KGF: Interview about strikes by miners and workers in Kolar
Director: Janaki Nair; Cinematographer: R V Ramani
Duration: 00:27:34; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 324.047; Saturation: 0.029; Lightness: 0.194; Volume: 0.102; Cuts per Minute: 2.466; Words per Minute: 105.687
Summary: This video segment opens with a view of the inside of the mine shaft elevator, as it climbs up from the depths of the mines onto the ground level. This is followed by an interview that begins with a rousing song sung by workers against the manager of the mines. The rest of the interview switches between 1997 when this interview was shot and the Kolar mines were being closed down and 1958 when the interview subject was part of a strike against the management of the mines.
Janaki Nair's historical research on Kolar gives an account of a strike even further back in 1930, against mandatory finger printing of all workers, curtailing their freedom to find employment elsewhere and in other mines. Paradoxically, as Nair found in the course of making this film, and as is evident in this interview, the European manager or owner of the mine is spoken about as a glorious past, rather than the oppressor in the colonial regime.
The European was fair, balanced, brave, helpful and non-partisan, while in the post independence period when Indians became managers of the mine, they mismanaged the mines or were distant and disengaged from the everyday trials of the miner. The interviewee here describes how the Indian manager stood aside and let miners die under the debris of an airblast or rockblast in the mine. The Indian manager also fails to see that there is still gold in the mines to be got, though the big pieces of pure gold have been taken away by the European or Dorai (Anglo Indian).
Going up the mine shaft in an elevator, and reaching ground level.
Kolar Gold Field, Kolar District, Karnataka
Interview with man who joined to work in the mines as a young boy, when it was still being run by Europeans under the colonial regime. He describes here the strike in Kolar in 1958 by the miners against the management, and also the closure of the mines when this film was being shot in 1997.
From Janaki Nair's articles on Kolar Gold Fields, it is possible that this is Perumal of the golden voice, who is interviewed here.
J. Nair: First will you sing?
I can do anything.
(Song - To be translated)
J. Nair: When did you sing this song?
In 1958, there was a strike of .... No one went to make them food, the Europeans. They couldn't do it themselves, secretly they hired men, the informers, the kangani gave them food. In the union, the domestic ferrets, batlets?, leaders held a meeting, and this song was sung at this meeting.
And this Yesmor (Jesmore?) Dorai, wronged the workers. It was against him that this song was made, he traumatised the poor, punished them harshly, showed the power of the American in the underground. As soon as he come, we saluted him, salaam dorai, morning dorai. Because he gave us so much trouble, we created this song for him, in 1958-59, during the Butler? strike.
J. Nair: When did you come here?
My father, worked as a bell fitter in Edgar. He had a leg accident, in 1934 or 32, his left knee does not bend, he has to walk with it outstretched. He brought us, grown-up children, to the town, Katpadi, near Thriuvanam. Once we grew up, we came back and joined KGF one by one.
In 1942, in Stableton Engineer Mysore Mines, it was European, Leyland, someone recommended me for a job, saying dorai, give him a job. ... They gave me some Sunnambu (lime/calcium oxide), made me climb a ladder, then they gave me a job, 4 1/2 anna coolie. My first job was in a mining company, on 4 1/2 anna coolie. In those days, they used to say, if you graze the donkey, you must graze it in the company. The contract should not be there, they will trouble you if there's a contract. But I have worked under contract. In the beginning Sinnasami contratc, Yellapan contract, Gurappa contract, Rangayya contract, Samasivan contract, Oddan contract, here as 3-anna coolie.
If I fill jalli/stones for a whole day, I get 3 annas coolie. In one week, one rupee 15 annas, one rupee 2 annas, we brought home. For this we used to to get 7 1/2 measures of rice, thin rice, biryani rice, it was called Arcad kitchli. The european used to get this rice and bone and steam it and feed it to the dogs. At one time in '57 we didn't get that rice, we fought and beat each other for it. ...
After that, I was a 4 1/2 anna coolie with them, and in 1942 ..., we used to go for the meetings near Bodwar. Then SZ Dangia, Nallu Vadiyar, PT Ranade, these communist leaders used to come there. Then SR Shanmugam, ... AT Lakshmana Mudaliyar, MC Perummal, SO Bhagyanathan, all of them worked for the union, they were all Congress men.
Stop them from hammering at the back
These leaders were men who fought the British in those days. After that, in '47, with the slogan "Chalo Chalo Mysore Chalo", they fought for Indian independence. See here, one bone is broken, a policeman hit it and stepped on it, in Maarikuppam station. They kept us for one day remand and then sent us back to work. We used to shout slogans ... "Mysore, Samosa, Newspet, Maga, Raja, Goonda, Hai! Inquila Zindabaad!" When? In '47. Today, all kinds of people are claiming to be fighters. Then we used to struggle for independecne, now we are sitting, because we are now called communist men.
