The Kotwals of Malwa and Nimar are now venturing beyond their profession of knitting men’s innerwear due to availability of ready-made underwear at traditional ‘haats’ in the tribal region.
As the tribals switch to the machine-made innerwear from the rustic ‘kushta’, many from the backward Dalit community are migrating to Gujarat, working in brick kilns or taking to menial jobs such as carrying the carcasses of animals and removing hides.
The Kotwals are demanding the government should provide them training to upgrade their knitting skills so that they can cater to the modern needs of customers.
While a ‘kushta’ comes around `60 apiece, a readymade innerwear costs around Rs 40 in the ‘haats’ (traditional village markets). The price and quality difference has badly hit the livelihood of these poor people. Those who are continuing with their traditional profession earn a meagre Rs1,000 or little more per month.
“For ages, we have knitted ‘kushtas’ for the tribals of our village. Our settlements are mainly located outside villages. Most of our people are migrating to Gujarat and some work as labourers. We have stopped our ‘charkhas’ (spinning wheels),” says Gole Gawale , a 22 year-old youth of Ghongsa village, about 10 km from the Alirajpur district headquarters.
“We have no land, no trees…hence we are totally dependent on labour. We face discrimination from the tribals. They neither drink water from our utensils nor eat in our ceremonies,” says Kamlesh Gawle of Jhabua district.
Pushed to the margins of society even by the tribals, Kotwals are predominantly found in all villages of Alirajpur, Jhabua and Dhar districts. It is estimated that around 35,000 Kotwals live in the three tribal-dominated districts of Madhya Pradesh. The Kotwals face discrimination on the grounds of their caste and profession.
Kemat Gawle, a Dalit activist working in Dahi teshil of Dhar district, says the Kotwals are now into menial jobs such as carrying and removing the skins of dead animals and playing drums in marriages. “The community is facing bad times these days,” Gawle says. “Government has not initiated any programme for the Kotwals till now. It should come forward to empower them.”
Tribal rights activist Shankar Tavade admits the Kotwals are discriminated by the tribals which, he says, is the reason for their marginalisation. “We are trying to sensitise the tribals and some people have stopped discriminating them,” Tavade says. Government should also take steps to uplift the Kotwals of these districts on the lines of tribal welfare plan, he adds.