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  • The Katkari Skills
  • The Katkari and Alcoholism
  • How they are Exploited
  • Socio Economic Status
  • Past/Present Professions of Katkari
  • Food, Land, and Water


  • THE KATKARI SKILLS

    A majority of the Katkari families are landless. Those who own land generally do not have any paddy fields. As a result Katkaris have not turned towards agriculture for their livelihood. However, some of them have been cultivating crops on forest land. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs that tribals, who are the original inhabitants of this land, are today landless and staying on land owned by someone else. It is sad to hear Katkaris being termed "encroachers".

    Katkaris continue to be hunter-gatherers when they are not working as bonded labour on brick kilns. They have tremendous knowledge about uncultivated foods like fish, crabs, animals, birds, tubers/rhizomes, wild vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. It is indeed amazing to see Katkari women drawing out crabs from their holes during summer months by rubbing two stones to imitate the sound of cloudbursts. ADS has done a study to understand the hunting-gathering skills of Katkaris and the results provide an amazing insight into the ingenuity and wisdom of Katkaris for survival.

    Katkaris are expert fishermen, swimmers, divers, archers and marksmen. They are famous for their strength, endurance and hunting-gathering skills. Katkaris are the only tribal group (in Raigad-Thane region) who eat rodents (they even have a religious festival pertaining to rodents). Katkaris not only catch rodents, they also track down the food grains stored by rodents in their burrows. Food grains collected from the burrows are an important source of nutrition during food deficit periods.

    Katkaris are also experts in stone crushing, tree felling and charcoal making. Some of the families are engaged in these trades and are known to migrate seasonally to distant regions for employment (and survival). However, in all these vocations, Katkaris are not paid proper wages and treated as bonded labour.

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    THE KATKARI AND ALCOHOLISM

    The loss of forests has had an adverse effect on the diets of Katkaris due to the diminished availability of uncultivated foods. The food and nutritional security of Katkaris are thus critical issues. People report that Katkaris, who were the strongest physically amongst tribal groups in the Raigad-Thane region, have today been reduced to the weakest due to food shortages, poor diets and alcoholism.

    Katkari men, women and children have a strong affinity for alcohol. Whether it is due to a desire to enjoy or an effort to escape from the reality of poverty and indebtedness, needs to be probed thoroughly. Katkaris spend whatever money they have earned on alcohol and on watching Hindi movies. These are the two major obsessions of Katkaris. It is estimated that a Katkari family spends between 60-70 % of its income on alcohol and entertainment. Barely 30% is spent on food. Alcoholism is taking a heavy toll of the Katkaris. It is leading to a loss of vigour in the tribe. One can already see a weak and wasting lot of Katkaris in the villages. The life expectancy of Katkaris has declined in recent years and the Katkaris, as a tribe, may be on their way out.

    To make matters worse, the custom of early marriage is still common amongst the Katkaris. Girls marry at an age of 10-14 years and by 20-25, they look almost old. The Government of Maharashtra does not have any data on child mortality, deaths during pregnancy, etc. but these are common amongst Katkaris.

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    HOW THEY ARE EXPLOITED

    WHAT PEOPLE HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE KATKARIS MORE THAN 100 YEARS AGO .....

    The Katkaris are labourers and firewood sellers. Their women are hardworkers and help them by hawking headloads of firewood. Katkaris, as a rule, are much darker and slimmer than the other forest tribes. Their women are tall and slim, singularly dirty and unkempt, and the children can always be known by their gaunt and pinched look. They have no peculiar language and show no signs of ever having had one. They rank among the very lowest tribes, their touch being thought to defile. Their huts are of mud-daubed karvi with a peaked roof thatched with palm leaves. Poor as the hut is, there is generally a separate cook-room. As a rule the only furniture is a few earthen pots and pans, several hens and dogs, a few fishing traps, perhaps a bow and arrows, and a couple of stones for crushing kusai seed. They eat every sort of flesh, except the cow and the brownfaced monkey. They never work, unless forced by want. The men generally wear a lioncloth, a blanket, and some tattered cloth round their heads. The women wear a robe and no bodice. They are very poor, being much given to drinking, and passing days together without wholesome food.
    "Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, 1883".

