'The forest was better': The Hakki Pikki tribe which lives in the margins of Bengaluru

The documentary 'Name/Place/Animal/Thing' by Nitin R on the Hakki Pikki tribe won a National Award this year.
'The forest was better': The Hakki Pikki tribe which lives in the margins of Bengaluru
'The forest was better': The Hakki Pikki tribe which lives in the margins of Bengaluru
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The Hakki Pikki are a semi-nomadic tribe who have travelled and lived in various parts of the country over the past few decades. As part of a ‘rehabilitation drive’ by the Government of Karnataka in the 1950s and '60s, they were forced out of their forest dwellings and brought into the edges of cities like Bengaluru, Mysuru, Hassan etc. The actual rehabilitation though, remained on paper only.

The stories of the tribe have been captured on camera by various filmmakers - My Bangalore: Portraits from Hakki Pikki Colony by Pankaj Gupta and Sikkidre Shikari Illdidre Bhikari by Madhu Bhushan and Vinod Raja. The latter was recently screened at Shoonya - Centre for Art and Somatic Practices and continues to be screened at various locations in Bengaluru as does Name/Place/Animal/Thing by Nitin R, which won this year’s National Award for Best Anthropological/Ethnographic film.

“I came across a newspaper article about the unique naming traditions of the Hakki Pikki tribals. Among the names of the tribal folk are Congress, Compound, Viman, Deluxe, Japan, Service, Cycle, Cycle Rani, English, Mysore Pak, Military and so on. That caught my attention and I decided that someday I would make a film on them,” Nitin said in an interview with The Hindu.

On his travels to the Hakki Pikki villages about 50 odd kilometres from Bengaluru, Nitin realised that as in the popular memory game ‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’ where you write down the first word that comes to your mind, the tribals of this community name their newborns after the first thought that comes to them when they see the child – a name, a place, an animal, or a random thing.

However, after conversing with the community, Nitin realised that their stories pointed to larger questions about civilisation. “…for whom and why do we destroy traditions and age old ways of life?” Nitin said in the interview.

The documentary My Bangalore: Portraits from Hakki Pikki Colony narrates the life stories and struggles of the Hakki Pikki who now live in makeshift dwellings on the outskirts of Bengaluru. It opens with a message about how indigenous tribes were evicted from forests in the 1970s following the large scale creations of wildlife reserves and the Hakki Pikki were one such tribe.

In the documentary, a member of the Hakki Pikki tribe says, “The forest was better. It was always cool there, amongst trees. There were no problems concerning food and water. There were no illnesses there...Then the government resettled us, told us to send our kids to schools. We were told that we should also change with the changing world.” 

“Water is a problem here,” another member reiterates, making an audience wonder if any of this makes sense. When a nomadic community which used to move from forest to forest says there’s a shortage of water in the city, you begin to question rudiments of urban settlements.

“Living like beggars, 30 years went by,” an older member of the community says. “The local government noticed our existence here and said they’d help us. We had about 15 acres of land but they took all of it away and left just a small strip for us. They promised to build houses for us… until now only a crater has been dug out.” 

“Even after more than fifty years, none of them had received the title deeds for the land,” Vinod Raja, one of the producers of Sikkidre Shikari Illdidre Bhikari said in the context of the community’s struggle to retain lands which were granted to them by the government in 1962.

“The local land mafia started gunning for their lands and many feuds erupted in the colony as some outsiders managed to break in and settle there. A well known industrialist too had attempted to negotiate with the community and acquire their lands” Vinod added.

At an event at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Madhu Bhushan, who has been working with the Hakki Pikki community for the past few decades said that it was only later that she realised the absurdity in trying to get title deeds for ownership of land to a semi-nomadic community.

And both of the above point at denials - the community was denied permits which would let them stay in the forests and sustain themselves on natural resources as well as meaningful rehabilitation programmes which teach them how to carve out a living in the city.

The documentary aptly addresses the concerns of the Hakki Pikki community whose state can best be described by the idiom ‘dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka, na ghaat ka’ (a person who is split between two groups and belongs to neither). Such documentaries bring to prominence real life struggles which deserve attention from the government and media. The ball is now in the government's court to act.


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