After all that struggle, 4 1/2 anna coolies began their own struggle, the sanitay office workers, it then became 7 annas, then 10 annas, then 13 anas, then 15 annas. This way, step by step the struggle progressed, it ended in 15 anna coolie and in the period of minister KT Bashan, we went to the attara katcheri? in banaglore, and after raising the flag, we went to see him, and then they put us in jail. When we asked what case they had registered against us, he said, "You are disturbing the public on the road, blocking buses", and he put a case against us, and swore his testimony to the magistrate. After this, for six months we were in jail in 1949.
In '47 we struggled for independence, got beaten by policemen and got our bones broken, we carried out an 18-day strike, gave up our coolie for 18 days, we struggled for this nation's freedom. The same Congress men arrested us and put us in lock-up. K C Reddy, Sangalrayar Reddy, he was the Governor, we went to see him, this is when we got into this situation.
We finished our jail term, and in '49 on April 16th, on 15th we were released from central jail, on 16th they gave me a mines-out notice. Not state-out, mines-out - this meant I had to stay out of the mines area. I went to my village, there was no rain, it was very difficult to carry out business. For food one had to do demeaning work, in Reddy, zamindar, Dalmia, Birla, Tata, like that in small villages in small small houses, one had to go and do menial work.
... when I was a small boy, without the knowledge of the sircar, in Champion (Champion Reefs), they were standing in a row at the wire fence, and when I asked "Why are they standing like that?", I was told "Men are being chosen for the underground". A European, Biddy dorai? , he was making the rounds, I was the 61st man person there, and he looked at everybody and then chose me and asked me to come inside, along with me he chose 10 men.
For the underground. Which shaft? For the Tenants shaft, not the Giffords. Giffords meant great suffering. Ten of us were taken, all the rest are dead now, I am the only surviving member of the ten men.
I lived like this, worked alone, I then got married here and had five children, got them also married, two are unmarried, I have been somehow living my life, this was my reason for existence. I worked for my country, and then was named a communist man.
In those days, if we found someone was informing on us, we would go and confront him directly, not beat him like in rowdyism. There was no theft then, among us men, no rowdyism, we used to go and ask directly, "You've exposed/handed over all these people, and are now going to work, so many people are starving, is it enough if you alone eat?"
If he ignored even this and carried on, we brought a donkey, put him on it, shaved his head, put a naamam, and took him around the union office block by block, and the next day he would not go to work.
These days, it's not like this, it's rowdysim as soon as you speak, murder, looting. Before we used to read about it happening far away in Trichi, now it's happening in KGF, looting and murder everyhwere, theft.
Back then there was a struggle in Tirupur, a fight between the Republican party and Communist party, in this fight men beat each other, but even then there was no theft, whatever notes there were were burnt, dresses were burnt, clothes (the karachi saris) were torn, even then we did not know theft, the people had no theft. Now, even a new born baby is born thieving or in theft.
J. Nair: How many years has it been since you came to this house?
It's been 50 years, before this I was in Mysore Mines, in Chellapillai, it's been 50 years.
What else should I say?
J. Nair: This job is do dangerous, even then you come and work here?
There's no other way, I have no education, back then 95% of us were not educated, only 5%. Some would become teachers or work in an office. ... Christians found no jobs, where was all this then?
J. Nair: How did you come to join gang work?
Suppose I am the maistry/foreman of 4 men, their lives are in my hands, I have to make sure that they finish the job, are put in the cage, brought up, numbered and seen out the gate. After that whatever accidents happen to them is not my responsibility, but till they give their numbers and go out I have to be their guarantor.
Suppose they applying the "rage" (?), 7 feet by feet, top to bottom 7 feet, hanging foot wall 7 feet, south north 7 feet, for this rage we have to tie/build timber. We have to build a 4 by 4 feet stage, on that a ladder has to be tied, we have to clear everything, open the gauges, and the mission men have to get on it. Why the double stage - the mission is 90 pounds, and that timber has to bear the weight of this and of 3 men, then they have to go and apply 25 to 30 ... then the blaster will go, we have to make the stage ready for him to climb on. After this, once he has blasted, the next day we have to clear everything, we have to collect the sand in the chutes. The foreman will say "We have to collect 20 vehicles of sand!", and the answer will be "Ok dorai, we'll get whatever is needed!'. Then he has to collect this sand, this is rage work.
In Barton stope (?) work, a 24 feet long cut has to be taken, then 4 feet gap has to be left, and a bed of 8 feet has to be made, leaving 4 feet below. After an 8 foot bed is made, a ... has to be built for it with a hanging footwall ... 20 or 30 vehicles of stone. A bed has to be made every 8 feet. 8 and 8 is 16, then 4, which makes 20, then central gap is another 4, which makes 24, on the other side another gap ...
Then in the open, ventilation pipe, steam pipe, water pipe, ladder, the men all have to go through that, to come down here and then put the mission and do the blasting. 3 gate pieces have to be installed there, at a distance of one and a half feet from each other.
