Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) is a town in Kolar district which was once the primary gold mines in the country. Set up by the British, this town this is close to the border of Andhra Pradesh and has Tamil, Telugu and Anglo-Indian Population. Tamil people were employed by the British and brought to KGF from Tamil Nadu to work in the mines. Tamil migrants have been in the mining area of kolar, kgf from1880. which was initially started by John&Taylor.co.The 120 year old Gold miningcenterprovided a platform among Tamil community workers of nearly a three generation, though unfortunately the mining center was closed during 2001 due to the cost of extraction, but surveys conducted by many institutions and research centers say that there are still 400 tonnes of gold can be extracted.
THE HISTORY OF TAMIL MIGRANTS
After the fall of TipuSulthan, a large British Army presence in the Cantonment area (Bangalore) attracted speakers of Tamil, who either were attached to the military or were military suppliers. In fact, the area was administered directly by the Madras Presidency, and was handed over to the Mysore State only in 1949.Today, the erstwhile Cantonment area of Bangalore comprising Ulsoor, Shivajinagar, Benson Town, Richard’s Town, Frazer Town, Austin Town, Richmond Town, Cox Town, Murphy Town and others still boast a large Tamil populace. The boom in the textile industry in the early part of 20th Century also witnessed migration from the Madras Presidency. Some of the very well-known mills of the time employed Tamil-speaking people in large numbers, who settled down in areas in and around Bangalore
Tamil-speaking people are largely found in the districts of Bengaluru Urban, Bangalore Rural, Ramanagaram, Mysore, Kolar, and Chamarajanagar in southern Karnataka. Recent migrants speak Tamil while older migrants are bilingual in Kannada and Tamil. Some who have resided in Karnataka for generations have even adopted Kannada as their mother tongue. In 1991, Tamils constituted the largest ethno linguistic minority in Bangalore city making up 21.38% of the total population. Today, Tamil speakers form an estimated 25-30 percent of the population of Bangalore city. As of 1971, Tamil formed the second-largest mother tongue in Bengaluru.
Kolar is home to many communities and represents a mini-India. The primary language spoken here is Kannada. Other widely spoken language is Urdu. There are also good numbers of Tamil and Telugu speakers.
SOCIO-CULTURAL CRISIS AMONG THE TAMIL MIGRANTS OVER THE HISTORY
Gold Mining Started in the year by 1880 by John Taylor and Co., the Kolar Gold Mines was taken over by the erstwhile Mysore State Government in 1956, and later, it was nationalized by the Centre in the early 1960s. A large chunk of mining workers hail from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Despite living here for more than a century, the people of KGF still suffer from linguistic minority complex apart from a migrant complex. The bad memories of language riots, close on the heels of Gokak movement in the early ’80s, when the Tamil workers were harassed, are firmly etched in their minds.
The first generation of migrant workers faced a lot of problems in coping with the situation under colonial conditions. Even today their conditions are not very different despite the mines coming under the public sector that claimed to be a model employer. Dingy huts in slum-like colonies, without sanitation and drainage, have been their homes for many generations. It would be heart breaking to see the labour colonies, which are worse than slums, with one toilet for every 1520 houses. The so-called houses, made of zinc sheet or asbestos are of the size 10×20 feet or 15×20 feet. While the summer heat would be unbearable, it would be a nightmarish experience during the rainy season, as many colonies do not have proper approach roads. Potable water is scarce for the labour colonies and the womenfolk have to tread a long way to fetch it. At any point of time, one can see hundreds of pots in queue near public taps and, not surprisingly, quarrels over a pot of water are quite common. Moreover, water here is highly contaminated by “cyanide mud” — chemically treated ore residue — which flows like streams all around the township. Even the ground water is highly contaminated. The mountains of “cyanide mud”, visible all over KGF, also spread lots of dust, contaminating the water and atmosphere.
The management never bothered about safety of the miners. When the air blast occurs several miners get trapped inside and many die. The family members wait for several hours keeping their fingers crossed, to know the fate of the workers. The agony on their faces cannot be explained in words.
