The Kotwals of Malwa and Nimar are now venturing beyond their profession of knitting men’s inner-wear due to availability of ready-made underwear at traditional ‘haats’ in the tribal region. As the tribal switch to the machine-made inner-wear 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.
“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 laborers. 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,” 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.
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 as it has not taken any initiative for their betterment. While a ‘kushta’ comes around `60 a piece, a ready-made inner-wear 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 amount of Rs1,000 or little more per month.
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