Koli: The Organised Sector and Livelihood
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Duration: 00:34:32; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 138.326; Saturation: 0.062; Lightness: 0.062; Volume: 0.218; Words per Minute: 162.829
Summary: This interview is of a Koli woman – Devyani Chanur. She lives in Khar Danda, buys fish at the Crawford market or Bhaucha Dhakka jetty and sells at the Kalina market. That makes her daily routine something like this – get up at 4am and travel 25 km to the wholesale market, buy fish and travel again the same distance to the retail market to sell till 12 noon, go home again by traveling in public transport to attend to household chores and have lunch, then back again at the retail market at 6 in the evening and work till 9.30pm. Her daily routine compliments that of the wholesale sellers. We have documented the daily cycle of the fisher women in wholesale market in the events titled ‘Koli Women: Livelihood Practice 1 & 2’ on the same site. Seen and read together these three events will make a complete picture of the work pattern of the Koli women.
Devyani Laxman Chamur is a typical Koli woman – confident, articulate, independent. Years of self-reliance and experience of dealing with the outside world have made these fisher women distinct and distinguished. The élan and the precision in their gait, attires, language is a race characteristic. In that sense the articulation and the communicative skill that Devyani displays in this interview is not a matter of the personality of an individual. The division of labour in Koli community goes like this: for the affluent men go to the deep sea for fishing and women sell the fish in wholesale markets. In case of a poorer family, men work as wagers in other people's boats and women buy fish in the wholesale market and sell it in the retail market. Devyani falls in the second category.
Before the colonial rulers decided to make Bombay a city and an international port, it was a cluster of islands. Some islands were fishing hamlets and some others were not populated. The three centuries of urbanization has taken its toll and the originals today find themselves at the fringe of development.
Renu(R): Maushi, tell us your name.
Devyani Chamur (DC): My entire name…
Deviani Laxman Chamur.
Deviani Laxman Chamur.
R: Where are you from?
Khar Danda, Koliwada.
I live there.
R: And where do you go to sell your fish?
DC: We go to Kalina market to sell fish. We get up at 5.am, go to Crawford market, Bhaucha Dhakka, and buy fish from there to sell here. We do not have a boat to call our own. So, we bring that fish and we sell it in the market here.
We sell that fish, but now there such an injustice being done to us, that we are unable to do business because of the vendors. We have been in this line of work for over 40 years and our parents have been doing it since even before that. We are citizens of Mumbai. We don't have a village or a native place (desh). Mumbai only is our village. Our parents were from here itself. So were our forefathers. Our maher (maternal home/Girl's parents' home) is also from here; what do you call it, 'maher' only, correct?
Our maher is here, so are the in-laws. Now we have daughters. Even the daughters have their maher and in-laws from here.
There is no one in our family who is from outside Mumbai.
All our affiars are based here and our traditions, from earlier. Our native place is here for 200 years.
Mahim Machhimar colony
Mahim Machhimar colony, Mumbai
Fish is a metaphor for the culinary culture of Maharshtra. The fisher folks call themselves 'children of the sea'. But fishing is also a livelihood. First came migrants from other parts of Maharshtra and took a bite of the market. Then came the male migrants from other states and took over a larger share of the market. Can any citizen be stopped from choosing any livelihood practice? Can a hereditary vocation be protected by stopping other people from getting in? The Koli people do the business legally and with dignity – sitting in formal market. Whereas the migrants carry their wares from door to door. It is also part of the era of service industry where home delivery is preferred than a trip to the bazaar. Bazaars belong to the era of neighbourhood. The atomization of people in big cities encourage either shopping malls or home delivery. Human interactions of Bazaars are passé.
R: These traditions that you speak of, why do you find it being threatened? What happened?
DC: See..We do this line of work. We pick up goods worth Rs.5000-10000. 4 crates- 5 crates.
We have no customers.
Our children are educated.
They graduated, 15th, 12th or 10th standard. But they have no jobs.
So that house and its responsibilities have now fallen to us.
If we are unable to earn a living, then it's like an injustice being done to us. Our children do not have jobs. There are no jobs, despite being so educated. They are not working anywhere. So this is the situation we are currently in. It wasn't like this before. In olden times, of our parents, in-laws, and their in-laws in turn, there was no such causes to worry.
At that time, we'd get our 2-paise, our children would eat happily and our family would live happily.
That is not the situation we're in now.
Daughter (D): (off frame)
One lot of fish we could sell for 5 times…
DC: 8 times, 7 days, 6 days… now when we sell the whole lot, we get nothing in hand.