Being a migrant population and having settled in an alien state, the people of KGF have a strange culture. Most of the workers are influenced by Christian missionaries, but the Christian converts observe Hindu festivals also. Their lives are full of pathos. The culture of professional mourning as shown in the film Rudali thrives here too. The problem of unemployment has made many government servants belonging to the SC category hide their Christian identity even after conversion. Since KGF is a highly cohesive society, where each religious community observes the festivals of the other, the market here reacts equally to both Hindu and Christian festivals. The traditions and religious practices of the people also look quite different. And it is only here that one can find a Ram Prasad being son of a Benjamin or a David or Victor being the son of an Anbalagan. It is only here that one can find a “Kannadiga” born to a Tamil migrant. This is the highly egalitarian culture of the people of KGF. Even though the Dalit community is a majority they are more united as a class than as a caste. And, similar to the village community, a person of KGF origin would be helped by the people here, irrespective of his identity. Many times the funeral expenses of poor workers are borne by neighbours.
The central and state governments proudly propagate that they have eradicated many social evils like scavenging. But this golden city still harbours the evil practice of carrying night soil on head, with over 100 families engaged in this activity. One major problem faced by the miners is their indebtedness. With the new generation not getting any jobs despite having some education, the miners are forced to borrow from moneylenders to keep their families alive. Apart from this, most of the workers have taken to drinking, which depletes most of their hard-earned income. The womenfolk have to bear the brunt. They would be sacrificing everything to safeguard their families. So the pawnbroker business has thrived successfully in KGF, with gold ornaments being pledged for perpetuity. Jewellery business once flourished here in the ‘boom days’, thanks to the ‘leakage’ of gold through a corrupt management. People used to come from outside to purchase ornaments from the “gold town”. As a consequence there are more than 200 jewellery shops here and more than 2000 goldsmiths who make ornaments. Now, with the decline of the mines and Immiseration of the miners, almost all jewellers have also taken to pawn brokering. Not only gold jewelleries, even silver, brass and copper utensils are pledged to carry on day-to-day life. The workers, being unable to pay hefty interest rates, would never get back their items even after clearing the principal amount. There are instances of copper brass utensils pledged 50 years back still lying with moneylenders and workers paying interest till date. The moneylenders, also migrants, have squeezed the workers to their bones. In fact, the poverty among public sector workers is unbelievable. One can see rotten vegetables being sold in colonies dirt-cheap and there are people who purchase them. There are people who survive by collecting the drainage silt every day and cleaning the same, in the hope of collecting some gold ore. It is a daily sight here. With Christian missionaries of all hues working here, there is a plethora of Churches and Church run schools. Despite the spread of education, poverty is still a stark reality.
THE PROBLEM OF UNEMPLOYMENT, WOMEN EMPOWERNMENT STIL PANICS.
It is this poverty, unemployment, alienation and deprivation that have contributed to the increasing criminalization of society. With several rowdy gangs operating with impunity, murders in broad daylight were very common not long ago. While frustrated jobless youth with little or no education take to anti-social activities, the educated youth travel miles to earn a meagre wage. More than 5000 people, half of them women, travel every day in overcrowded passenger trains to Bangalore, located 90 kms away, in search of work. Most of them do menial jobs, which may not be revealed by their attire or smiling faces. Behind these smiling face lays a lot of grief, desperation and concern about an uncertain future.
The recent order of the Karnataka High Court, enabling the reopening of Bharat Gold Mines Ltd., (BGML), a ‘sick’ public sector enterprise (PSE), has not only ended a year-long trauma for the people of KGF, but has come as a shot in the arm for the fighting workers of BGML. The 4000 workers are back to work and the 120-year-old gold mines have found a new lease of life. The people of KGF, facing an uncertain future, are heaving a sigh of relief. But uncertainty still looms large because the management continues to pressurize the workers, threatening that they should either accept voluntary retirement or face retrenchment.
The BGML, with a strong and dedicated workforce, has rendered yeoman service to the nation by contributing more than 800 tonnes of gold and, according to one estimate; it is still having reserves of more than 400 tonnes. But the Central Government led by the “Swadeshi” BJP is not keen on turning it around; rather it is busy dismantling all PSEs, be it a profit-making BALCO or a “loss-making” BGML. As far as BGML is concerned, the government has deliberately made it sick by offering a very low price all these years for the gold extracted. And now, after considerably depleting the gold reserves, it is considered a mere tunnel to be shut down, ignoring the plight of thousands of workers and their families. Since the township is already facing an acute unemployment crisis, with the workforce coming down from 32000 in the 1960s to 4000 at present, the closure of mines would wreak havoc on the local community.
