The Hakki Pikki are living testimony to the short-sightedness of our tribal-relocation policies, write Arlene Mathew
Bangalore, January 30, 2018: In the deep forests of Karnataka once roamed a free-spirited nomadic tribe, the happy-go-lucky Hakki Pikkis. Originally from Gujarat, members of the tribe travelled the length of the country for years before settling down in several states across southern India.
Inspired by commonly heard English words, they bear names like Division, Depot, and Orange! Well versed in the ways of the forest, they quickly adapted to the terrain. But attempts by the government to resettle the tribe in the fifties and sixties have threatened their survival.
Skilled hunters, the tribesmen hunted birds and sold trinkets and ornaments made from their feathers in the villages they passed through. Some even travelled abroad, making living selling medicinal herbs. “Our people have made a way of adapting to situations. A few of us have even gone to other countries, and learned their way of life there,” says Division.
Once hunting became criminalized, the community was pushed out of the forest. The ‘rehabilitation’ of 15,000 Hakki Pikki families in Karnataka by the government in the fifties and sixties ended their nomadic way of life. One site they were moved to was a 350-acre plot of land provided by the government near the Bannerghatta National Park on the outskirts of Bangalore.
The consequences could have been predicted. Most haven’t been able to find jobs or any permanent source of income. Many in the community have taken to begging.
“If they are going to move us out of our homes, the least that they can do is provide us means to make a living. We have been taken out of the forest, where we knew how to survive. Hunting or collecting medicinal herbs, we were well-versed in what we did,” says Depot. “Either give us work or send us back to our homes. That is all we ask,” he pleads.
Sikkidre Shikari Illdidre Bhikari, a 79-minute documentary produced by Madhu Bhushan and Vinod Raja, addresses the problems faced by the Hakki Pikkis. Suddenly pushed into an urban world without the skills to cope, the nomads find themselves lost and confused. “They have a simple request. Either make a law that permits them to stay in the forest and sustain themselves in manners they are well versed in. Else teach them to survive the urban way of life,” says Raja.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 secures the rights of forest dwellers to the land, minor forest produce and community resources they have historically enjoyed. But its provisions have never been used to benefit the Hakki Pikki. The community was relocated, but never really rehabilitated.
“Why should we expect them to adapt to our ways of life? They were thriving in the forest, doing what they do best. It is their resilience that is still sustaining them,” says Madhu Bhushan, a women’s rights activist with Vimochana, who’s been helping rehabilitate the Bannerghatta Hakki Pikki.
Over the years, the community has been wracked by upheaval. They find themselves completely lost in a world where, in the space of a few decades, the land has been transformed from a source of sustainable livelihoods to a scarce commodity in an increasingly market-driven society.
The plight of the Hakki Pikkis reflects a mindless, coercive and corrupt approach to integrating tribal communities into a larger, heterogeneous society. Their ruined lives are a testament to the vulnerability of many such nomadic communities living on the fringes of the modern world. In the absence of suitable rehabilitation policies or enforcement of laws designed to protect them, the Hakki Pikkis have, for all practical purposes, been abandoned.