The BJP minister has angered a hard working community that numbers over 18 lakhs. Just on the eve of 15 by-elections to the state
This is a tight knit and toiling caste, anthropologically recognised as being experts in digging wells, who after their migrations from Orissa centuries ago, were deployed for building village and temple tanks.The Vaddars, , who by and large speak Telugu, are also known as “Vaddars” 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.
Now, weeks to go before the by-polls to 15 assembly seats in the state due on October 21, Karnataka’s minister for rural development and panchayat Raj K.S. Eshwarappa has literally put his foot in his mouth! Recently allegedly derogatory remarks against this section of the population that numbers 18 lakhs in the whole state, have angered this toiling section of the population. The minister was confronted with the ire of the Bhovi community when he paid a visit to Chamundeshwari Temple atop Chamundi Hills in Mysuru on Sunday. His recent remarks were seen to be derogatory against the community; Eshwarappa was reacting to former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s attack on BJP national president Amit Shah.
The community members, who had threatened to gherao Mr. Eshwarappa, turned up outside the temple with placards in hand and staged a protest near the statue of Mahishasura. “Our community dug up the earth and rocks on Chamundi Hills to lay the 8-km-long road to Chamundeshwari Temple from the foothills. Not just this, the community was engaged in the construction of KRS, besides other basic infrastructure works, including the construction of tanks in villages,” said Seetharam, former chief of Karnataka State Bhovi Development Corporation. He accused Mr. Eshwarappa of slighting the community by using a casteist slur. “His tongue is not under control,” he said, seeking action against the Minister.
Mr. Eshwarappa, who was scheduled to chair a progress review meeting with officials of RDPR in Mysuru, was compelled to leave without holding the meeting in view of the enforcement of poll code.
Who are the Vaddars?
The Hindu reports that this community has ensured drinking water for 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.
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.
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.
Now on the eve of the by-elections a full-fledged political controversy has broken out. R. Dhruvanarayan, former MP, has called for removal of Minister K.S. Eshwarappa from the Ministry for using a “casteist slur” amid a threat from Bhovi community in Mysuru to boycott Dasara festivities.Addressing a press conference here on Wednesday, Mr. Dhruvanarayan took offence to the allegedly derogatory language used by Mr. Eshwarappa against former chief minister Siddaramaiah, in response to the latter’s attack on Union Home Minister Amit Shah over the Hindi language issue. Contending that Mr. Eshwarappa’s language violated the provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, Mr. Dhruvanarayan demanded an immediate apology from the senior Minister.
Former chairperson of Karnataka State Bhovi Development Corporation Seetharam told reporters that the community would boycott Dasara celebrations in protest against the remarks.
V/Waddar (Vadee rajulu, Od), or Vadari, is a dialect of the Telugu language spoken among social caste of Waddars scattered over South India, especially in Karnataka, where it has a status of Scheduled caste. 200,000 people reported their languages as ‘Vadari’ in the 2011 census. Ethnologue treats it as separate Dravidian language closely related to Telugu, but without clear grounds. Waddars show their close relevance to Kaikadis.
The word Bhovi is evolved from ‘vav’ meaning well in northern India and there they were called as Vaddar and similarly well is called as bhavi in karunadu hence the name Bhovi. They were professional well diggers since medieval times. The etymology also hints about the route of their migration from northern parts of India and then to southern part. Long back it was said that they migrated from the state of Odisha hence they were called as vaddars, further the cites and many places are named after them like the Vadodara, vadnagar, etc. During course of their migration they picked local languages on their way, hence majority of them can speak Telugu in karunadu. Majority of the heritage sites in the regions of Karnataka may have been constructed by Bhovi’s who were skilled workers. The Bhovi were 955,752 in Karnataka at the 2001 census (11.2 per cent of the scheduled caste population of Karnataka), 74.9 per cent of the Karnataka Bhovi population was rural, 49.2% were literate. Only 2.9% were graduates. Bhovi’s used to work as skilled labourers as they were good at construction and carvingsculptures and they were highly respected in the Vijayanagara Empire. Their village councils consists of experienced literate or illiterate people.  and Women are also given limited powers, however.  They claim to have originated in areas such as Odisha. Bhovi also was the surname name of a male leader of a Bhovi community before the 21st century. The language spoken by Bhovi is Kannada language. They also claim to be the clan of Bagirath Ganga, who was responsible for bringing Ganges or Ganga to earth through manmade canals, hence claim to be the first builders of modern India. They are distributed in almost all districts of Karnataka having a major concentration in parts of Gulbarga, Bhadravathi and Bangaluru.