D: We get nothing…
Another woman: It's been 7 years; I've been sitting at home. Even I used to go to the Grant Road bazaar. I've been home for 7 years, because the fish don't sell anymore there…
DC: People came from outer states, some Marathi women, some people came from the Ghats (people from the Sahaydri hill range). They picked up baskets and went to the bazaar, bought from the bazaar and roamed from door to door. They are able to do business. And we were left sitting in the bazaar itself.
Sayadri hill range
children of the sea
grant road bazaar
Devyani understands the electoral politics very well – the politics which thrives on nurturing a problem than resolving it. But since she does not know how to counter the politicians she too falls for the argument of ethnicity. A economic issue inevitably becomes an ethnic issue and a fodder for electoral politics. In this context her natural pride in the culture of her community and her legitimate claim over the land appear pathetic and mean.
R: Women come from the Ghats too?
DC: Yes, they all come.
You can see them. In trains, on the roads, wearing the sari in whatever style, be it castipatal or wrapped around.
We are Koli and we dress this way, and this is the Koli way. The rest are not Koli. Nowadays, everyone has become Koli folk, including the Bhaiyyas.
But that is not Koli, Only we are Mumbai's original Koli citizens.
And Mumbai belonged to us Koli folks.
But now it no longer belongs to us. Such is the extent of the injustice on us.
All those people who became influential…. from Shivsena, Congress etc…. the ones that have come here now...
D: We only helped them to rise in the ranks....
DC:... There are quite a few Kolis in that group. They now make speeches; those big people are all from our fold.
But now what has happened is, if you go to the municipality, Biharis and Bhaiyyas are there.
There are Bhaiyyas in the Railways. A Master, or anyone in an important post, is a Bhaiyya.
These Bhaiyyas have pulled their own people up.
First, one bhaiyya came and brought 5 other Bhaiyyas. Now, those 5 Bhaiyyas went and brought 25 Bhaiyyas back with them.
25 Bhaiyyas went and brought back 200 more. This is how they have spoilt Mumbai.
R: Now you said that even the women from the Ghats have come.
DC: All those women from the Ghats who were selling onions and potatoes before, have now started selling fish.
Mahim Machhimar colony
R: Who are the other people doing this trade? Except for the Koli, who are the other people doing this…
D: Lots of people….
DC: Lots…. what I mean is…. not in this area, but in Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali, Borivali, and Jogeshwari…that's where you will find more of these women present.
D: You won't find our kind over there…
DC: …More of them, those women from the Ghats...
What I mean is, those people saw some profit in this fish trade, and as for the customer, if the fish is available at your door… your household chores get reduced and your market place comes at your doorstep. Then there is no need to go to the market. That's why we have no customer in the market.
D: Absolutely no customers....
The areas she mentions are the newly developed suburbs in the northern end of the city. The migrants have chosen those new areas to operate from.
door to door service
Devyani, like any other person with a life well lived talks about the olden days, the shifting sand of development as a personal story. Her narrative style is that of a person in public life, her memories are not exclusively domestic – she is a professional. Her work is her identity.
Mahim Machhimar colony
R: So, why are you speaking up only against the Bhaiyyas? The remaining women are also included…
DC: The women are there, but the Bhaiyyas are in larger numbers. What I mean to say is, there are thousands of Bhaiyyas who have come in. If the number of Bhaiyyas reduce just that little bit, then we will get some sort of return on our business.
There are way too many Bhaiyyas that have come in.
D: Meaning much more of them have come in, they have increased in numbers.
DC: If we go at 5 am early morning, then they're there sitting since 3 am to buy fish.
D: In the dark...
DC: And then, at dawn...in the morning the milkman comes Or the bread Walla, and right after him comes a Bhaiyya.
We sit in the bazaar after 9am. But by then your shopping is already done!
Where will our customers come from then?
So, this is our problem....
R: Earlier, you were saying something about the Kalina market?
R: What happened?
DC: Kalina market was earlier situated up ahead. You know the police chowkie? It was there. So from that market... it was a good marketplace. Our business was going well there. Customers from the Air India colony were nearby. The bazaar was directly off the road. It wasn't such a large market, it was a smaller one. It was open and airy. The customers could see the fish by just passing by outside. We could sit at the side and right in front was the road. If we looked from there, we'd get customers.
So, the municipality people, the BMC (Bombay municipal corporation) officials, moved us here as this is their land. They moved us there, and hence we are now here. And after coming here, this is the second market they have built.
The first market that they made, they kept us there, but then they demolished it and made a new market. Even that new one has not been made recently, it's been about 10-12 years .In my lifetime, I have seen these three markets.
