Koli: The Jains, the Bhaiyas and the Livelihood
Duration: 00:10:33; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 10.916; Saturation: 0.188; Lightness: 0.330; Volume: 0.211; Cuts per Minute: 1.137; Words per Minute: 147.005
Summary: Kolis are the fisherfolks of Bombay, the original inhabitants of the islands that constituted the city. The community has largely kept to their original vocation of fishing. The women in Koli community are very distinct and visible even in the contemporary cityscape. Traditional Koli women with their large body structure, draped in traditional 9-yard sarees and antic jewelry are confident, professional women. The work distribution in the Koli community is like this: men are incharge of fishing which include ferrying to the deep sea, making fishing nets and looking after the boats. Women handle the entire marketing network - preserving the fish, selling in wholesale market, purchasing in wholesale market and selling in the retail market, handling issues of licenses and permits etc. The license and permit to sell fish in the market are considered family property and goes down along the women's line - mother-in-law to daughter-in-law to grand daughter-in-law. The Koli community claims that there are 800 fish markets in the city. Though we are not sure of the number, it is undisputable that the fish markets are a symbol of culinary culture of the coastal city. They are most patronized by the Marathi community. The repertoire between the fisher women and the male customers is a major social interaction which goes far beyond simple shopping.
But oflate the demography of the city has changed radically, as has the cityscape. With the rise of the service industry and consumers' market, the prime areas in the city are getting invaded by the upper class Gujarati Hindu and Jain communities who are fanatic vegetarian. Elphinston and neighbouring Lower Parel are some such areas. There was once the mighty textile industry situated in this area. But the industry died slowly since '80s. Since late '90s the industrial land is being leased out for luxurious apartments and service industries. As a result the upper class people are moving into their skyscrapers situated next to a lower middle class settlement or a fish market. As the gentrification of the area gets accomplished the old fashioned living quarters and their neighbourhood fish markets become the bone of contention. The vegetarian gentry find the smell of the fish objectionable and exert influence to evict the markets. Elphinston fish market is one such controversial one. Though the political parties such as Shivsena and Maharashtra mahanirvan sena, who pride themselves as a champion of Marathi supremacy in Mumbai, have deliberately kept quiet on this issue. The obvious reason is the muscle and money power of the rich Gujarati community. Instead the chauvinist parties distracted the anger of the Koli community towards the Bhaiyas, the migrant wage workers who got into vending fish door-to-door.
Bhaiya is generic term to indicate all Hindi speaking male migrants. Some of them got into a trade of buying fish from the wholesale market and sell them as door-to-door vendors. This practice has, to some extent, affected the retail business as some customers preferred to get delivery at home than visiting the market. Moreover, the fish in the market work out to be little more expensive than what is offered by the vendors. The Koli women pay for their license, permit and infrastructure whereas the Bhaiya vendors sell directly to the customers. This is a classical case of a conflict of interest between the organised sectors and unorganized wagers. But due to political maneuvering the Koli community is up in terms against the Bhaiyas and fail to rise against the mighty vegetarian gentries.
Renu (R): Now you tell me what had happened to your market?
Fisherwoman 1 (FW1): It is like this... the customers come and tell us that the market will be demolished. But we have not received any notice for the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipality Corporation). But the customers say it is going to be demolished. The customers say that. Those people have not told us that - see this market is going to be demolished... give notice... So we asked the municipality is it going to happen. Municipality said, nothing like that os going to happen. We are there - that is what the municipality had said.
Renu: We have heard that they have persecuted you, did not let you sit on the road, etc. etc.
Fosherwoman 2 (FW): No, we don't sit on the road. We sit in the market.
Renu: are they going evict you?
FW1: We will be evicted from the market, that is what the public say. But those people have not given us notice stating that your market will go, the municipality never confirmed that the market will go. We talked to the officials of the municipality and they said nothing will happen. If anything is to happen we shall inform you.