    Katkaris have been treated as a criminal tribe since a long time, although official records continue to deny the fact . In recent years Katkaris are being increasingly associated with thefts and robberies, especially along roadsides and highways. It is understandable that some of them may be forced to resort to such inhuman means for earning a livelihood, out of desperation. However, it would be erroneous to conclude that all Katkaris are bearers of a criminal streak by 'birth'. The day would not be far when Katkaris, as a tribe, are once again elevated to the status of a criminal tribe in the "Habitual Offenders Act".

    Katkaris are totally unorganised and as a result people find it easy to exploit them. Government lacks the political will to help the community since Katkaris do not form a major vote bank. These and many other factors contribute to the continuing poverty and marginalisation of Katkaris.

    An important observation regarding the different vocations followed by Katkaris is the fact that each profession has been 'owned' and 'controlled' by non-tribal outsiders. The Katkaris have always participated as "workers" and even "slaves".

    Katkaris are cheated, exploited and made to work under sub-human conditions on the brick kilns. Sexual exploitation of Katkari women is common while men are often beaten up, and even killed. Quite obviously, such "accidental" deaths of Katkaris are never reported or investigated. On the contrary, whenever Katkaris try to protest against the exploitation, brick kiln owners file cases of robbery and theft against the Katkari families in the police station. The Katkaris are then harassed by the Police and treated like a "criminal tribe". The treatment of Katkaris as a "criminal tribe" and their harassment by police are major reasons for the continuing subjugation of Katkaris.

    Life continues to be more or less the same for the Katkaris from the day when an attempt was made to profile them in the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency in the year 1883, except, perhaps, for their bondage on brick kilns and the renewed identity as a criminal tribe! This gives the impression that concerted efforts are being made by the Government, police, business community, traders and all non-tribals to over-exploit Katkaris to an extent where they cease to exist!

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    THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS OF TRIBAL COMMUNITIES

    A number of tribal communities - Thakur, Mahadev Koli, Katkari, Warli, Kokna, etc. - live in Thane and Raigad District. Most tribal groups are socio-economically marginalised. Their livelihoods are totally dependent on agriculture and forests. Most of them are small & marginal farmers or landless labourers. The single rainfed crop of cereals is unable to feed families for more than 6 months.

    Forests provide a wide range of uncultivated foods (vegetables, tubers/rhizomes, fish, game, birds) for consumption as well as marketable NTFPs like gum, gunj leaves, gulvel, mahua flowers, tendu patta, tubers, honey, wild fruits, etc. Some of the NTFPs are exchanged in barter while others are sold for cash. For instance, gum is bartered for pulses or potatoes/onions while gunj leaves fetch cash. However, the availability of forest produce has declined considerably due to deforestation. This has had an adverse effect on the food security and livelihood of tribals.

    There is no employment in the region apart from felling trees for forest contractors or working as labourers in fields or on government jobs. Deforestation has resulted in decreased employment to those engaged in tree felling. In any case, tree felling benefits a minority of the population for a short period of time.

    Cash is a scarce commodity and quite often tribals do not have cash even for requirements like purchase of food grains or other essential commodities. Unforeseen requirements or bigger problems like marriages, house construction or repairs, illness or death in the family, etc. are even more difficult to manage. The only alternative they have is to borrow in cash or kind from moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates. Tribals often find it difficult to repay the moneylender's loan.

    Most tribals are small & marginal farmers or landless labourers. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood but the single rainfed crop of cereals is unable to feed most families for more than 6 months. There is no employment in the region apart from felling trees for forest contractors or working as labourers in fields or on government jobs. This kind of employment benefits a minority of the population for a short period of time.

    Cash is a scarce commodity in the face of widespread unemployment and quite often tribals do not have cash even for requirements like purchase of food grains or other essential commodities. Unforeseen requirements or bigger problems like marriages, house construction or repairs, illness or death in the family, etc. are even more difficult to manage. The only alternative they have is to borrow in cash or kind from moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates. Tribals often find it difficult to repay the moneylender's loan.

