From torchbearers of cultural art forms to beggars

From torchbearers of cultural art forms to beggars

When one thinks about the intrinsic elements of the culture of Telangana, burrakathas and oggukathas are two important things that immediately come to the mind, thanks to Budiga Jangamollu.

Medak: When one thinks about the intrinsic elements of the culture of Telangana, burrakathas and oggukathas are two important things that immediately come to the mind, thanks to Budiga Jangamollu.

Budiga Jangamollu are famed street performers who, against odds, have kept these two forms of art alive till today. These unpretentious performers have been living a nomadic life for ages; going from village to village, telling mythological tales, and playing myriad characters.

One person plays ‘dimki’ and the lead performer plays the ‘burra’. The duo performs for a rustic crowd that is deeply interested. The performers usually get rice and money as donations, with which they hop to the next village to perform there once again.

In view of their nomadic life, they take their family members along wherever they go. Formal education has elusive to them due to this reason. That was their life story until recently technology entered rural areas.

Modern means of communication and multi-media options have edged out their distinct, quaint forms of communication. Today, people belonging to this community, a sub-caste within the Scheduled Castes, are struggling to stay afloat even in the rural landscape, which has been transformed due to the advent of television, cell phone and internet.

Once great performers who enjoyed the resounding claps of ecstatic audience, they are now ignored and must beg for alms. This is sadly common in Medak town. In Medak town, there are three main localities where Budiga Jangamollu have been living.

During the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi, several families were given land so that people from the community could settle down and lead a decent life. In the undivided AP, when N Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister, these families were given Rs 12,000 as loan to enable them to construct 40x40 tiny houses.

In their colonies in Gandhi Nagar, 17 such houses were sanctioned. In Narsikhed, 25 such houses were built, while in Dayara around 16 houses were built. The families then multiplied, bringing their total number to more than 250, but they all continue to live in the same old houses.

In Gandhi Nagar, these families have put up sheds on the Panchamukhi Hanuman temple land, occupying three acres of the temple land. The occupied area is virtually a forest with bushes everywhere and no roads.

Snakes are a very a common sight. Interestingly, IHHLs (toilets) have been built for every hut as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Around 70 families living in this temple land are living in hope that someday the government would make them rightful owners of that property.

In Narsikhed, the houses that were built three decades ago are in a dilapidated condition. Extreme rainfall could bring them down. No wonder, whenever there is rain, people use all their household utensils to collect the rain water seeping through cracks in the roof and walls. They sleep near the Government school. They have built many huts in this locality.

Four months back, Deputy Speaker Padma Devender Reddy, who went to the colony to inaugurate their sangham bhavan, told the residents that the government would purchase nearby land and start surveying it to build 2BHK houses for all of them within 15 days. Nothing has materialised.

The situation is not any different in Dayara locality
Senior citizens of the community are no longer in position to be active performers, while their children, due to lack of education, do odd jobs like trading brand new utensils for old ones or clothes for their livelihood.

Some have become rag-pickers to earn their daily bread. While many have turned to begging, some manage to sell ice creams, sodas and other perishable items in the municipality. Due to widespread illiteracy, they cannot hope for jobs. Political empowerment is also lacking in the community as they are scattered and divided over interests. As a result, they are unable to reap the benefits of the few government schemes targeted at them.

Thanks to the efforts of ‘Rescue Pink’, an NGO, some of these families have started sending their kids to the organization’s facility in Medak town for daily tuitions. Due to the encouragement given here, many girl children have subsequently been enrolled in social welfare institutions.

“I think we have only been able to influence around 25 per cent families in Gandhi Nagar. There is still a lot more to be done,” said Aruna Kumari, District Coordinator, Rescue Pink. Due to family situations, most of the children from this community are being used to supplement family income.

Many youths have become daily-wage labourers. A few of them have taken auto rickshaws on lease. But, self-employment options have eluded them due to high levels of corruption in the delivery system and caste discrimination within the SC community against Budiga Jangamollu.

“I had applied to buy an auto in the Municipality, but officials there threw my file into the dustbin right in front of my eyes,” said Ramu (name changed). Similar stories could be heard in almost all the Budiga Jangamollu colonies. Files pertaining to those applying for SC Corporation loans are put into cold storage, even though some bank managers are coming forward to give loans.

Many of them told The Hans India that powers that be in the municipality were deliberately preventing such files from reaching the Scheduled Castes Development Department in the District Collectorate. Enquiries revealed that not a single person got loan this year, despite tall claims.

Ironically, there still are some performers among the older generation who perform at government events for free. They have Artist Identity Cards issued to them before bifurcation. Sadly, they are not recognized as artists following the formation of Telangana. Hence, they are not getting artist pensions.

“Nobody visits us. Nobody writes about us. People today like to watch Bithiri Satti talking, but not us performing. This is the situation,” Chittari Venkati (50), a Burrakatha performer from Gandhi Nagar sang, playing his Burra, as his partner Ubidi Pentaiah(65), played the Dimki and singing ‘Tandanaa Taani Tandanaa”.

In view of the Land Records Updation/Purification Programme being done across the State, people from the Budiga Jangamollu community in Medak town are living in hope that the government would at least build for them 2BHK houses and give them pattas.

All they need is a roof, underneath which they can sleep and forget the unending miseries in their lives caused due to corruption, social exclusion and administrative apathy.

By Vivek Bhoomi

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