The Stories Of Change

A Wait for a Home; A Wait Too long

Over 50 families in rural Karnataka were asked to vacate their houses due to expansion of a local market. The government promised new homes for them. Three years have passed and the community is still homeless.

Rani, a 71-year-old woman living in Hoovina Hadagali in the Bellary district of Karnataka, spends her day begging on the streets to make ends meet for her family. She’s been doing this, day in and day out, after the local Panchayat striped her and her family from their homes.

Rani, one of the elderly members of the ‘Banjaaras’

Rani is one of the hundreds living in a similar condition where a secure house and a regular income is hard to achieve.

This group of close to 50 families, known as ‘Banjaaras’ by the locals, have been living on a field with tents for the past three years. With no electricity, proper water or sanitary facilities, life has been extremely tough for them.

As much as seven people stay in some of these small tents

They wait every day in a hope that the Panchayat will come to them and solve their misery as they had promised a few years ago. The families wait to feel the comfort of a proper home where their families can live together, safe from the harsh rain or burning sun. They wait for recognition from the government, so that they can access basic amenities like ration and gas for their everyday survival.

“We didn’t have proper homes back then either. But we were comfortable. We were recognized by the government as local citizens. We all had jobs, no matter how small. Now we have nothing. Our children have nothing,” Hanumanta, a member of the group said.

Hanumanta’s home

Hanumanta lives with his wife, two daughters and parents in a tent too small to even fit three people. He sells balloons and small toys, which he makes out of wool, in the local Melas.

The rest of the members have hardly any earning. Most of them beg on the streets. A few women have been lucky that they’ve bagged a job as household help in the residential areas nearby.

An unfulfilled promise

Shanti Bazaar, the place where they lived previously, was their home for years. Their ancestors, too, had lived there and expanded their families. The government in 2015 had asked the Banjaaras to vacate the area for expansion of the market. Though the Banjaaras did not want to give up their land, they had to. The pressure created on them by the then MLA made them move out of their humble abodes.

The government had verbally promised the group a resettlement by building new houses within three months’ time. Even now, in 2018, there have been no signs of development for them.

“We get drinking water delivered here in a tank once a week. We have to store them in tumblers for the rest of the week. We buy ration from whatever little money we earn. On most days, we eat out of a single plate, as there isn’t sufficient food,” said Shiva, a daily wage labourer, and a father of two.

Hoovina Hadagali, as a Taluk in itself, faces a shortage of clean drinking water supply. The taluk doesn’t have enough generators to run the filtration process for the whole week. Frequent power cuts contribute to the problem.

The never ending woes

Other than the everyday problems of food and water, there is also a huge problem sanitary wise. There are no toilets in the area. Only a makeshift, covered on three sides, arrangement for every four tents on the field can be seen.

“What do we do? There is no other way. We know it is not clean, and can lead to diseases, but we have no other choice. Women take a bath only at night or early in the morning, when most of the people are indoors,” said Lakshmi, a 21-year-old young mother.

Lakshmi with her 2- year- old daughter

On the other hand, monsoons are the worst for them. Heavy rains flood the tents forcing the people to take shelter in nearby bus stands, under trees, and temples. There have been times when the water has washed up all the sewage waste into their tents and caused many of them to fall sick.

“The rains are too harsh on us. That time period of one- two months, we struggle to keep our tents on our heads. Everything gets dirty and mucky. We pray for the sun then. You see, we are never really at peace, throughout the year,” added Rani.

A bigger war for children

Children make up a large part of the Banjaara clan. They are the ones who are the most affected by their current situation. Only a small portion of these children go to school. Government schools, where education is free till class seven, is the extent to which the Banjaaras can afford to send their children for education. After class seven, most of them go about in search for unskilled jobs or join the bandwagon of everyday labourers.

More than half of the members of this group are children

The girls help their mothers in the household chores and also work in the homes of others. Their parents want them to get married soon, in a hope to free them of their miseries.

It is not as if the Banjaara clan is keeping their mouth shut against the government’s injustice. They have staged protests in front of government offices and also presented their problems in the Panchayat meetings. But all of it has been in vain until now.

“The government doesn’t even want to listen to us. They treat us as if they have never seen us before but the truth is, it is because of them that we have ended up this way. We have protested before, and we will do it again, till the time the government listens to us,” Hanumanta added.

The Banjaaras now wait in hope of a future where the rains won’t flood their homes, neither will the sun burn them down. A future where the government considers their problems, and they can live in a comfortable home with their families.

Photos: Nidhi Roy

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Nidhi Roy