Pickle Jar Poll Express: Govt Apathy Pushing Mandakki Makers to the Edge

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In Karnataka’s Davanagere, Government Apathy Is Pushing Its Mandakki Makers to the Edge

The ‘Pickle Jar Poll Express’ and The Wire travelled to the Mandakki Bhatti cluster in Davanagere, Karnataka, as part of a nine-district tour this election season to gather the pulse of the state, and to bring stories of people unheard this far. We were alerted to the mandakki-making side of the town by people in the main part of the town that is home to another famous dish that several consider worthy of a GI tag – the Davangere butter masala dosa, made with a slather of butter and served with mildly-salted masala-free boiled potato curry. “You asked us what else is there to see in this city, Azad Nagar side is where mandakki is made. But it is a very dirty place madam,” a local told me.

Early the next morning we started for Azad Nagar to film the process of rice being turned into puffed rice, only to find the streets empty and the mandakki bhattis locked. We learnt that work in the bhattis had come to a standstill. The units had been under a lockdown for the past four days – the maal (stock) had not moved, and there was a glut. We went and took a seat at an empty corner bench, where two men sat talking. When I asked why ‘kaam was bandh (work had been stopped)’, people began gathering around us – clearly, the camera and our ‘outsider’ look were enough to draw attention.

A few metres away, a young boy of seven or eight was filling water into colourful pots placed on a cart. He told us how he had to do this daily, due to the water crisis. Ghouse, a young man standing next to the boy, smiled when I asked how much he sold this water for. “We don’t sell madam. We only fill from a nearby tap and keep giving. All of us take turns, otherwise, the supply is once a week.”

Speaking to the all-male crowd gathered around us, I asked where the women were. They merely pointed somewhere in the distance, indicating that they were all home, and the place where we stood was the factory side – even though mandakki is a ‘sanna kaigarika‘ small-scale sector activity, Arshad explains. Since there was no work, there wasn’t much to film – but we were told about the bhatti (furnace) where the paddy – grown in the city’s Tungabhadra River – is bought, unloaded, heated and put through various stages of soaking and roasting. The next step, we were told, is the application of salt. “That part of work done by women,” in an otherwise all-male labour force, perhaps because of the intensity of the work and proximity to a 200-degree furnace.

The only woman I could find was Nasreen, who owns a tea shop next to one such unit and lives with her daughters and grandchildren. Nasreen, whose daughter returned home after an abusive marriage with an auto driver from Bengaluru, told us how this is her only option for a livelihood, but due to the bandh, that source too was drying up.

Seeing a godown with a 1000 sacks of unsold mandakki piled to the ceiling – only one of the 950 bhattis in the area – we were told by the owner that since the demand was low, they had stopped production. Workers were usually paid half the wages on the days the unit remained shut.

How the trouble began

Rifaqatullah, the secretary of the association, shared the many woes plaguing Mandakki Bhatti, which he says began with a ‘sting operation’ by a local Kannada channel that showed this sector in a negative light.

About the presenter

Vasanthi Hariprakash is an independent journalist, anchor and media strategist, former special correspondent at NDTV 24×7. She is the founder of Pickle Jar, a platform to curate programmes and conversations of social relevance.

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