It comes down like a reel, and the man cannot work without protection, that's wrong. Accidents that happen happen because of carelessness. What happens unpredictably is because of a rock burst. If there is excess load of gold, there the stone will burst, .... If there are white lines in the stone, there the stones will explode, it's very dangerous, worse than a bomb. Whoever is there will die, will get crushed. But the unpredictable danger is because of rockburst and airblast. Now, leg breaks, arm breaks, are all because of foolishness or stupidity.
Why we put the 3 gate pieces is because otherwise he will fall into the sink. That's 200 0r 300 feet, he will fall and shatter into pieces. But here if he rolls and falls, this piece will stop him, 1 1/2 feet 3 pieces, 41/2 feet, it will block him upto his chest. This is why we put the 3 gate pieces. ...
He has to tie a rope around his waist while moving sand and doing mission work. But our people don't do it. "Ei, move it, quickly", they say, and he removes the rope, and then rolls and falls.
Therefore it is the maistry's role to make sure these men are safe. The maistry has to both take care of them and make sure the work gets done. In the European period this was not there, that was work without care for the workers, if he needed 10 vehicles, 20 vehicles of had to come to him, what he needed was gold or quartz, he did not care about safety. Although they used to say that if a white man went to war, and the GP got trapped, his attitude was even if he lost a GP, let the man come back alive. But now in our country it's not like that, the attitude is "Let the man go, why did you leave the GP there?"
When he takes the gold, what he wants is the gold, he does not care about safety. Because of this indifference, he took good gold to his country, and today the Indian is scraping for the remaining gold in the same place. Now, after this Kannada mozhi (language) has come, the officers are Kannada students, they say "Is there gold there? No? Cover it", and they ... the black stones. They have no experience. The mines can run for 50 years more, I say "My eyes can see the gold, come I'll show you", and they don't come. They are not willing to do any surveys on where all the gold is. Like this, in those days, the white man removed all the pure gold, the big big pieces. Now also there is a little in some places, but these people don't have the power to take it.
Suppose a rock burst has happened and 20 people are trapped, the European will get the jeep, he will take the foreman etc and run, and bring a bottle of brandy because they have been crushed. Even last night on the news they said that in America a plane has crashed into a mountain because of a storm, and 270 people have died.
Like that, in '72 there was an airblast, in the Champion mines. If it had happened while there were men there we would not have been able to take even a single corpse out, it was that big an airblast. It happened directly in the place where work was happening, it would have closed fully.
The European, he will pour brandy, ask people to remove the sand, take the bodies out. But the Indian stands far away covering his nose. One man was trapped under a slab in mission, the hanging fell onto the footwall, and he was underneath in the stope. He waved his hands to say that he is alive, and on top the Indian foreman phones the director to say they have found two hands but have not found the body yet, while he is waving his hands asking to be rescued. Here we are telling the foreman that he is alive and is waving his hands, and he phones the director saying only two hands have been found! Finally the slab was lifted and he was rescued. He worked for ten years after this and died only recently, a mission man.
J. Nair: In your time, did you have candles or carbide lamp?
In my time, when I was a boy, I bought candles, but when I worked it was a carbide lamp. Suppose I have to walk a long distance. If I let the water flow at full-force in the lamp and burn everything, what will I do on the way back? The maistry's lamp got two more stones in his lamp. He should use it carefully without letting it burn fully. Everyone else's lamp would get extinguished.
Suppose it dies down completely and all the stones are burnt, a man has to bring it here. How should he bring it? He has to hold onto the rail and come. These are dangers that we can see, and if we are careful we can work for ten years, if not the man is out in five years.
I have acted this out in many plays, I gave an example in a group discussion - "Why have you come late?" asked the maistry. "Oh, keep quiet, maistry, my machaan (brother-in-law) came from the village, he broke his leg," says the man. "How did it break?" "He went and stepped on the ...,". The other day a man in a one shaft crossed a gap across which there was a pole piece. Water had rotted the pole piece. First you should test it by tapping it. He just crossed it and it broke. He fell 100 feet. Died. I put that subject in the group discussion, I explained that he should have tested it by tapping it first, kicking it, or hitting it with a stick, to see if it alive or dead, if he is careless and crosses it without testing it, these accidents happen. They gave me 15 rs. prize and I also got stones thrown at me.
J. Nair: Can you say a little about the gang work that you did?
We used to chat with each other while working, because we wanted to get the work over with. But the work was heavy. If the timber has to be built, the maistry will be called. Suppose there's a loose spot, hinges have to be fixed there to tighten the timber. I will be called - "Maistry, come and help, I am scared and this timber is loose". Now am I made of iron, to go and hold it there? But I used to go and sit there. I used to give the orders, "What are you doing? Hold it!". We used to tighten it and return and I ran back before they did. We used to do this kind of gang work. We worked unitedly, our gang was not a bad gang, they got a good name, my men were good workers, there weren't any problems, no accidents. Till the end I protected the men like they were my own sons. Amongst them, only three men are there, the others have bought their ticket.