KGF: History and present 1 - Interviews
Director: Janaki Nair; Cinematographer: R V Ramani
Duration: 00:18:42; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 43.474; Saturation: 0.079; Lightness: 0.364; Volume: 0.108; Cuts per Minute: 28.808; Words per Minute: 125.013
Summary: In this video there is a conversation among those still living with Kolar, followed by a moving interview with the daughter of one of the main organizers of leftist trade union in Kolar and especially the strikes against the British supremacy and managers of the mine in 1945.
Govindan's daughter also speaks of how Kolar has changed over time, and remarks on the transformation from the place where gold-loaded boggies were seen and the scarcity of not just gold, but sustenance in Kolar now. About the stark changes sweeping through Kolar over time, she says that the "people living here seem to be outliving the place."
Govindan's daughter speaks of how her father is still dearly loved and remembered in Kolar. V.M. Govindan was part of organizing the first Leftist Trade Union in KGF. K.S. Vasan was the first young leader to start organizing trade unions, and he was later joined by Govindan and M. C. Narsimhan. They were described as the Red Triad, and succeeded in getting various concessions and rights for miners.
Janaki Nair in her book "Miners and Millhands" says this - "Govindan was a Gandhian before he became Communist, and managed to develop an understanding of KGF workers' issues while energising the organisation of workers in ways that are memorialised in song. Left relatively undisturbed by Congress leadership, then under a ban, Govindan was convinced by mid 1943 that nothing short of an organised general strike would make the company/state yield workers their due. Although there had previously been general strikes in the KGF in 1930 and 1940, the passage of the labour act placed several new legal restraints on workers who had built up a strong tradition of venting grievances at will."
Govindan was one of the chief organizers of the strike in 1945 for demands in increased DA (Dearness Allowance). While the Congress was initially ambivalent in its support of the strike, Communists such as Govindan and others played a strong role in organizing and pushing the strike. Later when the Congress also joined forces with the trade union, then the demand for ordinary benefits such as Provident Fund, DA and other, led to the longest strike in KGF history of 78 days.
In relation to the co-existence of Congress, Communist organizers, trade union leaders, Adi Dravida workers and caste mobilizations, Janaki Nair says that inspite of the coming together of these groups at various points for economic justice especially in relation to the mines, "KGF remained a contested terrain over which no single ideology could gain total or lasting hold."
Kolar Gold Field, Kolar District, Karnataka
caste, Adi Dravida, Dalit
At present 25% have migrated to big cities like Bangalore, for occupation, Bangalore, Madras, like that...We've got many problems...
If they are not given one ration, do you know how much the people suffer? Right now itself, without this one ration, they suffer so much, imagine if there's nothing, they can't survive.
J. Nair: What kind of work are you searching for?
If there's no work in KGF, we have to go elsewhere. We have to improve our qualifications. Right now I'm doing my final year of degree, after this I should study my MA. After that, or work in a private school or open a school, and continue our life.
J. Nair: Are you going to look for government jobs?
We have no hopes for a government job.
J. Nair: Will you all get reservation?
We don't get reservations for government jobs nowadays.
The level of competition in reservation has increased.
We will have to wait for 15 years before the reservation comes through.
They say there is reservation, but they don't utilise it properly.
There is reservation, but it takes 10-15 years. There is reservation for SC/ST, but we're getting it late.
They give us reservation, but in KGF, SC/ST and Tamilians are high in numbers, they use this as a reason to spoil KGF. Another reason is that politicians, who are the main problem. Now, wagons are going to come. If they come, some people will get jobs, those who trade or work on contract basis (will get 50 Rs a day). But what is happening now is that politicans are fighting over this "I will do this, You do this". There are chances of this getting stopped. Reservations went out with '72, nobody gets jobs now.
J. Nair: Why is this? Do they refuse you saying you are Tamilians?
Tamil, and SC (caste).
That differentiation is there, wherever you go. They say "You're SC" or "You're Tamilian". In fact they differentiate simply because we're from KGF also.
Actually, when we go for interviews, they say "If you're from KGF, there is no vacancy for you."
J. Nair: Why?
Because of something that happened 10 years ago. Post offices were burnt. So now if we go for interview, they ask "How many litres of kerosene does it take to burn a post office?" And they say "You're from KGF? No job"
If they see KGF on the application, they reject it. So we never say "KGF", we always say "Bangalore". Even those who are going to Bangalore for work say "Bangalore", not "KGF".