But before me, my mother-in-law, father in-law or my mother. How many markets they must have seen?
air india colony
DC: I started coming to the market from the age of 14. There was no such thing as education, no one was studying. Now education is given importance. Now we educate our children in schools. Earlier, our parents didn't give it that much importance, so we weren't educated, not that much. We studied, but just a little. Hence, at the age of 13 or 14, I came to the market. I got married at the age of 16. After marriage, I now have 4 children.
I got those 4 children married, and I now have 5 grandchildren. I have now spent over 40 ...38 years of my life have gone in this market.
R: You were saying, your children have been brought up well; educated too but they don't have jobs. What is the reason for that? What do you feel about that?
DC: I feel that they should get a job somewhere at least.
R: Why don't they get jobs?
DC: They refuse to give us jobs. They say we are Kolis. We are Kolis from here, and those that come from outside, they give them jobs. We don't have jobs, Ma'am.You go anywhere and see. Do our Koli folks have jobs anywhere?
Another man: Not for Kolis. They only entertain Madhav Koli Certificate (authentication certificate of caste)
DC: You don't find this Mahadev Koli Certificate anywhere.
Another Woman: You don't find them....And they too don't get jobs these days...
DC: And due to that, we have no job. And when we try to make a predated duplicate certificate, then they catch us. Hence, we cannot do anything in this matter. That's why our children are wasting away at home...
So what should we do now, you only tell us.
Mahim Machhimar colony
What could this history be called – subaltern? Or working class? Indigenous people? 40 years of working within formal structure and yet afraid of starvation! She talks about her children and grandchildren and markets in the same breath. She is another version of Mother India.
In independent India there has been an elaborate system of facilitating the people from marginalized communities – it is called caste reservation. Though conceived as a socialist measure, it has developed various loopholes at the implementation stage. Specially the issue of identifying the deserving caste and people have always been much debated. Moreover it has created much scope for administrative corruption. The people here are talking about that problem as caste certificate.
implementation of policy
D: Who do we call....?
R: Tell me one thing, as Mumbai expanded, your customers increased too. If you speak about outsiders in this manner, for example remove the Bhaiyyas ...but Mumbai has been built as a result of a lot of people coming together, no?
Then how can it be acceptable to say that....
DC: Not many people, Mumbai first and foremost belongs to Kolis.
Before, if a Koli...was walking on the road or traveling by car.... then the public used to beware, they used to get scared...
Dada: Before the Kolis can sell to their usual customers, these Bhaiyyas go and sell their wares to them, sell fish. Because of that, these people are left without customers. Once they get their fish, why would they bother. And not just one, there will be one Bhaiyya, then right after him another and a third... R: Tell me, you say that the women that come from the Ghats, the BMC has moved your marketplace, and so who do you think is truly responsible for your situation?
D: All of them...
R: All you Koli people have this problem that women come from the Ghats, BMC has Shifted your marketplace etc...
DC: BMC shifted the market meaning.... the market belongs to the BMC itself...no?
The market belongs to the municipality, not to us.
The market is not ours, it is the Municipality's and we pay daily rent. And since we sit there, it is our place.
Look here; if you go to some college somewhere to study, then that school becomes your school. Where do you go? To this school.... to this college.
The same way, where do you do business....? We do business in Kalina market.
So, this market is not our, it is the BMC's. If the BMC moves us from a spot, we have to move because after all it is given to us by them in the first place, no? That is when we came here
Mahim Machhimar colony
There have been initiatives to evict the fish market as part of gentrification in certain areas in the city. These were sponsored by the wealthy Gujarati community who are fanatic vegetarian. Obviously the interviewer is trying to make Devyani speak about that. But she misses the point and insists on them being the ward or tenant of the BMC (Bombay municipal corporation).
bombay municipal corporation
DC: You understand the way I'm speaking?
R: So you have nothing against the Municipality...
DC: No, no... Nothing, nothing.
Now look, we sit in that market. We get facilities like water, electricity, sweepers, cleaners; they are all their employees.
And their daily......
R: Now tell me, in this business of selling fish, there are a lot of problems you might face, that you have been seeing since you were a little girl....
R...what are those problems? This Bhaiyya issue is just 3-4 years old.
D: this just happened...
DC: Right from the start, ma'am, and say about 25-30 years, or rather 35 years ago....if some of these people had gotten jobs, no dada? If in the beginning itself, they had gotten those jobs.
And now after 25 years, everyone is still jobless.
Bring us a Mahadev Koli Certificate. We do not have any Mahadev Koli Certificate.
What they say is that Koli folk are moneyed people.
But what kind of wealthy people are we?
