Everyday life with the Katkaris

Some glimpses of the quotidian of a struggling tribal community in India, the Katkaris from Maharashtra state. A tribe named as “criminal by birth” during the british rule due to their nomadic and forest-based lifestyle, inscribing them in a long history of discrimination from the rest of society, lack of proper health, housing, electricity or safe water to drink. Many of them are forced to be slaves in rural brick factories, the others continue their tradition as fisherman, now in rivers polluted with the waste and sewage of the modern lifestyle they will never have. They are also not allowed to own land, letting them to be often evicted from the places they build their huts, as well as having a non-farming culture that makes them buying their everyday staple food such as rice.

Nevertheless, they continue their lives as they know, living day by day and maintaing some of their traditions as hunters, fishermen and collectors of forest resources like plants for ayurvedic medicines. It’s a literally ‘living on the edge’ kind of lifestyle, if in one day someone didn’t caught enought fish, in the next day has no money to eat. Even so, among them were some of the most generous people I already met in my life, e.g. a old lady (on the second photo) that offered me food on the first day I visited her tribal setting, while she was often having only one basic meal per two days.

IMG_2831a avó tribal sem familia

Many of them still live in their traditional huts made of bamboo and anything they can find on the forest. Besides the advantages of living in their natural and traditional setting, transportation is an issue if their hamlets are to far from the next village, for instance to convince their kids to go to school, to buy and sell goods in the market or to any health emergency.

Akhade hamlet

On the city of Wai, a large community lives by the river due to not having any other place to stay. Most of the land in the surroundings of the city are private owned by small farmers or bought by Mumbai business men for development projects. Besides the fragility of their homes, mainly tents made of reclaimed canvas from advertisement banners, they face floods from the river in every monsoon season. The sewage of the whole city comes directly to the riverside where they live in order to be flushed by the river, making them a population prone to diseases and extreme lack of hygiene and sanitation. They have no other place for fishing so they eat the fish they catch on the river, as well as taking bath and washing their clothes and dishes on its waters.

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Kids normally don’t go to school because they dislike the discrimination from the rest of the class. This tribe is often faced with disgust by the rest of the castes, for instance being rejected from a public bus on the claim of being dirty. I found as well some teenagers that, with too much time on their hands, end up getting addicted to sniffing glue and other products bought in local drugstores. For adults alcohol addiction is as well a reality, dragging them even more apart from the rest of society.

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After every heavy rainfall they have to re-build their huts.

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Local fisherman shows the inside of his hut.

o pescador e o seu lar

This young family never had electricity in their lives but had the bad luck of having the nearby electric pole falling into their hut after a storm and starting a fire through most of their small hamlet.

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The kids have an immense joy an creativity to transform in toys whatever they find. Bugs are a perfectly valid candidate for personal pet in their point of view.

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Their hunting tradition is quite strong, being a pride for each man to own his own oldschool bow and arrow. The kids learn from very young age these skills as well.

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A tribal leader indulging himself with a party mode on a wedding of one member of his tribe.

o chefe tribal

A woman from Gandhi Nagar hamlet, near Medha village, performing a traditional dance. One thing that strike me was how the gender inequality gap is much smaller in tribes than in general indian society, they were always keen to interact with less prejudices and shyness comparing to other castes.

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Pooja and her new husband, with 15 years old she was another case of the arranged marriage tradition that still permeates whole India.

os recém casados

Katkaris have a strong family culture, from the everyday hygiene to taking care of the kids, from collecting wood for cooking to working for their livelihood (e.g. the man catches fish in the morning and the wife sells it on the market in the afternoon), everything is made together as family.

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Future is an uncertainity in Katkari hamlets, with the lack of support they face from the external world while the discrimination and long history of backward conditions undermine their current opportunities. Nevertheless, the days continue to pass by in their hamlets, and the perennial courage and humility they embody will continue to fertilize their hard-earned resilience. They are strong and fearless, they are the Katkaris.

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Acknowledgment to Shramik and Sapana for the work on the field with these tribes.