If we didn't have these houses, we'd have to go to Bangalore. There the rent of the house would be too high, we couldn't pay that. The voluntary money hasn't been that much, and even if we put that in the bank, we need to take care of people at home. That wouldn't work out.
You asked if there's no reservation, right? Here, to work in these factories, do we get reservation?
J. Nair: No, but BEML jobs are there.
But they have to give us the jobs. They are not recruiting people. If BGML recruits people, we can join, but it has been 8 years since BGML recruited people.
Industries need to come to KGF, only then...
J. Nair: What is there in this town now?
Nothing is there. Only BEML and BGML.
J. Nair: Aren't there small industrial estates?
Estates are there, but only a few people work there. And many of them are closed now.
At present we got only BEML factory, that too...
J. Nair: What other kinds of work are available here?
We don't have faith in anything.
J. Nair: I've seen many institutes, here there's a college...
We can study, but we don't believe we will get jobs.
Now, even my brother has done ITI, and apprenticeship, but he doesn't believe he will get a job at BEML.
At present, students are discontinuing their studies and going for jobs, because of the poverty of their families.
In Kolar district, this is the best college, but it's an aided college, the government is not doing anything.
J. Nair: Was your father also working here?
At first he was working here, in mining, but after my mother said she didn't want him to work here, he went and joined HAL in Bangalore. We live here only, but the house facilities are not alright.
J. Nair: Can they afford to educate you, in your home?
Yes I can afford to study. Never mind me, other people are struggling. We are not badly off, others are struggling.
Drinking water doesn't come to their houses. They adjust to even that, but this stopping of the ration is bad...Many are suffering...Sugar and all that used to be available at low rates, now even that is not there.
People here drink a lot. The men go to the alcohol shops and pawn their ration cards there. But now that the ration has been stopped, there's a chance that families will get destroyed.
J. Nair: How can they stop rations only here? They should be stopping it everywhere then.
The Karnatake Government has taken this step, saying "Why should we give? Buy the goods at the normal rates".
J. Nair: Is it the government or BGML that has done this?
(a little confusion about this)
The government does not take necessary actions when it comes to KGF.
J. Nair: If it's the government, then the rations should have been stopped for everyone, everywhere.
We can't afford to pay more, pay 12 Rs for rice. They used to give it at 7.20 or 8 Rs. That was much more helpful.
They want to close this down and make people go. The main reason for this is that we're Tamilians and SCs.
Two years back, the Managing Director announced that he will close down BGML. At that time, the unions which were in colleges carried out processions, the employees went on strike for 21 days, they even went on hunger strike. But in KGF there are no strong politicians. Long ago, they were there and did everything. But now there's no unity, the attitude is "If I live and we get votes, it's enough". All the politicians today are like this.
J. Nair: What do your parents say about the old times?
They say it was much better then. Now there's scarcity all around. No, my father has five years of service left, but he cannot continue because they are scaring him. He thinks, "They are going to close the mines in six months, if I go after that they will say they can pay me only after selling all the equipment (this came in the papers)." And so he took Voluntary Retirement Service.
J. Nair: At first there were Britishers, right?
Yes, the workers were like slaves. Now we have freedom, but this seems like the last moment.
India got its freedom, but KGF still hasn't become free.
They (the Britishers) took everything, so now there's not even that much gold left.
J. Nair: Will you go to Tamil Nadu to look for work? Or will you look only in Bangalore?
Since Bangalore is close by, we can go there. But we can also go to Tamil Nadu we find something close by.
5000 people do the daily travel. They go early in the morning, by the 6.30 train, and even the train facilities are not adequate. At night, it comes at 12 sometimes, at 1 sometimes. The gents can adjust, but it's difficult for the ladies.
Once this is over, we have to do this daily travel.
J. Nair: Who is the big leader or hero in this area?
No heroes, only zeroes.
There are no heroes. It keeps changing with the times.
J. Nair: Were they around in the old times?
Yes they were there then.
J. Nair: Who can you name?
According to mining, KS Vasan and TM Govindan. Two strong leaders. KS Vasan worked and died for this town, he didn't even get married for his own benefit. But now, if someone does some good, another wants to expose him as bad. There are no heroes. At least there is no one hero, there might be 25 people whom you can call heroes.