    In the past, forests used to provide various subsistence needs of a majority of people during the lean months but these days people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet on account of widespread deforestation. Deforestation has also resulted in decreased employment to those engaged in tree felling.

    The health and nutrition status of tribals is poor. Local health traditions of tribals are in a weak shape and the Government health delivery system fails to meet the health needs of people.

    Illiteracy is high and Government efforts to promote education amongst tribal children are counter productive on account of the difficult syllabus and teaching methods. Most tribal children who go to school miss out on the education of "survival skills" from their elders. They end up as misfits in the tribal context.

    Facilities like housing, drinking water, electricity are primitive, to say the least.

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    PAST/PRESENT PROFESSIONS OF KATHKARI

    The name Katkari is reported to have been derived from their profession of making "Kath" or catechu from the Khair tree (Acacia catechu). Katkaris are known for their physical strength, endurance and hunting-gathering skills.

    The entire Katkari tribe has, at one time or another, been experts in specific professions. For instance, the occupation of making Kath was a speciality of Katkaris. The number of Katkaris practising this trade gradually declined as the population of Khair trees went down and a ban was imposed on the felling of the tree (around 1968). The Katkaris then collectively became expert charcoal makers until the Government of Maharashtra banned the making of charcoal from wood (around 1985). It was at this point of time that the Katkaris turned towards brick making. Today the Katkaris are considered expert brick makers and the entire group is engaged in this profession.

    Most of the families are caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty, indebtedness and bonded labour. All able-bodied men, women and children work as bonded labour on brick kilns in far away places.

    An important observation regarding the different vocations followed by Katkaris is the fact that each profession has been 'owned' and 'controlled' by non-tribal outsiders. The Katkaris have always participated as "workers" and even "slaves".

    Katkaris are cheated, exploited and made to work under sub-human conditions on the brick kilns. Sexual exploitation of Katkari women is common while men are often beaten up, and even killed. Quite obviously, such "accidental" deaths of Katkaris are never reported or investigated. On the contrary, whenever Katkaris try to protest against the exploitation, brick kiln owners file cases of robbery and theft against the Katkari families in the police station. The Katkaris are then harassed by the Police and treated like a "criminal tribe". The treatment of Katkaris as a "criminal tribe" and their harassment by police are major reasons for the continuing subjugation of Katkaris.

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    FOOD LAND AND WATER

    FOOD SECURITY ISSUES
    Tribals are fully dependent on agriculture and forests for their livelihood. Efforts to improve food production through agriculture are impeded by the limited area available for cultivation, hilly terrain, low land holdings, landlessness, water scarcity and poor soils.

    People do not have money to buy food grains from the market. The government sponsored food security initiative - Public Distribution System (PDS) - has serious limitations and fails to address the food security concerns of tribal people.

    Large-scale deforestation in the region has reduced the availability of uncultivated foods to tribals. Food security is thus a major issue in the tribal region. Severe malnutrition and starvation are realities in many villages even today (i.e. 2003).

    Where will the next meal come from? Patiently waiting for the fish to come in .. Families migrate to brick kilns for 6-7 months during the dry period, returning to their villages in the months of monsoon. Work on the brick kiln begins at 6-7 AM in the morning and goes on till 7-8 PM. Men, women, adolescent girls and small children work in the harsh conditions. Each Katkari family is allowed to build a small makeshift hut. The living conditions are squalid, to say the least.



    LAND AND WATER
    Most of the land in the region is hilly and undulating. Agriculture is confined to low lands in plains/ valleys and gentle slopes. The laterite soils are shallow, with poor fertility and low water holding capacity. Soil fertility is dependent on the organic matter provided by trees growing on slopes and hill sides. The quality of soils is deteriorating because of the dwindling forest cover and increasing use of chemical fertilisers for boosting agricultural productivity.

