As Huligemma sat on a flat rock talking, a woman suddenly sneaked up behind and covered Huligemma’s eyes with her hands. Huligemma tried to guess who it was by feeling the woman’s hands. Eventually the other woman gave up and moved to sit next to Huligemma. “Oh, I am sitting down to my death! I left at dawn to fetch firewood, I am only returning now,” exclaimed Durgamma as she sat down.
After the commotion, Huligemma returned to what she was saying before she was interrupted. “It’s unaffordable to be a labourer in the cities. There, Rs 200 isn’t enough for one person, but here it can feed a whole family,” she says.
However, in the last two months nobody in the Dalit keri of Khilarti village of Raichur district has been able to earn that much, thanks to the drought that has affected several districts in the state.
Aged 45, Huligemma was hesitant to talk. Every question directed at her was answered by two young men and boys who gathered around this reporter. She remained silent until the conversation veered towards official apathy and the relations between upper castes and the Maadars of the village. “They don’t care about us. They keep dumping cow-dung here,” she burst out, referring to the upper castes.
The bulk of the work that the women of the Dalit keri have been doing for the last few weeks, is cook, collect firewood and water besides looking after the children. Had the monsoon showers not failed, they would have been at work even in the harsh sun. At this time of the year, they would be harvesting bajra in the fields of upper caste people or tending to crops on their own meagre plots. Very few of the 25 families if the keri have more than two acres of land.
She says that with absolutely no work, the women are at home, just waiting for the rains and the men are off for months together, working at construction sites in the cities.
They barely know anything about the MGNREGA except that an employment scheme of some kind exists.
The keri residents also said that no officials had ever come to visit their village.
“But politicians fold their hands when they contest elections, tell us to make them win. After that, we never hear from them,” Huligemma said.
And they are reeling in debt. Asked about how much each family had borrowed, Huligemma and Anjaneya said it was it was a family thing, implying that it was not meant to be disclosed. However, she said that when they had money they would go to buy groceries and supplies once a week, but when there was hardly anything, like now, supply runs could be once in two weeks or even once in two months. Each trip costs them Rs 1,000.
Now, they are not just in debt to obtain food grains and supplies, but are also eating poorly.
“If it had rained last year, then would have had enough to buy supplies and make uppitu for breakfast or vegetables for lunch. Now we just eat rice and tomato rasam thrice a day.”
Going back to an apparent source of great disturbance, she said, “The upper castes throw their shit (manure) here, right behind my house. When I ask them not to, they said, ‘We are who we are.’ But whoever we question, they do it with a vengeance.”
Anjaneya is preparing to return to Bengaluru on Thursday. But for everyone else, especially the women, there’s little to do. “We just have to wait two months for the rains,” she said.