R: Mausi, what is this? We came to your market but was not allowed to even sit there, was not allowed to interview you inside the market. How is that? Its your market, no?
FW1: It belongs to the municipality.
R: Municipality? You belong to this place. Still you listen to them?
FW1: Not like that. It is municipality market. They did not let you, what could we do?
FW2: It belongs to the BMC. We pay rent. They only run the place.
R: So it is not YOUR market?
FW2: We sit there, it is ours. But they have made some rules. How can we disobey that?
R: Then what the Jains are saying is right. It is BMC's market, next to that is our building - BMC has given this land. Now evict the market - simple.
Fw2: How can that be?
R: What else?
FW2: How can that happen. It is our market, we want it here only.
R: But building has come up here...
FW1: Building has come up, but our market has been there since much earlier.
This interview is taken in a car near the Elphinston fish market. The interviewees are two fisherwomen. The interview was conducted in the context of the dual pressure on the livelihood of the fisherwomen - the demand to evict the fish market and the rise of the door-to-door vending practice by the north Indian migrants. The authority of the market did not allow to let the interview to take place inside the market. They have even threatened the women not to open their mouths to the outsiders. We had to do the interview in clandestine inside the car. The tension was evident in the air. The women were scared that the building people would see them talking to the 'outsiders'. It took sometime for them to voice their anger.
bombay municipal corporation
maharashtra nacnirman sena
Elphinston market, Mumbai
R: the 16 storied building of theirs means nothing?
FW: It is nothing like that. But our market has always been here and we want it to remain here.
Madhusree (M): But they have spent so much money to purchase such a luxurious home... they do not eat meat or fish... obviously they are suffering.
FW1 & FW2: But why have they made the building here.
FW(2): Why they must make construction here. They know it very well that the fish market is here.
FW(1): Then why have they constructed. Fish market is an earlier establishment, they have come in recently.
FW1: This is such an old market. I, muself, have been here for last 53 years.
FW2: She has spend that many years sitting in this market.
M: So nobody else will come in this area?
FW2: Why shouldn't they come!
FW1: If it does not suit you then go to another place... make your construction... like that...
M: What have they told you? Why are you getting so upset? They just said that we don't want this.
FW1 & FW2: It is a question of our livelihood... livelihood... if it was your livelihood how would you have reacted?
FW1: Our children too have no job. Where can we go?
FW2: Where can we go?
If your job is in danger how you would feel? This is our profession, question is of our livelihood.
R: Those people too will live here.
FW1 & FW2: They have just come recently.
FW2: Where were they earlier. This market is old.
FW 1: The market is here since long, it is around 100 years old...
FW2: How could it be...
R: What exactly do the Jains say?
FW1: "We don't want the fish market".
In order to break the spell of fear and make them speak Madhusree makes provocative statements favouring the Jains' position. Predictably the women get upset and speak eloquently about the situation.
R: Are they offering you another place?
FW1 & FW2: We want this place only.
R: they have not offered you another place.
FW1: No, no. Nobody has even talked to us.
FW2: We only want what is ours, nothing else we want. Whatever is ours, wherever it is we want that only.
R: So what have you done? What Damodar Tandle was saying...
FW1: We have done nothing. They have not given any notice... we hear about it only from the customers, from people... but it should come from them.
R: So you have done nothing? Just sat like this? They said they will demolish the market and you kept quiet?
FW1: Public say so. Where have they said anything... the municipality too have not said anything.
R: So what about all these - some speeches were delivered, you threatened to throw rotten fish...
FW1: No dear. Nothing like that happened in our area.
R: You have problem with the Jain community, BMC troubles you, still you make a big thing about the Bhaiyas (the migrant male fish vendors from North India)... Bhaiyas are also poor people, right?
FW1: They are poor... but they should sit in the market. We think they should sit in the market and should not go for door to door vending. If fish is available like that who would come to the market?
