Bhadel.... faded!!!

RUPESH SAMANT (PTI), PANAJI | 14 August 2011 14:02 IST

Bhadel, the 'woman coolie' culture has almost faded away...

On a rainy monsoon morning, 70-year-old Joaquina Colaco clutched an umbrella and walked through the crowded lanes of Margao market in the Indian state of Goa, hoping for a full day's work.

After wading through puddles, she sat down next to a carpenter's shop, waiting expectantly for customers who need a porter or "coolie" to carry their wares.

Colaco is one of a dwindling band of female bhadels, as the porters are called in the historic city of Margao, Goa's commercial hub about 30km south of the state capital, Panaji.

The bhadels - whose name translates as "for hire" - have been a feature of life in Goa since the days of Portuguese colonial rule in the 18th century and carry everything from groceries to furniture on their heads.

No one knows locally why women have traditionally done the back-breaking work, but increasing competition from cars, vans, the railways and men is threatening to put them out of business for good.

"We don't get much business these days," Colaco said, puffing on abeedi, a cheap, hand-rolled Indian cigarette packed with tobacco leaves.

"The male coolies are much stronger and are ready to work at a cheaper rate," she said.

Another bhadel, Albertina Fernandes, agreed. "At times, they [the men] carry loads on their heads for free or in return for a peg [tot] of fenny [a Goan spirit made from fermented cashew fruit or coconut]," she said.

The arrival in the 1990s of the Konkan Railway, which stretches 760km up the western coast of India through Goa, sounded the death knell for the female porters.

The picturesque line connecting the southern city of Mangalore with India's financial and entertainment capital, Mumbai, brought eager young men from neighboring states like Kerala and Karnataka in search of work.

At the same time, increasing numbers of vehicles began to appear on the state's narrow streets, making the transportation of more and heavier loads quicker and easier.

The liberalization of the Indian economy has also played a part, opening up the country to outside influences in areas from fashion to television and increasing its people's expectations.

"A bhadel's daughter used to be a bhadel," Colaco said. "Sons were not allowed in the trade. We're now fearing extinction as the next generation is not ready to continue the legacy."

"Do you expect my daughter who wears jeans to sit here and work as a coolie?" she asked.

Goan Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, who represents the Margao constituency, announced in March payments of 25,000 rupees (US$550) to any bhadel who had worked for 25 years, praising their "selfless service" to society.

According to Auda Viegas, a women's rights activist who has been documenting the history of the female porters, most of those still working fit that category.

"The youngest bhadel is 50 years old," she said. "You won't find anyone younger."

Five years ago, bhadels - all of them Roman Catholic - could be found in their hundreds, carrying goods for up to 5km outside the city, but now there are thought to be barely two dozen left working.

With their likely disappearance within a generation, another piece of traditional Indian life will be consigned to history.

"Even until recently, local shopkeepers in Margao used to ask them to watch over their shops during siesta time," Viegas said.

"They are most trustworthy," said Sajiv Sawant, a cloth merchant who owns a shop in Margao market.

"Even now, we keep our shop open in the afternoon time when we go for lunch break and bhadels guard our shop."

"They have never stolen anything. They will never steal. Now they don't get business because people have their own vehicles.

Also they are too old to carry heavy headloads," Sawant added.

Despite the state government payment, the future looks uncertain for the women, who are a familiar sight on the streets in their traditional cotton saris.

Rain or shine, they spend their days carrying loads from early morning when the market opens to early evening, earning a meager 2 to 5 rupees per trip, which is just enough for bare essentials.

"Bhadels are largely uneducated and hence cannot take any other vocation," Viegas said.

"They are growing old now and don't want to shift as they have been doing this for their entire lives."

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Previous Comments

a TURN COAT. the politicians of Goa are great turn coats.tomorrow they may say we never meant it.and they wd refuse to do anything for the bhadels.one sd never trust these turn coats.one who changes his words/or gives some stupid explanation,nobody wd buy,are good to be the politicians.a person,who,no matter what,even in crisis,does not change,and faces,difficlties,can never succeed in politics.but turn coats become ministers,because,they always lie.NEVER TRUST SUCH GUYS EVEN IN DAY TODAY LIFE.

- c.khan, gulf | 20 th August 2011 14:34

 

To Pedru & Cruz Rego::

For your kind information, the "Loot " I refer to colloquially, is the money, that rightfully & "MORALLY" belongs, to the Citizens & Taxpayers of Goa. This money has been mis-appropriated and siphoned off and then laundered to various Banks around the world, notably Switzerland ,using foul and devious means.

This money rightfully belongs to the Goa Govt. Treasury. This money has been mis-appropriated by TAX avoidance, by various despotic Goan Ministers & MLA`s to boost & further their personal family fortunes & power.

Let us hope this Looted & Plundered money will in due course, be recovered by the Govt . Treasury, and put to useful services for the Citizens of Goa including the BHADELS.

There is no cause here, to have a" MORAL DILEMMA".

I for one, do not, in this instance.

I doubt the majority of Goans will either. It is their "collective " money that has been looted. That is why Anna Hazare is fasting for, and marches taking place in Goa today and all over India too (18/8/2011)

This is not a simplistic moral case of PETER robbing to pay Paul that you both have tried to demonstrate & show-off, from your personal & shining “moral cupboard”.

- N.Fernandes, London | 18 th August 2011 20:26

 

sir,i am against the loot being given to the HONEST bhadels.its an insult to them and their HONESTY.and why did not you publish my earlier opinion.Did i abuse anyone ?was i slanderous ?or you are GAGGING my voice.dont you believe in freedom of expression.speech ?it happens so OFTEN.

- pedru, goa | 16 th August 2011 15:26

 

I am against even to suggest,the bhadels be given LOOT/BRIBED / TAINTED MONEY. they are HONEST to the CORE.they must be GIVEN C L E A N money from the govt.TREASURY.

- cruz rego, goa | 16 th August 2011 12:34

 

Lets us hope the Goa Government will make adequate provisions including medical aid,. for the happy retirement of these very hard working Bhadels.They have been an asset to Goans, in times when transportation was scarce or expensive.Their humble trade and profession has not polluted the environment either.

Lets hope the Government sets aside a percentage of the LOOT they make from Mining for this purpose.These Bhadels are the salt of Goan earth.They should also share in its wealth, at least in their old age and infirmity (due to the nature of their work).Lets hope the corrupt MLA`s, with huge Black Money in foreign banks and shores,will have a conscience.But I doubt it.

- N.Fernandes, London | 15 th August 2011 16:37

 

Rupesh: nice work and thanks for providing such a good info about these women. I only heard about Bhadels this year, when Kamat announced financial assistance for these women. They deserve a TV documentary.

- Rakesh Y Kandolkar, Chimbel | 14 th August 2011 23:46

 

one thing for sure,they are honest to the core.i know a lot of margao`s big shops which were never closed for lunch and a bhadel wd sit down near the entrance eating her paan or smoking her veedee or having her sheet codi and guarding shop until the patrao returned by 4 o`clock.great institution.i fail to understand ,when our bhadels are so honest,how come our ministers are thief.?

- lolo kamtie, goa | 14 th August 2011 18:41

 

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