The Vaddar community, which has come under focus after Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj K.S. Eshwarappa allegedly referred to it in a derogatory manner, is believed to have played a crucial role in ensuring drinking water supply to people for centuries. It is also believed to have played a role in the construction of Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS).
According to experts from the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), Vaddars originally hailed from Odisha but migrated to the southern parts of India centuries ago from Andhra Pradesh when the then Nayaka rulers, including Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara empire, recognised their expertise in digging earth for wells and deployed them for building village tanks and temple tanks.
The Vaddars, who by and large speak Telugu, are also known as “Vadda” and “Bhovis” in different parts of Karnataka, and as “Boyars” in Tamil Nadu. The community falls under Scheduled Castes in Karnataka and Most Backward Class (MBC) in Tamil Nadu.
According to anthropological experts, members of the community have traditionally identified themselves with hard work like digging wells, cutting stones at quarries, and extracting lime from deposits in the soil. “They are not only skilled in digging wells, but are also good at identifying locations of sources of water for digging wells,” said Satyanarayanan, Deputy Director of AnSI, Southern Regional Centre, Mysuru.
They are believed to have been the mainstay of the workforce deployed for the construction of KRS and other dams in the region. “About 2,000 members of the community had come walking from Kolar, Doddballapur and various parts of Andhra Pradesh to Kannambadi village at the time of the construction of KRS reservoir in the early 20th century,” said Seetharam, former president of Karnataka State Bhovi Development Corporation.
The involvement of Bhovis in the construction of KRS is documented in Naanu Kannambadi Katte , a book authored by P.V. Nanjaraj Urs and released two years ago. “They may not be the only community, but they were definitely part of the workforce. We did not have labourers specialising in breaking rocks,” said Prof. Urs.
Mr. Seetharam claimed that the community was involved not only in the construction of various structures, including houses and palaces, but also in laying the 8-km-long road to Chamundi Hills and the more than 1,000 steps to the hilltop.
Even today, members of the community are the backbone of the construction industry, engaged in digging the earth, laying foundation slabs, and carrying loads of sand and bricks. “Most of the labourers deployed for digging earth to lay electric, telephone and optical fibre cables too are primarily Bhovis,” said Dr. Satyanarayanan.
According to an official account, there were 11.75 lakh Bhovis in Karnataka in 2002. The Karnataka State Bhovi Development Corporation was established in 2015-16 with Mr. Seetharam as its first chairperson. But he said their population in the State now stands at roughly 18 lakh, and the community has seven members in the Legislative Assembly.
The Bhovis, up in arms over the derogatory reference made about their community, have threatened to boycott Dasara.