in Hiriyur, Chitradurga
Jayamma and her infant boy in the hut where she lives in seclusion after childbirth, outside the village of Surappanahatti, in Dindavara panchayat of Hiriyur taluk, Chitradurga district.
ON the mud track leading to Dodda Gollarahatti, a village in Yeraballi panchayat in Hiriyur taluk of Chitradurga district in Karnataka, two women in their mid-thirties lounged listlessly outside a one-room structure built some 50 metres away from the rest of the village. With their unkempt hair and crumpled clothes, they presented a marked contrast to other women of the village who were consciously avoiding the duo as they walked down the track. A watchful passerby warned: “If you talk to these women or even if their shadow falls on you, you can enter our village only after taking a bath.”
A small crowd had gathered near the temple looking curiously at our car, which had driven into the village of around 120 houses. On being asked about the women living outside the village, Nijalingappa, formerly vice-president of the gram panchayat, said: “It is their time of the month and they are not allowed inside the village for three to five days. During this time they cannot work, bathe, touch anyone or cook their own food.” Added a young man called Simpanna: “The Kadu Golla community believes that women are impure during their menstrual cycle. We cannot let them stay in the village and make it impure.”
On our way out of the village, Yashodhamma and Sushilamma, who were then staying in the “menstruation house”, displayed the separate set of vessels women had to use when they stayed in the house. “I don’t like this practice, but what can I do? This is our tradition and we can stop it only on devaru’s (God’s) instructions. We will be punished by God if we don’t follow this.”
In Surappanahatti, a Kadu Golla settlement of around 200 houses, Jayamma crawled out of her hut, the size of a kennel, cradling a 20-day-old boy. Surappanahatti is around 20 kilometres from Dodda Gollarahatti and is in Dindavara panchayat in Hiriyur taluk. Jayamma’s hovel was in the middle of an agricultural field, while other hutments were some hundred metres away.
“I have to stay here for another month, after which I have to bathe and visit the temple where my child will be named. Only then will I be allowed into my house,” said Jayamma. During this time, when she is considered unclean, she cannot be touched, and food is given to her by her family members who either leave it by the side of her hovel or spoon it into her plate to ensure that they do not get “polluted”. She had to stay in her hovel even though it was the monsoon season and ominous rain clouds hovered over the parched ragi fields.
A few hours away from the dry and flat plains of Hiriyur is the green and undulating landscape of Arsikere taluk in Hassan district. Around 30 kilometres from Arsikere town are three Kadu Golla settlements, of which the largest is K. Gollarahatti. Shekar R., 26, the Youth Congress president of the area, said that more than 100 women had undergone hysterectomies at the age of 30 in the three settlements.
Yashodhamma (in red) and Sushilamma at the menstruation house, outside the village of Dodda Gollarahatti in Yeraballi panchayat of Hiriyur taluk.
J. D. Ugrappa, a teacher at the local school, added: “Sometimes women have gynaecological problems because of which they bleed for 15 days in a month. Our culture does not allow them to enter houses during this time. Rather than have men cooking the food and doing all household work for so many days every month, isn’t it better if the women get the ‘operation’ done once they have had children so that they can serve their husbands?”
There are many groups of the Golla or herding community in Karnataka, of which the main divisions are “Ooru Gollas” and “Kadu Gollas”. Myths about the community trace their origins to the Yadavas of north India. While Ooru Gollas are Gollas who have settled in towns, Kadu Gollas have, on the other hand, historically lived in self-contained hamlets called hattis on the margins of towns or larger villages or close to forests. A Kadu Golla hatti is distinct because of the thorny fence that surrounds it.
Nomadic by nature, all Kadu Gollas were cow and goat herders in the past before some of them acquired small landholdings. While the educated among them have migrated to towns and cities, many members of the community still pride themselves as herders and continue their traditional profession. They are found mainly in Chitradurga and Tumkur districts while a significant number can be found in the neighbouring district of Hassan. Smaller settlements are scattered across the State and in parts of Andhra Pradesh.
According to data from the 1990 Report of the Karnataka Third Backward Classes Commission, Gollas form 1.3 per cent of the population of the State. However, the report does not specify the percentage of Kadu Gollas. Informal estimates by the Backward Classes and Minorities Department are that there are 251 Kadu Golla settlements in Chitradurga district with a total population of around one lakh. There could be around three lakh Kadu Gollas across Karnataka if estimates derived from neighbouring districts are added.
Kadu Gollas are extremely religious and worship a pantheon of gods including Krishna. Their self-enforced segregation has helped to keep their religious beliefs cocooned from outside influences.
“They believe that their life is controlled and guided by some sort of supernatural, spiritual and magical power,” says M. Gurulingaiah, professor of sociology at Kuvempu University, Karnataka, in Tribal Culture: Change and Mobility. “Religion may very well be said to constitute the whole life of Kadu Gollas. They believe in various deities, ghosts and spirits guiding every walk of their life.”
The community practises a strict form of caste discrimination and does not allow outsiders to participate in their worship. In Dodda Gollarahatti, for example, if a member of a Schedule Caste enters the village temple, the entire temple needs to be cleansed. Brahmins are also absent in their rituals and wedding ceremonies. The social, economic and religious influence of other communities is limited on Kadu Gollas, especially in the rural settlements, as they live life in their own enclaves.
A newly constructed mahila bhavan lying unused outside the village.
One distinctive feature of Kadu Gollas is their unusual notions of purity because of which they consider a woman unclean when she has her monthly period or after she delivers a baby. While a woman who has her period has to live outside the village for three to five days every month, a woman who gives birth is not allowed to enter her house for two or three months. In this patriarchal and religious society, the routine biological process of menstruation acquires the dimensions of a “curse” that manifests itself in bleeding. This notion is so ingrained in Kadu Gollas that even educated professionals of the community accept it.
“When we go back to the hatti, we have to follow the rules regarding purity,” said H. Ajjaiah, a Kadu Golla and an assistant professor of sociology at the HPPC Government First Grade College in Challakere town, Chitradurga district. According to Ajjaiah and two of his Kadu Golla colleagues, R. Mahesh, associate professor of Kannada, and Mudalagiriyappa, lecturer in history, the reason why such practices continue is that Kadu Gollas were not educated.
“There is a lot of difference in the situation in rural hattis and hattis closer to towns. For instance, such backward practices are not seen in Katappana hatti in Challakere town,” said Mahesh. The three teachers concurred in their view that education and interaction with other communities have made a huge difference in the lives of Kadu Gollas. “Education changes a lot of things but we need reservation if we have to transform. Unfortunately, even though our community has all the traits of a Scheduled Tribe, we are still treated as a Backward Tribe, denying us a bouquet of benefits,” added Mudalagiriyappa.
In Karnataka, the Golla community is recognised as a “nomadic and semi-nomadic tribe”.
After members of the community organised Statewide rallies in the early 1990s, the Karnataka government issued an order in September 1994 that classified them as Category-I (Most Backward Tribes) entitling them to 4 per cent reservation in education and government jobs.
The hitch is that the backward Kadu Gollas have to share this thin slice of the pie with several more prosperous communities, including the Ooru Gollas. Hence, members of the community have been demanding that they be designated as a Scheduled Tribe. Studies like that of Gurulingaiah have also pointed out how Kadu Gollas fulfil all the criteria needed to qualify as a Scheduled Tribe.
Role of medical fraternity
A more immediate solution perhaps lies in the hands of the local medical fraternity that can educate the community about women’s hygiene products and issues of infant mortality, but doctors and workers at local primary health centres (PHCs) say that they have been unsuccessful so far. Dr Savitha B. Kannavi, the medical officer at the Dindavara PHC, said: “There are eight hattis that fall under this PHC and nothing that we tell them makes a difference. They don’t know what sanitary pads are and they get hysterectomies done at private hospitals. They are very strict about not touching a woman when she is considered ‘unclean’. Even if a new mother needs to be taken to the hospital in an emergency scenario, we have to assist in lifting her from her hovel and place her in the ambulance as none of the villagers, including her family members, help. Whenever a Kadu Golla woman delivers a baby, we let her stay here for more than three days as we know she will not be allowed inside her house and will have to stay in the open once she goes back.”
Menstruating women taking shelter in a bus stand outside the village of Adivala Gollarahatti, in Dindavara panchayat, Hiriyur taluk.
Taranath, a junior health assistant, who travels to the hattis providing medical advice and immunisation shots, said: “I have to go to the hovel of the newborn and her mother on my way out of the village. Once I made the mistake of going to the hovel first and they did not let me into the hatti that day.” He added that the PHC undertook behavioural communication change programmes three or four times every year, where educational videos are shown and street plays are performed. But this has not helped in changing the attitude of Kadu Gollas.
A recent move by the State government to deal with the problem has drawn the ire of many people. This is because the action will only perpetuate such regressive practices rather than help rid the community of them. According to a government order dated July 10, 2009, the State government intends to build a “mahila bhavan” in every hatti to safeguard the “unique cultural practice” of Kadu Gollas. The structure will be outside the village and will have a dormitory and two rooms to accommodate 10 women at a time so that they can pass the duration of their menses in relative comfort. According to statistics available at the Backward Classes and Minorities Department in Chitradurga, 13 such mahila bhavans have been constructed in various Kadu Golla hattis in Chitradurga district at a total cost of Rs.65 lakh.
There is one such structure in Adivala Gollarahatti, a large hatti of some 250 houses three kilometres from the taluk headquarters of Hiriyur. The new building, painted yellow, lies some 50 metres from the rest of the village and is surrounded by scrubby bushes and weeds. The flooring is incomplete and it has evidently not been used except as a storeroom from the time it was constructed six months ago.
Girijamma, 40, said: “We know that it is the mahila bhavan, but there is no electricity there. Also, the gram panchayat members have said that it is to be used for the benefit of everyone in the village and is not meant for menstruating women.” A member of the gram panchayat, who came on the scene, yelled at Girijamma: “Who said that it is a mahila bhavan? It is a new building that is meant for the hatti.”
Consequences such as this make a mockery of the State government’s ill-conceived idea for “helping” Kadu Golla women, as any new building will be appropriated by the community for a different use. The menstruating women of this hatti, meanwhile, spend their days and nights in a derelict bus stop, languishing in dust and filth.
P. Kodandaramaiah, a former Member of Parliament from Chitradurga and a Golla himself, has tried to rid the community of this practice but has had limited success. Commenting on the proposal to construct the mahila bhavans, he had said (in an earlier interview to The Hindu): “It is utterly shameful and appalling that the government has come up with such a disgusting project just to gain cheap publicity and for a vote bank [sic]. Instead of educating the Yadava community to shed such unscientific and orthodox practices, the government is promoting them. I oppose the move tooth and nail.”
A view of Dodda Gollarahatti village, with some 120 tenements.
K. Neela, Karnataka State vice-president of the Janavadi Mahila Sanghatane, an affiliate of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), has suggested that Gollara hattis be designated as revenue villages so that they can benefit from the State government’s schemes, leading to an increase in education and health levels among the backward community. She has also suggested that a strong and concerted effort to inculcate a scientific temper in the Kadu Golla community needs to be made so that it is completely rid of its superstitious beliefs.
The State government needs to take this issue seriously as thousands of Kadu Golla women are discriminated against on a daily basis. If one drives through the Gollara hattis of Chitradurga and Tumkur, it is easy to spot dishevelled looking women on the outskirts of villages in derelict buildings, at unused bus stops, in cattle sheds, in the open air, under trees, and in tiny thatched hovels on the side of the road. The worst sufferers are young girls who compulsorily need to spend a few days away from school and college when they are menstruating even if it means they miss their examinations.
The State government needs to address this problem urgently rather than legitimise it with the construction of official menstruation houses. Practices that discriminate against women should not find any support from the state.
This correspondent spoke to several Kadu Gollas, both men and women, across Chitradurga and Hassan, and there is a strong undercurrent of resentment against the practice among women and younger men. It is the elderly and the priests who strongly endorse this practice. When the general sentiment is towards reform, the state should come up with policy measures that encourage such change; it should identify reformers rather than devise ways to perpetuate irrational practices.
(Letters to the Editor should carry the full postal address)
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