Gowri lives with her husband and four sons in Matter Koraga hamlet.
In 2005, I became an owner of an acre of agriculture land. We lived on the edges of the village in a small hut. Now, through the land struggle, we have obtained homestead land and have constructed a decent house which depicts our dignified living.
Before, people received free land in return for cultivating it. Tribal people too could have applied for land titles. But the notion of permanent, individual ownership of land was a far-off thought to most tribes as we were basically hunters and gatherers. By the time we realised the necessity of obtaining formal land titles, we had lost the opportunity to stake claim to lands that might have rightfully been considered ours. In fact, we lived a life of slavery; we were bought and sold along with land.
Now our efforts are to support and ensure every Koraga claims their right to land for a decent survival and dignity as land is inextricably linked to dignity.
Before land was allotted to us, I used to work as a labourer in the houses of upper caste people. We were treated as untouchables. We were doing long hours of work; it was a painful struggle of life.
I am an active participant of the land struggle since 1995. However, only after the land identification survey, the boundaries were marked in the year 2010. My family settled on this piece of land claimed by us. I was part of the advocacy programme of SGA and Koraga Federation for land infrastructures. The Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) assistance helped us in land-levelling, fencing, a drinking and irrigation well, and an approach road. Today I grow and own 60 jasmine, 10 areca nut and 15 coconut trees.
Like me, three other women – Geetha, Susheela and Ammanni – resettled in our hamlet. With pride, I wish to say that land is a breakthrough in my life to come out of the oppression. Now I am self-reliant!
Geetha, aged 40, lives in Mattar hamlet. She has a husband, Shekar, and four children.
Today I can proudly say I am a landowner; I own an acre of land and I have built a decent house to live in. This is due to the effort of SGA, ActionAid and Koraga Federation that has made it possible. Before obtaining land entitlement, we resided in Yellur village. As we were landless, we worked as agriculture labourers on a landlord’s land who belonged to an upper caste. We were bonded labourers.
Since the presence of SGA and Koraga Federation in our hamlet, I have been actively involved in development work, especially the land struggle of 1995. Here, I wish to share an unforgettable incident that happened in 1998. It was a cultural practice and duty and responsibility of a Koraga member to beat drums and burn explosives on the death of a person in the upper caste family. They believed that the bad deeds of the dead person would symbolically be transferred to the Koraga community.
On that day, Kapira, one of our neighbours, went to perform this ritual and he was killed while preparing the explosive. Kapira’s death shook me terribly, I was shocked! We all Koragas gathered to discuss and reflect on the severity of this practice. We decided to raise our voice collectively to stop such a practice and started a movement with guidance and support from ActionAid, SGA and Koraga Federation members. All members of our family got involved and took a lead role to organise people and help them come out of such practices and beliefs.
After this shocking incident, myself and my husband wanted to stop working on the landlord’s farm but we did not have an alternate livelihood and hence continued.
At this crucial period, the SGA and Koraga land rights movement gave us hope! By exercising our rights, we acquired an acre of land at Shirva.
We took two to three years to prepare the land for cultivation. With Integrated Tribal Development Programme’s assistance, we now have levelled and fenced the land, got drinking water, have an approach road and a new house.
Now, we are no longer agriculture labourers, we are cultivators! Our livelihood depends on jasmine cultivation and the sale of flowers.
My family is now settled, independent and leading a self-reliant life.
Bogra is 50 years old and a member of the Koraga Federation.
I was always under the belief that our practising the Ajalu ritual was our duty mandated by God. But it was only after the death of my friend while he was performing an Ajalu ritual that I became convinced that our Koraga community were losing their lives in vain and that religion had nothing to do with it. Today, our unrelenting struggle for a life of dignity culminated in the enactment of a law banning the practice of Ajalu.
