a teacher from the Anganwadi. “Pastors and the teachers provide us with rations even in normal times. They give rice, dal and guddu (egg).”
The members of the community did not seem to have contact with the pastor or the teacher apart from being docile beneficiaries of the goods provided.
Commenting on the discrimination they face while walking down the streets, Gangaih said, “Since cows are considered auspicious, some respect us and give money. But gone are those days. People abuse us now. If the cow urinates and defecates on the road, they yell at us saying ‘Don’t you have hands and legs to get a job?’ and make us clean the urine and dung.”
“We are on the run all day. The money that we make is spent on our cattle. We don’t have time to think if we are being treated badly. Survival matters for us,” Gangaiah said. A faint voice comes from one of the tents, an elderly woman lying on her cot, coughs and asks me for a bidi – Gangaiah laughs and reprimands her “They are guests, don’t ask them anything.” The old lady was the only woman from the community to speak to me.