Though much has been written about the “economics” of gold mining, not much is known to the outside public about the social life of the KGF, a township with a population of more than 2, 00,000, the overwhelming majority of them being Dalit’s. It is an insular township of a cohesive but culturally exclusive linguistic minority, solely dependent on the mines, which has been in decay for several years now. KGF provides an interesting case study of the impact of downsizing, and ultimate threat of closure, of a PSE on a closely-knit local community of an industrial township.
IN DEPTH PROBLEMS IN MINING & GOVERNMENT’S NEGLIGENCE
Apart from BGML, there is also a broad section of government employees in KGF. Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) a PSE which employs more than 8000 workers, is just 3 kmsaway and almost half of them live here. The Bethamangala Water Works, that supplies water to KGF town, employs more than 1000. The KPTCL, which has an exclusive office for BGML, employs more than 1000. The city also has an engineering college and a large number of schools run by Christian missionaries. The BGML also has its own hospital for the benefit of workers, employing around 500 staff. In the event of closure of mines, the hospital would be the first casualty and the rest would follow, crashing like a pack of cards. In that case, thousands of families would be on the streets. More than 2000 goldsmiths who depend on jewellery shops would also face their doom.
As mentioned earlier, under the present atmosphere of globalization and large-scale privatization, the survival of BGML or the mining industry itself is in jeopardy. Already, the Government of India has given a deadline for the workers to either opt for VRS or face retrenchment. The mineworkers numbering 30,000 — both retired and working — and their families staying in those tiny sheds are being asked to pay higher rent or vacate the houses. Interestingly, the older generation workers had to wear a metal bracelet on their left hand, which had the name of John Taylor and Co., embossed on it along with a number and name of the mine. It was to ensure that the worker would not run away. The bracelet was very tight and the workers had no option but to wear it. This practice was given up in 1940 due to protests from miners. Till the 1930s, 5 to 6 families were staying in one shed. It was only after a great struggle that the management provided one house to each family. The workers could get those tiny houses only after a hundred-day strike in 1946, under AITUC leadership. Till date, very few miners have left the place. But today the governments resort to all sorts of tricks to force them to leave.
The contention of the mineworkers, and also many experts, that 400 tonnes of gold reserves are still available, is not acceptable to the government. Nor is the government serious about providing any alternative employment. Some Japanese and Australian firms have come forward to carry out mining activities. Then how come the Government of India denies existence of any reserves? Till date, the BGML has produced 800 tonnes of gold worth Rs. 45000 crore. The company owes only Rs. 200 crores to several banks. The cost of producing 10 grams of the metal has gone up to Rs. 1400. In its better days, the BGML paid dividend up to 165%, having produced a maximum of 2200 kgs of gold in 197677. It is a case of colossal and criminal mismanagement if a gold mine with such reserves cannot be run profitably. The government would rather free gold imports than revive this unit. It prefers handing over the reserves to some private company.
Earlier there were alternative proposals for open cast mining, locomotive industry etc., but none of them were taken up seriously. People opposed open cast mining as it would erase their whole town without a trace. Now a pall of gloom is hanging over the golden city. With no further employment opportunity even for the new generation, and no new industry coming up, and even BGML slowly sinking, the people here are a frustrated lot. There is not much scope for self-employment either, since their indebtedness will keep haunting the workers forever. What the mine workers of KGF need is not only revival of mines, but also a human existence, a hygienic atmosphere to live in, good health care, and better civic amenities, better education and housing, and above all, a secure future.
HEALTH ASAULTS REGARDING MINING WORKERS
Health is being a troublesome issue in the field of Kgf, especially -suffer with lung and reciprocity problems like asthma. Earlier before people of Kgf had enjoyed the facilities of free medicine were available in the dispensaries but unfortunately after the shutdown of mines, they were all closed. The government of Karnataka are less bothered now about the mining workers and ask them indirectly to vacate their houses and move to their native, that is where Tamil schools were closed , rations and the metro water supply has been emptied.
Now a pall of gloom is hanging over the golden city. With no further employment opportunity even for the new generation, and no new industry coming up, and even BGML slowly sinking, the people here are a frustrated lot. There is not much scope for self-employment either, since their indebtedness will keep haunting the workers forever. What the mine workers of KGF need is not only revival of mines, but also a human existence, a hygienic atmosphere to live in, good health care, and better civic amenities, better education and housing, and above all, a secure future. The present condition is treated worse, since people who live in these mining area especially Tamil migrants face lot of political, economic, cultural and social problems, nevertheless government have never an idea of rescuing themby giving proper place of stay and lifestyle without any bias referring to language, region or community.