My life was very distressing, we were made to eat food mixed with hair and fingernails of the upper caste people along with other inedible substances. They claimed that their sins were absolved through such practices. However, SGA and ActionAid made us aware of the oppression of the caste system behind this and guided us to vindicate our stand that practicing Ajalu was not our obligation, but a ritual that had been propagated to oppress us. I was at the forefront of the awareness campaign led by our community and SGA, and it is through this that our eyes were opened to the fact that Ajalu was a violation of human rights. I mobilised the community to stop practising Ajalu, especially the humiliating ritual of running across the fields, like buffaloes, before the beginning of Kambala (the annual traditional buffalo race celebrated by farming communities in coastal Karnataka).
The momentum towards getting a law to ban the Ajalu practice gained ground only after all the community leaders became active participants in the campaign which proved to be a turning point to this anti-Ajalu movement. As a result of our untiring struggle, the Ajalu abolition enactment came into force. Under the Karnataka Koragas (Prohibition of Ajalu Practice) Act, 2000, treating Koragas as inferior human beings and forcing them to practice various Ajalu rituals is now a crime. Flouting of any provisions of the Act is punishable by a term of imprisonment of between six months and five years, as well as a cash penalty.
I am happy and proud to share that the newer generation is completely liberated from this inhuman Ajalu practice.
Dogu acquired an acre of land in Brahmavar village in the district of Udupi through the support of SGA.
I was a landless Koraga, but I had big dreams of cultivating my own land. However, I was tilling somebody else’s land to earn a living. But now I don’t depend on anyone, not even my sons! I am self-sufficient all because of the trees I have planted on my land, they are everything to me.
In 2003, the Federation of Koraga Development Associations’ movement for land rights led to the allocation of land in Udupi district. I was allotted land and could claim my right to land.
It was a dream come true of becoming a landowner!
It took me nearly a year of hard physical work to make the piece of land, overrun by brambles and weed, ready for cultivation.
The first plantation, I remember, was the natural exotic fragrance of jasmine! It was given to me by the Federation. As days went by, my yield increased, and my income too increased from the jasmine sales. I believed in hard work and determination, I started planting more trees in my one acre of land. You will be surprised to know that I now have 30 coconut trees, 30 banana plants, 30 trees of areca nut and over 50 jasmine shrubs. In between the trees and shrubs are the sweet potatoes, brinjal, beans and bitter gourd. I prepare manure and water every plant from the well.
Even though I am illiterate, my hard work and determination has led me to great success. I wish my fellow community members too would become economically independent by cultivating their land. I suggest that it is better to work on our own land than work as a head loader for a daily-wage labourer, as this way we are our own masters.
The farm has given me so much. I may not have any savings, but importantly, I do not have any debts. My life has no dearth of dignity!
Shakunthala is 52 years old and is now the President of the SGA.
SGA’s support has been significant! My two sons are placed very well in their life. My elder son Sandeep did his master’s in physics and is working as a Research Assistant at Manipal Institute of Technology, one of the prestigious institutions in Manipal Udupi district. My other boy Sathish has completed his master’s degree in Technology (MTech) and is working as a Software Engineer. My husband is self-employed. Ours is a successful happy family!
Before, my husband was a daily wage labourer and an alcoholic. The fear of extinction of our community bothered me. I still remember those old days when I worked as a sweeper in a hospital to eke out a living. I witnessed many deaths of young children due to lack of food and deaths of pregnant women and lactating mothers due to lack of nutrition. Our life was filled with misery. I used to collect leftover food from people’s houses to feed my family. Any excess was kept drying for the next day’s consumption. This continued until I was 37.
SGA coming to our village was a turning point. They spent days and nights to make us realise the historical oppression and injustices that we were facing.
They made us aware of our rights as humans.
They strongly insisted that the only transformative tool is `Education’ to liberate ourselves from untouchability, discrimination and underdevelopment.
SGA’s work for our community was an inspiration for me. I ensured my two sons were enrolled in the school. I took an active part in all their development work. I took lead of the land and human development struggles. I grew under their guidance. Now, as President of the SGA, I have the responsibility of visioning for a better tomorrow for our next generation. Not only my family is out of the painful memories of our past, but the whole community is marching forward and rewriting history. Today no-one dares to exploit, discriminate and look down on us as the Koraga Community.