Whatever money we earn is from our own hard work. We did not rob anyone nor did we loot anyone.
They say that you Koli people are wealthy people.
But it is just our hard work.
If one of us has a boat at home; I don't have it personally, but if someone else has it, then in the morning at 7am to the bandar (jetty) to dry the fish...and come home at 6 in the evening. Sitting in the hot sun for the whole day, sweating it out, toiling, and earning some money by doing that.
But that money, you have no clue what I've done to earn it and what money that is. What is hard work? But no...Kolis are wealthy folk, that's all they think, but what kind of rich people are we? It comes from hard work.
This is the situation we're in since the past 25- 30 years.
Devyani suggests that if Koli people could be integrated in the mainstream by getting jobs the situation would have been better. But is that so? With the background of being the first generation to be schooled, they would have been at the lowest of social ladder. They would have lost their traditional livelihood and yet not earn substantial amount in the job market. This must be a romantic idea about the job market in the outside world. Devyani and her people are so threatened and scared that they cling on to any idea that comes their way as a possible solution to their problem. Gentrification, obviously, is one such idea.
Mahim Machhimar colony
First, 35 years ago, there were never so many legal formalities.
BMC never had any legalities or anything. Because of that, the people here… Dada, my elder brother, sister and some educated children have all stayed in those same jobs and that is all. And now in these times, in the past 25 years, there is nothing. All these kids have been educated ...if you see, we don't have any money, but we still educate our children.
D: We didn't get a chance to learn, but let our children be educated...
DC: We educate them, from our earnings in selling fish,
Earlier, our father, he put us in a Marathi school, in a municipality run school. We learnt in a municipal school. I didn't study much, just till the 2nd Standard, but at that time… Now our daughters, they speak to their children in English and send them to English medium schools. So how will they manage things? But still somehow, we manage. We do something or the other, but we manage and we put our children through school. This is the situation we are in right now.
D: I alone am earning, and I put my kids through school, as my husband is jobless. He is at home only.
I go from here, sell fish and then come home, and then cook and then they eat. Again the cycle repeats from 5am and we return at 9 in the night. We get only three hours sleep and then we're back there at 5 am.
DC: It is very troublesome for us.
H: Who is responsible for you not getting a job?
DC: For a job......
R: She is asking, what is the reason for you not getting a job?
D: Please don't take anyone's name....
DC: You see, if we go to the BMC, they pay us no attention. If we go to Air India, they don't bother, if we go anywhere...to any bigger place, there no one pays any attention.
Now what should we do, you only tell me.
You tell me.....
Mahim Machhimar colony
With urban developments and expansion of consumers' market traditional skills no more look like a viable qualification. Little bit of formal education may open up the door to the mainstream world. The fisherfolks long to become peons, doormen and Clarks. So they send their children to English Schools. English is no more a colonial legacy, it is the entry point to the global market. But when they would realize how fragile the job market is, possibly much more fragile than their present vocation, what will their reaction be?
bombay municipal corporation
english medium school
DC: Why we are against Bhaiyyas, I'll tell you. The Bhaiyyas can do their business. You can sell milk, bananas, fruit anything. You do any sort of business. But you are not to sell fish.
D: That's all we want...
DC: We are against that. We don't say 'no' to the Bhaiyyas being here. We don't say you leave Mumbai, don't work here. Work.... do what you want, just don't take our fish business and sell it door to door.
D: That's all we want, we don't want anything else....
Hansa (in Hindi): But if the Govt is able to provide jobs for all of you, for you and for you...then there won't be any problem.
DC: No, there will not...
D: There will not...
H: Bhaiyyas can also do that job.
DC: Yes, the Bhaiyyas can also do it.
H: Your kids can also do it, if they have jobs.
DC (starts speaking in Hindi): whichever jobs our children get....
H: Marathi, Marathi....
DC (switches to Marathi): I have two children at home. They don't pick up the studies.... They've both didn't pass10th std, and now they don't want to study further. So what can I do? They don't listen... they have no desire to study further. So they haven't even passed and they're sitting at home. And now there is no work. And what do we tell them, you need to get some good job somewhere....
H: At first, what kinds of jobs were there?
DC (in Hindi): At first we'd do a little bit of work and go anywhere....
(Looks at daughter)...I'm speaking in Hindi, that's why....sorry...
If they got some odd job somewhere, they'd do it. But there was no fixed job.
D: Three month's, four months...
DC: They call them for three months, four months.... then they send them back. So now they're at home.
Right now I have two children sitting at home. You tell me, at present I have two children at home. What do we do?
It is the poverty, loss of traditional livelihood, being ejected out in the process of urban development and also being ignored by the policy makers…. The problems keep mounting, yet only Bhaiyas can be countered on the face. Rest remains largely unaddressed. Unemployment, loss of livelihood etc. do not make news in this part of the world.
Mahim Machhimar colony
Mahim Machhimar colony
R: What jobs were your ancestors doing?
DC: Our ancestors were doing the same business/trade. Drying the fish at the seaside/jetty (bandar)
Drying the fish...bringing the wet, fresh fish
...Wait! (As the daughter interrupts)
You know dried fish like bombil (Bombay duck), kardi, kolambi (prawns)? Drying those fish, we had dried ourselves out too. Then only that fish would dry. While drying the fish, if we'd put it in the morning, and go home in the evening, one of them would bring packed food for us. They'd come there while we were sitting in the sun, we'd dry up just like the fish.
D: Sometimes we don't even eat...
DC: Even right now, it's the same, if you come sometime to Khar danda I'll show you… You want to do video recording!?... Come with me, I shall get in done for you…
D: Just see how many women work there.
DC: You can see our condition in Khar Danda.
D: You can go and see....
DC: If you really want to know.... WAIT (to the daughter as she interrupts again)
If you want to know, what state we're in because of this fish business.....You come there in the morning, I'll show you everything. I'll let you shoot it properly. You can see the condition of our women there.
D: And what they've become, they're old and haggard...
DC: They're in a real bad state....
D: And old people dry the fish.....
DC: Tell us what day, and I'll show you. Just come to Danda and see. You see the condition we are in, only then will you understand. If you run a boat, then there's no fish to catch, if you hire people, then there's no money to pay them with. Debt lies heavily on our heads, the price of diesel has increased, and hence we cannot afford to buy the fish anymore. That also increases the debt. How do we pay off our debts?
That is also there, no ma'am?
There is a grave injustice done on us from all four sides.
Now the time has come for us to starve.
D: How much we tried… pay this person money, he will get us jobs… we gave them fish, they said they'll get us jobs.
We've spent so much money, still nothing.
R: Have you had any losses due to the big trawlers?
DC: For the big trawlers, there were no loss before. But now there are losses even in that, why?? Because now if you see the big trawlers that have come from outside, they too give us a run for our money.
But this sea, it never belonged to anyone but us.
We Kolis are the children of the sea.
'Drying those fish, we had dried ourselves out too' – is an iconic statement of an indigenous woman. Each community whose livelihood depends on the nature's wealth across the globe would echo her concern. The nature has provided them with livelihood but it has also made them pay heavy price for it. In her magnificent articulation the fate of the fisherfolks appear like an epical tragedy. She makes a desperate plea to the outside world by inviting the shooting crew to her neighbourhood. Somewhere there is a faint hope that this exercise of documenting their crisis will bring some respite. There might also be a blurring of all upper class people into one single influential block - where the government, the political leaders, the documentary film crew look the same.
children of the sea
In recent years many multi-national companies have taken lease on the sea for big scale fishing. Though the permit to them not necessarily prevent the Koli people to do fishing, the powerful trawlers can chase the small fishing boats out of the fertile zones. ONGC is Oil & Natural Gas Commission. They have been excavating for oil in the Arabian sea. Their wells are marked as high security zones and the Koli boats are chased out of that area too. It is not a question of one problem or the other. The reality is that the traditional livelihood of fishing is getting erased under the pressure of urbanization and development. The Bhaiya phenomena in the retail market is sort of a last straw. Besides, Bhaiyas are individuals and thus they have faces. It is possible to resist them collectively. But the corporations are faceless giants. The Kolis have no idea how to resist them. Yet, the Govt. has no sustainable rehabilitation scheme for them.
R: Where do the outside trawlers come from?
D: They come from there. The ocean. What happens in the ocean, we don't know
DC: The ones that come from outside, they come for fisheries.
So move from here, go there, go away...
D: They don't give us pass.
DC: And ONGC extracts the oil.... They found oil there. So you should not come here either. Go to that side...move away...
Where do we go?
We have several problems like this.
When a man is trapped from all sides he squats in the middle cowering… That's the situation, isn't it... That's our story...
We have set up our family, raised our children, got them married, Let me tell you one thing - the children that these people have, What will they do?
D: That is the question I'm facing.
DC: Now I told you, didn't I? I have four children. Two boys and two girls. My four kids got married. I have 5 grandchildren.
R: When you were a child, you must have seen Danda village, Worli village (old fishing hamlets?
What changes have taken place now in those villages?
DC: A lot of change has taken place.
R: What changes?
DC: Now our village is no longer there. And how it used to be earlier, it no longer is like that. Is it like that anymore, Dada? Nothing....
R: Kolis have a lot of problems when it comes to land too....
DC: About land, wait, let me tell you. This house is mine. Let me tell you about Dada. This house is mine, and I should build something, but I have no money. Suppose a builder comes, and we give him something. What does the builder say? Half for you and the other half for me.
However we choose to do it, or even if we choose to build it ourselves, the BMC people come and break it, they take money, they harass us, they don't let us build anything. So what do we do?
Previously our village...where is it usually? Like it is at Alibaug, or somewhere. A village area, no buildings...
D: Tiled roofs, cowdung spread on the walls and floor
DC: Danda village was exactly like that.
D: It was like that, there were trees....
DC: The children are now educated, they've grown up, some changes have taken place in the house...
We didn't have (cooking) gas connection. We used to be scared to light the gas. We used to be scared to light the stove in case we spilt kerosene.... and there would be a fire. If the gas leaked, there would be a fire. So we'd light a fire on logs of wood, cook food on that.
10 people, 12 people, 15 people.... 20 people.
We used to cook on that. By patting nonstop, we'd make bhakri (roti made of jawar grains). Our one bhakri is this big (motions), you won't be able to finish it. Such large rotis, even to this day we make them. We make them by patting them continuously. Now by using gas, etc, things have changed a bit.
Earlier it wasn't like that.
Mahim Machhimar colony
bombay municipal corporation
oil & natural gas commission
It is obvious that it is not the Koli who have priorities the issue of the Bhaiyas over the other problems. It is the electoral politics who have made this distinction. The Bhaiya issue involves people, voters – on both side of the Kolis and the Bhaiyas. So the political parties first instigate the Kolis to mobilize under their umbrella against the Bhaiyas which, in turn, ensures them about the Koli votes. As the Bhaiyas start feeling unsecured the political parties approach them with the promise of protection and thus collect the Bhaiya votes too. Obviously the Koli people know it all and still they cannot resist it.
R: Now you told us all this...tell me one thing, this movement against the Bhaiyyas. It is not one problem; there are a lot of problems. Then why only focus on this one problem.
DC: Why we are on this problem only is because if the Bhaiyyas are removed, then only can we progress a bit.
D: Then we can move ahead...
DC: What did they say earlier? If you sit in the market, we will give you a license. They said so earlier, didn't they? Now we've been doing this business for so many years and we don't have any license.
H: Do politicians say like this? That they will do this?
DC: They've said this now.
H: They had also said this in Dadar, for the onion and potato sellers; they promised to get them licenses. They say it but they don't do it.
D: The Onion/Potato vendors have licenses.
DC: No, no...that's not what she's saying
D: We can't say....
DC: First... don't speak in Hindi... The first time we protested was 6 months ago. At that time we were very vocal about it. We really protested strongly. We shut down the big market, wholesale market... Crawford market, Bhaucha Dhakka, Sasoon Dock, Malad, Bhayander, all these markets of ours; Dadar market.....fish market. We shut them all down. What happened was after a few days, voting took place.
Congress wanted the vote of the Bhaiyyas. We were unable to continue our protest.
H: Shivsena also did a similar meeting in Vakola with the Bhaiyyas promising that they would not harm them (Bhaiyas).
D: yes, So voting took place. So our protest got deflated. Otherwise something good would have come of it. Something or the other would have happened then.
One party is saying, we want your vote, the other party is saying that WE want it
That's what happened.
DC: See, now what should one do?
Back to the issue of organised sector and unorganized sector. The mode of operandi for the Bhaiyas is very simple. They operate on minimum infrastructure – just a basket and enough money to buy fish at the wholesale market. They carry the modest ware on their heads and canvas door to door. As their expenses are little and they have no facility to store they sell at a comparatively cheap rate. For the customers Bhaiyas offer a lower price, fresh fish and a home delivery service. For the Koli women they are entangled in a complicated formal structure. They are part of the market and pay for the market infrastructure. They are traditionally skilled to do business from one spot in the market. They even inherit the spots from their ancestors. So the cost of the fish in the market goes higher than that of the Bhaiya vendors. As more and more people buy from the Bhaiyas the Koli women are forced to preserve their wares in ice, which too increases their expenses and reduces the quality of their wares. It is a vicious circle. It has the same pattern as the organised workshops and the unorganized sweatshops; as the factory workers and the wageworkers, the lease farmers and the landless farm hands. The conflicts between these two groups of people are carefully orchestrated and monitored by the people in power.
Yet in the middle of all these problems when our protagonist talks about her work place, Kalina market, her face lights up with obvious pride. This subtle diversions save her from the status of a pathetic victim. Her dignity and her pride make her an iconic citizen within the nation-state formation who foregrounds an argument and not only a plea.
H: See, now can't the situation be something like this, that the politicians in fact never say that they will do your work. They only say "Beat up the Bhaiyyas". By saying that, they don't have to do any hard work.
D: It affects us. That's why we are also scared....
DC: They are men. We are women. Bhaiyas are strong and we are not. One push and we will fall down.
D: We are usually alone, so we are scared to say anything to them.
H: What I'm saying is, the politicians don't do your work.
D: They just speak for the sake of it...
H: It's easy for them to say, isn't it? Beat up the Bhaiyyas, do this, do that. But they should do their own work, no?
DC: So that's what we are saying now. Do something but solve this problem for us. Show us by doing something about it.
H: But what is the problem? Are Bhaiyyas the problem or is it something bigger?
D: No, it's a Bhaiyya problem.
H: Bhaiyya is a small problem, but there is such a big problem here...
DC: It has now become a big problem.... That's how it is...
H: What I'm saying is, you require protection for your boats from the Govt., ONGC should allow you into those waters… in that the Bhaiyya becomes a very small issue.
D: We don't have a problem with that, with the boats.
For the boat we first have to give them 11000 rupees,
Just to get the form. Then they give a pass for 6 workers. So in that matter we have no problem.
H: Will targeting just Bhaiyyas solve anything?
D: The meeting is on this issue only...
DC: By just the Bhaiyyas leaving... when there were no Bhaiyyas, at that time everything was good, ma'am. Everything was peaceful. Everything. We could eat even a sparse meal peacefully, when the Bhaiyyas weren't there.
Now the Bhaiyyas being there...
See this lot I have bought. It is worth 2000 rupees. I haven't even done business worth 200 rupees. 1800 rupees worth of goods are just sitting there. So we have to put ice. We put ice for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days.
How many days do we put ice?
Where do I get the money to pay my supplier?
When I finish my goods, I can pay the supplier. The supplier there says; give me my money. Where do I get the money from?
This is the situation.
It never used to be like this before. None of this was there before.
Woman standing: When we would go to Grant Road Bazaar, on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, we'd get so fed up to just get off and wait for customers. And now even on Sundays, the customers are so few, just one comes and another goes. So now even going on a Sunday seems like a waste. It's a huge problem for us.
M: On last Sunday you have come to our market. You weren't there, the other girl was there. They were there (points)
They saw, they saw that day. On a Sunday in a market, there should be a rush. There should be so many customers. And our Kalina market, it is so neat and clean. Everyone would vouch for that. And now go to any other market and see.
The other markets are also nice. Bandra Market, Khar Market, there are a lot of markets. But they come nowhere close to our Kalina market. Even we have gone and seen ourselves many times. That is why we used to get lots of customers from Ghatkoper, Andheri, Kurla, Santacruz, Santacruz (W). We used to get customers from there. Now, they don't come.
By now the discussion has disintegrated into petty allegation – such as colouring the fish, using dirty water to wash them etc. But the fact is the Bhaiyas are migrant without any infrastructure, experience or good will. They only have their capacity and will to work hard and make it in this big city. They are young men without any tie ups in the city. They have just learnt the basics of the fish business and jumped on it. They have neither the traditional skill nor the sense of norms. They are the ruthless, desperate migrants. Whereas the Koli women are well settled, middle aged women. Their ties with the system of families, community, markets make them comparatively slow and static. They cannot work harder than they already do, nor can they gear up to desperation like the Bhaiyas. So they are loosing out. It is not only about organised sector and unorganized sector, but also between young footloose men and middle aged settled women.
DC: They get their fish at their doorstep. Whatever they want, they order on the phone.
Woman Standing: The Bhaiyyas even have mobile phones now.
D: We don't even have that.
DC: They will use the mobile and call you and ask – 'where does your sister live? Does she too want to buy fish? Should I bring some for her?' That's how....
Then who will come to the market? Customers don't come anymore, ma'am.
These are the kind of problems we're facing, lot of problems.
Let me tell you what happened this morning. Just this morning. I have about three -four thousand rupees worth of fish. What business have I done? On this very day, the true state we're in…
Just two hundred rupees.
Now you tell me.
And now I've come here. And the fish is on ice.
Now what do we do, you only tell me. This is our state.
First, we'd buy fish by the basket.....Now it's not by the basket
DC: By the kilo.....We buy by the kilo, and in that also, they doctor the scales.