    The region receives very heavy rainfall (upto 3,200 mm) during June-September. Most of the water runs off to the sea due to the fractured basalt rock geology and poor water holding capacity of soils. The 8-month dry period is hence characterised by severe water stress and drinking water scarcity. The contrasting situation of very heavy rainfall for 3-4 months followed by water stress imposes restrictions on cropping seasons and crops grown.

    There is an acute drinking water scarcity during summer months and villagers often have to walk long distances to fetch drinking water. This generally translates into increased work load for women.

    Water scarcity in turn results in unhygienic conditions in villages leading to the contamination of drinking water sources. These conditions provide fertile ground for spread of various water borne diseases.



    CLIMATE
    The climate of the region is characterised by three distinct seasons, viz. Summer (February to May-June), Monsoon (June to September-October) and Winter (November to January-February). The temperatures range from a maximum of 42oC during summers to a minimum of 12oC during winters.



    AGRICULTURE
    Over 30 % people are landless while the remaining people are small & marginal farmers with average land holdings of 1-2 acres (0.5 to 1 acre paddy fields and 1 to 1.5 acres upland).

    Agriculture in the region is subsistence based and consists of a single rainfed crop of paddy on low lands and millets (finger millet and proso millet) on gentle slopes during the Kharif (monsoon) season. Some pulses are also grown as intercrop in the millets. Of the total land area, only 26% is cultivable land. The land under rice is a meager 9-10%. The soils of the region are not fertile and hence agriculture is not an economically viable proposition. On an average, agricultural produce supports partial food needs of families for not more than 5-6 months in a year.

    The lands are left fallow during the dry period (October-November to May-June). Pulses, oilseeds and vegetables are not cultivated in the region. Tribals have to depend on the market (local markets or traders) for their requirement of pulses and edible oil. The quality of these commodities sold in the market is poor. Lack of adequate pulses, oilseeds and vegetables in diets has an adverse effect on the health of tribals.

    Some vegetables are grown during the monsoon in backyard gardens but availability of vegetables during the dry period is low. Potato is, perhaps, the only 'vegetable' available to the poor throughout the year. However, potato consumption depends on prevailing market rates and it is generally out of the reach of poor for more than six months.

    Rice, potato and dry fish (salted) form the staple diet of tribals during the dry period. Dry fish is obtained in barter (by exchanging millets) or purchased from traders. Lentils/ pulses, edible oils, vegetables and fruits are consumed in small quantities.

    Thus agriculture, on its own, is unable to meet the subsistence needs of tribal communities.



    FORESTS

    The region is characterised by Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests. The common plant species found are Tectona grandis (Teak), Madhuca indica (Moha), Butea monosperma (Palash), Terminalia crenulata (Aien), Bridelia retusa (Asana), Lagerstroemia parviflora (Bondara), Acacia catechu (Khair), Carissa carandas (Karvanda), Calycopteris floribunda (Ukshi), Woodfordia fruiticosa (Dhayati), etc.

    Studies show that forests meet between 40-50% of the food needs of tribals (particularly during the lean period), apart from many direct and indirect contributions to the subsistence economy of local people. Forests are a source of diverse uncultivated foods during the lean months. Tubers / rhizomes, vegetables, fruits & nuts, oil seeds, gum, fish, crabs, game, honey, etc. are some of the important uncultivated foods. Forests also provide a number of other day-to-day needs like medicines, fodder, fuelwood, timber, fibre, manure, wood for construction, tools & crafts, implements, dyes, etc. NTFPs like gunj, gum, moha, gulvel, etc. provide much needed income to tribals. Forests thus plays an important role in meeting the subsistence needs of local communities.

    The valuable timber species found in the region (Sag, Aien, Asana, Hedu, Kalamb, Shivan, Shisav, Moha, etc.) are a curse on the forests. Illegal tree felling for timber has depleted the forest cover to a large extent.

    Large-scale deforestation in the region has destabilised the subsistence economy of tribals. Availability of foods from the forests has decreased and food security has become a major issue. People are becoming increasingly dependent on agriculture for their food needs. Loss of forests and trees from slopes and hillside is resulting in severe soil erosion, decreasing soil fertility and water shortages.

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