Dharavi Koliwada: Retail Fish Market
Director: Richa Hushing
Duration: 00:21:17; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 3.322; Saturation: 0.319; Lightness: 0.117; Volume: 0.308; Cuts per Minute: 6.436; Words per Minute: 49.939
Summary: Koli is the caste name for the traditional fisher folks in Mumbai. When the land was a cluster of islands in the pre-urban phase, the Koli community was the main inhabitants. The villages of Kolis are called Koliwada. The unique characteristic of the community is that the trading is conducted by the women and the inheritance of that ran by the women’s line. The most coveted property for the Kolis is the designated spot in the fish market. The spots are rented by the family from the municipality and go down from the mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law. On the other hand when a Koli girl gets married to a different location she cannot start vending fish in the market of that location. Often a married Koli woman in Borivali would come to Dharavi to sell fish as that is her birth place. Till the time her mother-in-law in the Borivali market leaves the trade and gives her the space in the market she cannot enter the business there. This century old economic independence and access to public space have made the Koli women a distinct race. The Koli women rein over the cityscape of the city – by their aggressive selling in the market, by their noisy bargains in the docks and the wholesale markets and by their assertive presence in the public transports.
But in last couple of decades the fortune of the Kolis are dwindling and so is the status of the Koli women. With the invasion of mechanized trawlers of the multi-national food companies in the sea their traditional method of fishing has got a major beating. The pollution of sea water and the construction frenzy have affected the availability of the catch. The real estate menace is threatening the existence of their villages and the markets. The migrant male vendors have started selling fish at the doorsteps which coupled with the availability of the frozen food stocks resulted in diminishing clientele in the bazaars. There has also been a campaign by the influential militant vegetarian lobby to demolish the stinking fish markets from the centre of the city. Today the Kolis stand for a vulnerable community. Their desperate attempts to enter the mainstream through education and jobs in the public sector too seem unrealistic in the face of current market driven economy and frenzied gentrification of the urban landscape. Taking advantage of the situation the right wing political parties in the region are trying to mobilize them into xenophobic identity politics.
Hand held track shot of the evening fish market. Women have spread their wares on low platforms with lights from the oil lamps. In the low light and large shadows the Koli women in their erect posture look mythic. Barring mild irritation they do not betray any self consciousness towards the camera.
W1: Why are you doing this shooting? Are you shooting fishes?
Rrivu (cameraman): We are making a film on Koliwada.
W1: Let them shoot, I am sure these films will benefit the Koli people in some way.
The women seem very comfortable with the presence of the camera. There is an element of fun and prank in their attitude to the shooting paraphernalia. They are using this occasion to joke among themselves rather than talking to the crew. Their characteristic ease and confidence is apparent. One matronly woman commands over the others. The fish markets are generally a noisy place and the fisher women are known to be loud and extrovert. It is a general practice to use sentences such as 'don't scream, it is not a fish market' or 'don't be loud like a fisherwoman'. These are references of loud calls for vending and sharp noise of bargaining. But now as the number of customers is not much, the women are mostly talking among themselves in loud voices.
W2: I don't understand what is happening here.
Off camera W: Say something, you will come on the camera.
W2: What should I say, what will you give me if I speak? Can you give us anything?
Off camera W: They can see you in the camera, say something…
W2: He can see me!! If he can see me in the camera, what can I do?
Off camera W: He can see you.
W2: He is looking at me!!!
W3: Why are you shooting me, am I cutting fish? I can see that you are shooting.
Jyotsana: Do you want fish?
Richa (R): What is your name?
J: My name is Jyotsana.
R: Since when are you coming in this market?
J: I have been coming here from a very long time.
R: How long?
J: Since my marriage in 2002, I come here. Earlier my mother-in-law used to sit here. Now she does not come, so I come here to sell fish.
Women at the background: What is the use of all these? ... No use… (Jyotsana smile)
R: What are those people saying?
J: They are just having fun.
R: Who is the most mischievous here?
J: (Pointing at the corner) She does it the most, whenever somebody comes from outside.
Jyotsna is a young woman who has inherited her mother-in-law's space in the market. The space in the market is traditionally inherited along the women's line. These are recognized by the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) and the women pay regular rent to the Govt. In that sense it is an organized sector which is now being threatened by unorganized sector of the migrant vendors.
bombay municipality corporation
Camera comes back to the matriarch. She finally decides to indulge the urban kids. She summons Sheetal, who seems to be the outspoken one, to entertain the shooting crew. As they finally start communicating their real resentment to such as exercise comes out. Due to various urban lures about Dharavi and its exotic poverty, coupled with Bollywood representations of the land, Dharavi had always attracted a lot of attention from the media and the academics. But recently with the announcement of the controversial redevelopment scheme there has been an avalanche of researchers and journalists into the settlement. Dharavi study has become a prime exercise for people both from the city and abroad. In addition there are invasions by politicians and agents of the builders that arrive regularly to woo them into real estate nexus. Currently, this resentment to a camera or an interview is common everywhere in Dharavi. At the same time, as is apparent in this clip, they also enjoy the short span of the attention and mouth the resentment more as a rhetorical sound bite. This is an example of people's complex relationship with the media in contemporary life. .
W2: Hey come and stand here… these people are taking photos.
R: You will have to talk also.
W2: I will have to talk also?
R: Everyone says you are always upto some mischief, so we have come to you.
W2: Is that so? I will have to talk…
(women talk in the background)
Sheetal, Sheetal, come In, Come in!!!
(she calls out to some people in English)
Sheetal: You take her photo. You know Marathi?
W2: Yes, Yes, you talk in Marathi…
Another woman: Speak in Hindi
Sheetal: We know only Marathi; I have studied only till first standard.
R: How many people like us come here to shoot?
