Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lokavidya Livelihoods

Lokavidya Bazar and Lokavidya Dharma

We visited Keslaguda village in Kerameri mandal of Adilabad District, Telangana; where a large number of Ojha families have been 'resettled' during the past few years. Ojha artisans are involved in designing and casting of brass lamps & vessels, agricultural ware and other artifacts (largely used by the dominant Gond population of the region)- this is their livelihood activity.

                                     Brass casting in an Ojha household

 Traditionally, the Ojhas lived in a close and inter-dependent relationship with the Gonds; in fact the 80 odd Ojha families were distributed, one each, in the numerous Gond villages/settlements spread across the entire (forest) region of the district. The Ojhas produced and supplied the brassware required by the Gonds for Puja(lamps and vesels), ornaments such as cow-bells, cart-ware etc all cast in brass. (The Ojhas possess the knowledge and skills required for this manufacture which has been passed down through many generations). The Gonds , in turn, provided the Ojhas with basic food and other needs. During the rainy season(about 3-4 months each year) the Ojhas would help in agricultural activities of the Gonds as 'coolies' (a practice which continues to this day).

During the 1980s, with the advent of 'development' agenda and strict implementation of laws governing the use of forests and forest -produce , the livelihoods and lives of the Ojhas and Gonds were affected. The Ojhas were 'convinced' by the Integrated Tribal Development Agency to market their products in external markets- in towns, cities and through exhibitions in far off places. For over 30 years , the displacement of the Ojhas (from their lives with the Gonds) was almost complete and almost all Gond villages were bereft of the Ojhas. This process adversely affected both the lives and livelihoods of the Ojhas and Gonds and the bonds of mutual inter-dependence and fraternity got severely strained. The external market did not meet the life or livelihood aspirations of the Ojhas.

The younger generation of Ojhas(who like all others) were encouraged to go to school and get access to modern education found the going tough and, in course of time, discovered that this education was not going to provide them a means to an alternate livelihood- even after 'attempting' to get classified as Scheduled Tribe Gonds(a move that was opposed by the Gonds!). Most of the youth had also lost touch with the traditional knowledge and skill of brass casting.

About 4-5 years ago the Ojhas began to return to the Utnoor, Jainoor and Kerameri mandals of Adilabad district. They were given 'pattas' for setting up homes in Keslaguda village; which now houses many Ojha families. They then turned to the Gonds and the local market for 'selling' their products. This apparently has been a successful venture; as the Gonds found that the Ojhas were able to meet their long-standing need of brassware and were happy, in turn, to 'satisfy' the food needs (through exchange of food grains for brass ware) of the Ojhas. A new inter-dependence has been in the making these past few years!

Livelihoods and Markets

The interaction of the Ojhas with the local market has been fruitful in many ways.
(i) there is a constant and assured demand for their products that has helped sustain their livelihood
(ii) there is a 'fair' valuation of their produce as evinced by the master-craftsman of the Ojhas , Sri Kova Naneshwar
(iii) the youth see opportunities for the future and have begun to take interest in their Knowledge and learn the skills of their fathers and mothers

The interaction with the external markets has, in contrast, been very discouraging
(i) there is always an effective under-valuation of their products, with the surpluses always going to the marketers/marketing agencies
(ii) the time-lines and other aspects, imposed by the external markets, seldom helped to encourage or sustain the livelihoods of the Ojhas( a recent 'rejection' of a large order of ornamental brassware on 'technical' grounds) and the Gonds( a recent 'order' banning the collection of Mahua flowers, a traditional practice and input for the manufacture of local liquor) are instances of how livelihoods are being adversely affected.
(iii) there was no component of encouragement or recognition,by the external market, of the knowledge, skills and practices possessed by this artisan community.

Lokavidya Bazar and Dharma

Sri Kova Naneshwar at work
While conversing with Sri Naneshwar about the method of value-acretion to their products, he replied ' our dharma is to produce these items and ask for a sustenence price in return' and that , in the local market, this 'dharma' was recognised and followed without discussion or rancour.

The embers of Lokavidya Dharma seem to be alive even today and maybe a 'spark' of Lokavidya Bazar will rekindle the fire of Lokavidya Dharma!

Krishnarajulu, Narayana Rao and Lalit Kaul
March 2016

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