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Hakki Pikki is a semi-nomadic tribe that roamed around the entire country. The community originated in North India but is mostly found in South Indian states. In Karnataka, they are called Hakki Pikki, meaning bird catchers, while they are also called Nakkavando in Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, the community is called ‘Narikuravar’ though they have no connection to the Kurava community whom Sangam literature has termed highlanders.

In Tamil Nadu, the community is called ‘Narikuravar’ though they have no connection to the Kurava community whom Sangam literature has termed highlanders

Recently, a Hakki Pikki woman Ashwini was in the news after she complained that she was denied food at annadhanam. She was called a Narikuravar woman since that is the term given to her community now in the state.

The state government quickly got into damage control mode. Hindu Religious and Cultural Endowment Minister, Sekar Babu dined with her. Chief Minister M K Stalin visited her house and their colony on Deepavali day. Clothes and sweets were distributed. The Chief Minister distributed land titles to some of the residents.

The gesture was much appreciated. And, the issue was amicably settled. But the truth is the Hakki Pikki continue to live in the fringes of society and remain a neglected community.

In Kannada, Hakki Pikki means bird catchers. They used to hunt birds and small animals for food. They also eke out a living selling beads. