Trade and a tradition

Print edition : July 30, 2004

Shandies, or weekly markets, play a key role in life in the tribal heartland of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

in Visakhapatnam

A tribal man on his way to a shandy near Araku in Visakhapatnam district with his bamboo products.-K.R.DEEPAK

shandy

IT is a bright Sunday morning. Sunkaramettah village, 1,500 metres above sea level and surrounded by lush green grassy knolls, orchards and a thickly wooded forest, wears a festive look. There is hustle and bustle all around. And, as far as the eye can see, people are walking in, dressed in their best and weighed down by a variety of nature's bounty - cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, roots, shoots and leaves.

A tribal woman walking to a shandy 20 km from her village to sell a week's collection of adda leaves which would fetch a paltry sum of money. While the Intergrated Tribal Development Agency areas of the district form a paradise for tourists, life is a struggle for their inhabitants.-K.R.DEEPAK

shandy adda

One of the largest - and also the highest - shandies in the Paderu Agency area of Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district has just come alive. For the more than 40 lakh tribal people of the district, who constitute over 14 per cent of its population, economic, social and cultural life revolves around shandies or weekly local markets.

Ponies come in handy when the load is heavy and the shandy is far away.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

shandy

On an average, tribal people from 200 villages in a 25-30 km radius flock to a shandy every week. The major ones attract people from up to 600 villages, between 1,000 and 1,500 people belonging to the Bagada, Konda Dora, Khond, Mali, Nooka Dora, Valmiki, Kotiya, Manne Dora, Porja, Gond, Reddi Dora, Gadaba, Konda Kammara and Kulia tribes.

On a rainy day near Araku. Rain or shine, the shandy must function.-K.R.DEEPAK

Many of the tribes are not native to the Paderu Agency area but have settled there after being displaced by power and industrial projects elsewhere in the State and in Orissa. Interestingly, all tribal people who come to a shandy do not speak the same language. While the language - Kui, Sarava, Jatapu, Gadaba, Adivasi Odiya and so on - varies across tribes, some have a high content of Telugu and others Oriya, depending on the village's proximity to the Orissa border and also the tribe's place of origin. Though traditionally the tribal people practise the animistic form of worship, there is evidence of the influence of Hinduism and Christianity. The Alekha tradition of Buddhism is also practised in some areas.

A non-tribal trader with tribal produce. The spring balance often becomes an instrument of cheating.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

Usually, entire families come to a shandy - to sell fruits, vegetables, spices, poultry, cattle, and such minor forest produce as adda leaves (which are sewn together to make plates) and bamboo. They buy mainly salt, kerosene and edible oils. If the shandy has a depot of the Girijan Cooperative Corporation's public distribution system, they also buy commodities such as rice and sugar. Girijan Corporation Cooperative Ltd, set up during the First Five-Year Plan to help tribal people, has monopoly rights over 30-odd varieties of minor forest produce. Things that come for sale in the shandies change every season.

On a rainy day, a tribal woman on a long trek to a shandy with just two jackfruits.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

In most villages, a place is demarcated for a shandy. At some shandies the State government has provided some shelter. Tribal and non-tribal traders also put up tents. Only at the height of the monsoon may a shandy be suspended.

At the Sunkaramettah shandy , tribal mangoes bought by traders from the plains.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

Some shandies have `touring talkies', to which most of the tribal visitors gravitate after the day-long buying and selling, even if it means walking long distances to their villages after nightfall. It is also an occasion to socialise over a drink. It is common to find men and women drinking maddy kallu, a brew made of rice and herbs, or smoking tobacco.

Jackfruit for sale at Sunkaramettah.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

Coming alive at 6 a.m., a big shandy would go on until 4 p.m.; a small one would end at 11 a.m. Some of the major shandies in the Paderu Agency area come up at Chintapalli, G. Madugula, Paderu, Araku, Gutualput, Peddabailu, Munchingput, Jolaput, Hukumpeta, Kinchumanda, Damuku, Kasipatnam, Madugula, Dharakonda, Sileru, Mangampadu, Donkarai, Downuru and Sunkaramettah. (The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution guarantees tribal people living in Scheduled areas of nine States - Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan - right over the land they live in. The government set up a Tribal Development Agency to protect this right along with various other provisions to enhance the welfare of tribal people. Thus, the areas where tribal people were concentrated began to be known as the "Agency areas" or "Scheduled areas".)

Tribal producers in a shandy near Araku, The smiles hide the harsh realities of their lives.-K.R.DEEPAK

Usually, a small shandy runs on the barter system, and mostly the traders are women. Only in medium and big shandies does money play a role, though barter is also practised.

Adda leaves awaiting buyers in the Sunkaramettah shandy .-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

Adda shandy

Although they are primarily meant for tribal people, shandies offer a huge opportunity for trading in various products. For instance, according to Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director of Samata, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has been working for the tribal people in the districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, East Godavari and Srikakulam for nearly two decades, at least three shandies function on any given day throughout the year in the hilly tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district, each with an annual sale in the range of Rs.1 crore. This translates into an annual turnover of Rs.1,200 crores, a staggering sum considering the tribal people's social and economical backwardness and high illiteracy rate, 98 per cent in some areas. No amount of mining operations or agri-businesses, which are sought to be thrust on the tribal people can match this figure. For instance, in Sunkuramettah, which hosts a shandy every Sunday, middlemen and wholesalers come from the plains as far away as Escota (60 km away), Dharmavaram (65 km) and Vizianagaram (80 km).

Mangoes, Pomegranates and Pumpkins.-K.R.DEEPAK

According to K. Jalluku of Baski village, some 30 km away, tribal families come to the shandy from Orissa villages some 60 km away. His wife Gunamma says the Sunkuramettah shandy has been there for over 50 years. Says Jalluku: "I have been coming here for the past 40 years, first with my grandparents, then with my parents and now with my wife and daughter Seethamma." Jalluku had left home at 3 a.m. to reach the shandy by 7 a.m., trekking 30 km. At 10 a.m., when this correspondent met Jalluku, he had 65 Rasallu mangoes from his land for sale. By mid-day he had sold all the mangoes, which fetched him Rs.100. "This is a good price," said Jalluku, who had to buy, apart from salt and kerosene, a sari for his wife and bangles for his daughter.

The Sunkaramettah shandy during brisk business hours. The shandies of Visakhapatnam district attract sellers even from Orissa villages. Often the buyer and the seller speak different languages.-PICTURES: C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

shandies

But Rukmini from Pandurangini village, who had trekked 25 km to sell adda leaves, was not so lucky. She had brought to the shandy 3 kg of adda leaves and left the shandy at 5 p.m. with Rs.7. Sarasamma, who negotiated a deal with Gangamma on behalf of a mango wholesaler from the plains, got Rs.20 at the end of the day. Shivanna was disappointed that he could sell his two hens only for Rs.75. He expected to get Rs.130.

Tobacco is a part of tribal life and is bought from the shandies .-

shandies

Pollanna came to the shandy with some 50 kg of freshly plucked Neelalu mangoes grown on his land. A wholesaler from Vizianagaram, who had come with a van, bought all the mangoes for Rs.250 after a long bargain. Neelamma, who brokered the deal, got Rs.15 from the wholesaler and five mangoes from Pollanna.

Beef bought from shandies is dried and preserved for months.-

According to Jalluku, over time there has been a change in the items coming to the shandies as also in the operations of the market. Bamboo products such as mats and baskets and handloom saris have yielded place to plastic products (sold by retailers from the plains) and synthetic saris (also from the plains). Also, increasingly, money changes hands what with wholesalers from the plains flocking to the shandies in search of organically grown farm products at `cheap prices'.

Bamboo baskets for sale at Sunkaramettah.-

According to Polanna, the presence of people from the plains has robbed the shandies of their old-world charm. Their increasing commercialisation, he feels, is leading to the exploitation of the tribal people. They are cheated not only on price, but also in the weights and measures used (traders still use the unreliable spring balance). Traders exploit their innocence and illiteracy. According to Samata president P. Devullu, money-lending tradesmen manipulate them in various ways. Some of the tribal people are obliged to sell their products at a heavy loss to tradesmen to clear their debts.

Cocks and brooms brought from the hills.-

According to Ravi Rebbapragada, in some sense shandies represent the most decentralised and sustainable economic activity of the tribal people, who do not have anyone or anything to depend on except their land, water, forest and hard work. They do not depend on the public transport simply because there is hardly one.

Colourful bangles lure tribal girls to the shandies .-

There is little interference from the government. In some shandies, Girijan Cooperative Corporation Ltd has inspectors collecting cess and tax from the traders who come from the plains.

At the shandy at Sapparia village of G.K. Veedhi mandal, tribal women 'unwinding' at the end of the day with a brew made of rice and herbs.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

shandy

The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation (TRIFED) was set up in 1987 to provide the tribal people marketing assistance and remunerative prices for their minor forest produce and surplus agricultural produce and to protect them from exploitative private traders and middlemen. But the tribal people prefer the shandies.

Drinking jeeluga kallu, a kind of toddy, from a doki made from a dry gourd.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

jeeluga kallu

According to a survey by Homo Sapiens, another NGO, with the support of Marketing and Research Team (MART), a premier institution in micro-market promotion), the cost of products sold every year by 20 tribal villages in a shandy in Halia village in Nalgonda district is Rs.1.5 crores. Seeing an opportunity, multinational corporations are showing interest in this market.

Puffing away at alocal cigar.-K.R.DEEPAK

The Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Programme (APRLP) has gone a step ahead. It is not only looking to leverage these markets but also examining the scope for new shandies. The APRLP's aim, according to its mission statement, is to be a facilitator for sustainable rural development. With the support of MART, the APRLP has mapped the existing shandies and worked out plans for establishing new ones in five districts. It seeks to add 90 more shandies to the existing 178, in Anantapur, Mahboobnagar, Nalgonda, Kurnool and Prakasam districts. The plan, if successful, will be extended to other areas.

Not the ones to miss a photo opportunity.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

According to APRLP project coordinator Satya Prakash Tucker, shandies are the most suitable marketplaces for the growing number of women self-help groups (SHGs) in the State. He wants to link the SHG movement with the shandies. According to Tucker, SHG members will have to look to shandies, market local products at remunerative prices, retain the cash flow within the local economy, support local production by expanding market channels, promote collective marketing, and make available extension and eco-friendly agricultural inputs.

As a pilot project, the APRLP has established a shandy in Nellikal village of Nalgonda district. On the opening day, it is reported that 2,500 buyers bought goods worth Rs.1.05 lakh. Collective marketing through the promotion of seller-buyer meets has also been launched. Bulk buyers are encouraged to buy from local producers.

Tailors at work at a shandy . The enterprising ones take one-hour orders.-C.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

But most tribal people Frontline met in Nimalapadu, Jeerugadda, Vankachinta and Panasaputtu villages on the hills were not happy with the commercialisation of shandies. For one thing, they are not sure about handling non-tribal people, given their illiteracy.

For the tribal people, shandies go much beyond buying and selling. A major social gathering, the shandy transforms itself into an important place for the exchange of information and gossip. Many buy clothes and get them stitched within an hour by enterprising tailors. According to Samata's Devullu, locally made soaps, "Looks" and "Virma", are popular with them.

Match-making also happens in shandies. Little wonder that the youngsters are dressed in their best. One can see tribal women in bright-coloured saris, held together by a knot resting on the left shoulder. They appear striking, with big orange, bright red, yellow and purple flowers decorating their braids and their noses, which are pierced at the centre and on the sides, holding rings of various sizes.

For the tribal people, nothing can substitute a traditional shandy. For them, it is, after all, a way of life.

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