Tireless service of Margao’s women coolies immortalised in steel

Life-size stainless steel sculpture of a Bhadel installed in Goa’s commerical capital to pay tribute to practitioners of the dying trade

August 31, 2017 12:44 am | Updated 12:44 am IST - Panaji

The sculpture of a Bhadel installed in Margao.

The sculpture of a Bhadel installed in Margao.

A life-size stainless steel sculpture of a Bhadel has been installed in Margao as a reminder of the town’s traditional women coolies who were the epitome of sincerity, honesty and hard work.

Sculptor Subodh Kerkar has used 50,000 stainless nuts to fashion the sculpture, which was installed on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi last weekend at the traffic circle opposite Gomant Vidya Niketan.

Mr. Kerkar said, “Bhadels are believed to be country’s only women coolies. To earn a living they walked long distances carrying heavy loads on their heads. Their origin dates back to mid-18th century Portuguese era and they are well known for their reliability. Shopkeepers in Margao vested them with the responsibility of watching over their shops when they took an afternoon nap. There were 100-odd Bhadels till a few decades ago, but the next generation doesn’t want to take up the profession.”

Datta Naik, a Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer, is the man behind the installation. He is the managing director of Commonwealth Developers Pvt. Ltd., which funded the sculpture as a part of its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. Mr. Kerkar said Mr. Naik had requested him to make a sculpture to pay tribute to the Bhadels six months ago. He then researched on the profession for a month and found that only around seven Bhadels still existed in Margao. Mr. Naik said, “The sculpture has been installed so that the next generation remembers that Bhadels existed in Margao and served the social needs of the community. In European countries, sculptures of common people instead of national and historical icons have become a part of street furniture and attract tourists.”

The Bhadel was identified as a fast disappearing traditional Goan occupation in a report submitted by the Task Force Committee on November 30, 2010. The panel was formed to frame a scheme to protect and support traditional occupations in the State. The panel chaired by Dr. Nandkumar M. Kamat, Assistant Professor of Goa University and former member of the Goa State Planning Board, recommended that financial assistance be provided to the last practitioners of such dying trades.

Dr. Kamat said, “How can Hamali [coolie work] be glorified? The installation may be artistic but it shows class inequality and injustice to the Christian kunbi tribals who earn less than what an average Margaokar spends on a quarter [of liquor]. The TFC was formed by the then Goa government as a response to the transformation of global and national economies and the challenges faced by workers in the informal sector and micro entrepreneurs who operate on small scales of production and economy.”

The then Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, accepted the report and asked the State Directorate of Art and Culture to invite applicants to avail of a one-time financial assistance of ₹25,000 under the Goan Bhadels Financial Assistance Scheme-2011.

The scheme was announced as part of the golden jubilee celebrations of Goa’s liberation. Mr. Kamat in his budget speech unveiled the one-time financial assistance in the form of an honorarium to Bhadels with 25 years of service.

Social workers in Margao say that a movement to rehabilitate Bhadels began a decade ago when women activists began documenting their life. They made repeated representations to the State governments seeking recognition for the women, considering their service and old age.

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