We buy 10 kilos out there, and it's actually 8 kilos. We bring it home and measure it, and its 8 kilos. 2 kilos worth of money is gone over there. That's how it is...
Woman Standing: If you buy peas from a Bhaiyya, it will be 300 gms less than a kilo.
R: Tell me one thing, for the Bhaiyyas that have come, you've had this program you have organized, so you kept all the markets closed all across Maharashtra?
DC: Yes, yes.
DC: There are so many women out there, don't you see? The entire market.
D: It was completely closed.
DC: All the way from Versova, Malad, and Goregaon; the womenfolk have all come.
D: Ghatkopar and also Goregaon. It's shut right from Turbhe.
DC: Belapur, Turbhe
D: From Trombay onwards...
R: And from outside Mumbai?
Woman standing: And from outside Mumbai too, from the villages. All of them from the villages,
Poisar, Palghar, Dahanu etc. All of them.
R: The Bhaiyyas have landed up there also?
D: Yes, everywhere.
DC: If the fresh, wet fish sell less, they sell dried fish. If the dried fish sell less, they sell wet fish.
If they don't get big fish, they sell small ones. By hook or by crook, they manage to sell fish.
If we're not up to it or feel unwell, we sit at home. If our health is not good, then....
D: They come to sell onions, and they ask you. Do you want fish? Which one should I get it for you?
They ask us, sister why don't you come to the market?
DC: Their fish. If you see their fish over there at Crawford market, Bhaucha Dhakka, Colaba...
D: Absolutely dirty...
DC: Wait (silences her)
If you see their fish closely and examine it. You will neither take it nor eat it.
You know the gutter water that flow through the drain? They wash it in that, keep it in their basket and they will bring it to you on their rounds.
We take our fish, buy ice and put ice worth about twenty to thirty rupees, or fifty rupees. We bring it to the market, wash it with clean water and place it on our boards, then pack that lot back into the ice.
While he brings you his lot after roaming continuously in the harsh sun with his basket on his head.
The Pomfret is not white enough, so he puts that in the fish, what do you call it.......?
DC: Gum... they put gum on the fish to make it look white.
middle aged women
DC: From inside, the pomfret is spoilt.
D: You should open the fish and see, the gills should be red.
DC: This is how it is. No, they put something on the red gills too.
D: They put colour....
R: But if everyone starts saying this, you can't take up our line of work. Vegetable vendors will say the same thing. You're saying don't get into our line of work.
DC: We are not against the Vegetable sellers.
R: No, I'm not saying that.
You're saying the Bhaiyyas can take up any line of work, just not ours.
DC: Yes, let them do anything...
R: If every person in Mumbai starts saying this, then how will Mumbai progress?
DC: Mumbai will progress. There are many people who are willing. In such a market, about 50-60 of us womenfolk sit. In the Grant Road market, close to about 1000- 2000 women sit. Grant Road market is so big. The largest market in Bombay is Grant Road.
I know this. There are 108 markets and out of those, Grant Road market is the biggest.
In our market, there are 50 of us. About 40- 50.
1000-2000 over there... There will always be business taking place, most definitely.
If I sit at home, I am now an old woman; and I can't manage because I have no strength; then my daughter will sit to work. If I don't have a daughter, then my daughter-in-law will sit. But we won't leave this line of work. I will keep the business running. That is our tradition. We are not one to shut our business and keep quiet. We will continue doing our business no matter what.
Woman standing: When my mother goes to sell fish, she buys 300-400 rupees worth of fish and sells fish only worth 10-20 rupees, and the rest is put in the freezer. If we are to bring the same fish back then how would this work? In the Sunday market, there is only one person coming and one person going. We are fed up.
DC: And Grant Road market opens at 5 am. Whether Hira Bai knows or not, but I will tell you. Our sisters, all our people go there, so I know.
Early morning at 5. So, at 6'o clock, after selling half her lot, that woman will go home. Then I go there with my lot. Then after that another woman will sit on that same spot. Once she finishes at about 11 or 12'o clock, then another woman comes. We're discussing the Grant road market, Dada (to somebody off frame).
At one spot, three or four women do business. That's how the market at Grant Road is.
D: Now even that market is nothing, it is finished.
DC: It is a very serious problem for us, a very serious one. What are we to do?
It is heartening to sea the woman's faith in her vocation. Fish business is like a faith for her. She talks about the magnificence of the Grant Road market with a kind of national pride. Though the younger women try to pitch in, they can never match the emotional texture of the old woman. She laments the death of scale, erosion of a dense culture and the resultant vulnerability. Whereas the younger women only complaints.
erosion of culture
grant road market