J. Nair: But wherever you look, there are Ambedkar statues...
Oh yes, there is no scarcity of Ambedkar statues here...area for area.... What this is, is politicians erecting these on party basis. "Oh look, that party has erected one, we should too".
J. Nair: What benefit do you get from this?
Where as money goes from our pockets, our pockets are never filled. Also, sometimes, if people hear that Ambedkar statues are being erected, they don't give sponsorship, because it's on caste basis.
J. Nair: You don't do these things? There's an Ambedkar statue right here...
We don't have the resources to do it...
He was a national leader. Now what has happened is, this is an SC constitution. Here the name of Ambedkar is used for their own parties and their own personal self-promotion only. Initially there was an idea that he worked for the benefit of the Scheduled Castes. Now it's not like that. Whoever wants uses his name.
Now, the rent of the house has increased. For those who have taken VRS, if it was 150 or 200, it would be OK. The house facilities are not alright. When it rains, the house is full of leaks. For this house, they charge Rs. 500 rent. They know that people have take VRS in fear, yet they don't decrease the rent. We pay this much rent, and there's no mines ration even. We don't know what to do.
J. Nair: If you get jobs outside, will you come back here?
Yes we will. Prices here are lower. We can get tomatoes forRs. 2, but there it's Rs. 5. Compared to Bangalore, it's cheaper.
For instance, we can walk to college. If we are in Bangalore, we have to come by bus. Money will get spent on that. Here we can come on foot.
Weather's fine, KGF weather is fine. It's better than Madras. But only problem is that there's no cash.
KGF is 2893 ft above sea level.
J. Nair: You were born and brought up here in this area, so I was wondering what your connection to KGF is, how you feel about changes and so on.
When you told me earlier and I started thinking, the most remarkable thing that I can think of is that the people living here seem to be outliving the place. People who are as old as me and older than me, they have seen the place in its glory, then when it was static and then now in front of their eyes they can see the place dying down. So I don't think that this must be happening to many places in the world.
I have seen some of the most crucial, not crucial, salient features of KGF during its glorious days, tramloads full of gold-bearing ore, they used to be shunting across the roads, and we used to walk and the watchmen used to tell us "You shouldn't dare to even bend down and pick up the ore", so we used to believe that he would drag us to the police station if we dared do that when we crossed the tramlines.
Then the militancy of the labour at that time, processions, such glorious processions which used to really pump the adrenalin in even the onlookers, led by the CITU union. Then when we go to the schools, the difference of how the officers and their children used to live, secluded from all this, dances and clubs and balls and all that. Then I've also experienced staying in these thatti houses when we used to visit our grandfather on and off, staying there.
So those memories are still there, vivid, there's not been time for it to go away from the mind, no? And when it is still fresh in front of my eyes I can see those solid buildings which appear to be solid, they seem to be crumbling down. The workers' spirit, I can still remember the processions and what they used to shout and all their slogans, and all that has died down. The spirit of the workers itself has gone down.
J. Nair: I want to ask you one question. Everywhere we went in the past two days I've been hearing people talking about your father and Vasan in very warm affectionate terms. What is your own sense of his role in KGF?
When he was there we were too young to understand, we used to just bask in the glory and that warmth that was there even at that time, and I didn't really think about his role at that time when he was there. But now when I'm able to think more, and when I compare him with the present union leaders, I really realise that what he must have done at that time and with those people and with the mining leadership which was there at that time was really something remarkable when you compare it with the facilities that are here now. And even now I bask in that warmth and love, because so many doors open for me when they know that I'm Govindan's daughter. So many doors.
J. Nair: One more thing I want to ask - a lot of the workers, especally the older generation workers, have a very warm relationship to the work itself and to the place, even though they earned very little and they were really quite exploited. What can you say about that? What do you think accounts for that?
I don't know whether I'm being very emotional when I say that maybe it's because they've gone down into this underground where most of us don't know how it is there, and faced the fear and the danger and the discomfort, and once they come back everything else on the surface looks so easy and so comfortable when compared to what they've gone through at that time. Like you say people in the hills are very mild and very affectionate, that's what people say, that people who live in the mountains are very affectionate and they're full of love. So maybe this holds good for people who go down underground also no?