W2: Last year a lot of people came. During holi also lot of people came.
W4: There is no use of shooting this place.
W4: Nothing will happen, every year they come and shoot. What will you do shooting here?
R: This place looks so good.
W4: Really, it smells of fish.
Off camera W: Look there is so much of garbage around.
R: This place does not look good?
W4: What is there in this market to shoot? The fish business is not doing well. How will we sell, nobody buys it.
R: Say, what were you saying about the business?
W4: There is no use of all this shooting. It must be benefiting you, but not us. What benefit is there standing under the sun,
Only when we sell something we will be able to get some money to buy food. Otherwise there is nothing, our men do not have any job to do. What can we do?
R: There were so many boats…
W4: There is nothing. Some people have 2-4 kids, what will they do? Money for children's school, men find no work. Whole day we work so hard here, and then we go home. Last year also some people came to shoot, but we Koli people remain the same. Whoever has full pockets survives; poor people are the ones who die. What wrong am I saying? Last year people with fuller pockets came, shot us and went away.
At one point the Koliwada in Dharavi was a self sufficient settlement. They used to get their catch from the creek which was at their backyard. There was also some agricultural land in their possession. So the life and the trade were not complicated and were geographically contained. There was also a river called Dharawati. Some say that the name Dharavi is derived from Dharawati. Some other say the name is derived from the Tamil word Dharavi – loose mud (marshland). Since '50s the creek started drying up due to frenzied construction work, filling up of the marshland and water pollution due to industrial wastes and oil rigging project of ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Commission) etc. Presently there is almost no water body in Dharavi. Hence the women are forced to buy fish from the wholesale market and sell them at retail market with miniscule margin. This has made their survival very difficult.
R: If we do not shoot, how will your story be told?
W4: I know that.
R: Your stories are interesting.
W4: Yes, but we tell our stories to everyone and there is no benefit. The rich people benefit, we do not.
R: But you have so many fish here?
W4: If we sell all these in one day, then its good, otherwise no use. All poor people come to buy fish here. They buy fish for 5-10 rupees, what profit will we make. If we sell the whole amount only then we will be able to save some money.
R: Say what you were saying. Have you decided not to speak? Josheph Sir has sent me here. Will you go for the Gurudutt Mahila Mandal meeting today at 9 pm?
W5: We do not get time; we are in here till 10 pm. And by the time we reach home, it gets even more late
R: How is the business doing?
(She just nods in reply)
gurudutt mahila mandal
oil and natural gas commission
R: Why don't you say some thing? Don't you know how to speak?
W5: I know how to speak, but if I say anything my mother-in-law will get angry at me and she will come here to scold.
R: She is your real mother-in-law?
W6: We feel scared to talk; do not know what to say, how to say it...
R: Talk about your business.
W6: The business is doing okay, like everyday. Some day it is good and some day it is bad.
R: Everyone is having fun today?
W6: Whenever any new person comes here, we have lot of fun.
R: What are you eating?
W6: I am eating kachori, why don't you also take. Take more.
R: I don't like kachori, I like sauce more.
W6: Are you Marathi?
R: Yes I am.
W6 And what about him?
R: He is Bengali.
W6: Does he understand Marathi?
R: Yes a little bit.
W6: When that woman was teasing him, did he understand?
R: Yes, a little. Rest I explained to him.
W6: Whenever any new person comes here, we pull their legs and have lot of fun, some people get it some don't. Till the time people do not mind, it's good. Last time some foreigners came, they did not understand anything.
R: How many people come here to shoot?
W6: They come from time to time, some time lots of them come. Some people come and keep roaming around… they come quite often. Once or twice in a month You are new?
R: I will come tomorrow; the market will be open tomorrow?
Though there is an excitement about having visitors they are also cautious about saying anything. The redevelopment scheme which broadly aims to gentrify the area has made everybody wary. Their livelihood opportunity has been shrinking under the various urban development schemes since mid 20th century. So they naturally are suspicious of new initiatives. But this time the scheme has brought newer nuisance of media galore and foreign visitors. Hence though they appear to be enjoying the encounter off camera, they are reluctant to make any committed statement on the camera. But being the famed Koli women, they are handling the situation with lot of élan.
The crew continues the desperate attempt to conduct an interview. The interviewer tries to make conversation with the only male worker in the bazaar. He is a migrant from UP and sells ice, used for preservation of the fish, to the women. The fun loving fisher women mercilessly pull his leg. But under the good humour can be seen the glimpses of resentment to the newly arrived migrants. The term Bhaiyya itself is ridden with contempt. Some men from UP have started vending fish at the doorsteps which have affected the sell in the bazaars. more information on this please see 'Koli: The Organised Sector and Livelihood' on this site) The Shivsena, the right wing Marathi outfit, has promptly intervened and converted the resentment into a militant xenophobic campaign against the migrants. Koli community is made to believe that these independent Bhaiyyas are the root cause of all their woes.
R: Where have you come from?
Women: (tease him) Hey… why don't you talk… you impotent… talk…
R: Where is he from?
W6: He is from Allahabad?
R: From Allahabad? What does he do here?
W6: He supplies ice to us.
R: I see, sell ice. I thought he is into fish business.
W6: we need ice for fishes. That is the business of Bhaiyya (generic name for the migrants from UP) There are so many people from U.P., they all supply ice. There are so many of them here that nobody asks about Kolis people now.
Ambience shot of the fish market. The smoke oozing oil lamps, the glistening fishes on display, large ice cubes for preservation, the noise of the chirpy women, and sound of cutting fish… one woman carries a tea kettle and glasses…
Remarkable in the display is the black conical fish, called locally Shingada. The Koli women claim that this fish is only available in the creeks of Dharavi. Well, for as long as it will remain available…