FW2: They can get a job anywhere. We cannot have any other job. We can only persuade our traditional livelihood. They dabble with three/four trades. We do only what is ours. We do not depend on others' livelihood.
R: But they are poor people...
FW2: Ok poor people, they can survive by doing any other job.
FW1: Have they been selling fish for so many generations?
FW2: Their vocation is to do jobs or work as coolie... let them be, we are not saying no to them.
FW1: Are we getting into their banana selling?
FW2: Their livelihood is working as loaders, doing jobs. Do we do that? Leave our work to us. Do we get into others territories? How can this be?
The territorial issue with the Bhaiyas is something they can see, understand and even resist. Bhaiyas are visible like themselves. But the vegetarian lobby is too powerful, abstract and distant for them even to fathom.
R: Jain people say we do not want the Koli market, the Kolis say that we do want the Bhaiyas. How can it go on like that? How will this city of Mumbai run?
FW1: See, we don't give any trouble to the Bhaiyas. They give us trouble. We only do our own work. Do we get into their work? Have we ever got into their business? You tell me. They can do many other jobs. Let them do any other business.
FW1: They sell potato, onion...
FW2: We do this business through generations. We do nothing else. They can do any other business. We are not stopping them. If they take over our business they what will we do? There is no job for the Kolis, now if the trade is gone then what will we do?
FW1: My daughter has completed her B Com. Is there any job for her?
FW2: She does have any son, she has five daughters. Five daughters, she educated them all.
FW1: Two daughters are B Com. They are sitting at home.
R: Jains want you to leave, you want the Bhaiyas to leave... it will go on... there is no job...
FW2: What is the problem in us doing our trade?
FW1: We are getting into other people's trade. They have taken over our trade.
FW2: Have we harmed their trade/
FW1: We have not told them not to sell potato-onion, not to sell vegetable, not to work as loaders...
FW2: Just that don't get into our trade. We have nothing to do with anything else.
R: So.. if they tell you that they are going to evict this market, if you are served notice and all.. what will you do?
FW2: What to do now? We want this place only, we want the market here, at this place only.
R: So what will you do? Have you thought?
FW1: We will do... something collectively...
It is an issue of development, issue of demographic shift, issue of class, issue of organised sector and unorganized sector. Yet the right wing politics of the state has managed to dub it as an ethnic issue and put the two poor communities - migrant wager Bhaiyas and Koli fisher folks - in loggerhead. The ethnic clash will fester, get violent while the gentrification and the real estate mayhem will quietly erase both of them.
R: Who runs Mumbai these days? The Koli people and who else?
FW1: If Koli people could do it then would have things come to this?
FW2: Koli people were very accommodative, whoever came they accepted all. We don't have a native place. At our place we kept tenants and now the place has become theirs. What do we have?
FW1: Bhaiyas will save and then return to their village. Do we have any village to go? Are we going to starve?
FW2: We live in small dwellings. We welcomed others, accepted them, endeared them - now we are paying a price for that.
R: Who dominates Mumbai? The Jains? The Kolis? The Bhaiyas? Or somebody else?
FW2: Everybody does.
FW1: Everybody does. Who doesn't? That how they made such a tall building. Didn't even think once that there is a fish market...
FW2: Why should they make it... if it so inconvenient?
FW1: There is no other place in India? No other place in Mumbai?
FW2: The market is not a new establishment. It is an old market. Their building is new. What was their problem in finding another place?
FW1: Why should there be a problem because they are vegetarians? Is our market not clean? Our market is clean.
FW2: They are not even affected by the flies. They live high above.
FW1: There are 5/6 servants in morning, in the evening... BMC employees... what about that? Really, its true.
Long shot of the two fisherwomen walk pass the controversial skyscrapers. As they pass the fancy buildings, the original lower class texture of the area gets revealed in the neighboring buildings and other passersby. Cement, sands and scaffolds - evidence of more new constructions lie on the road.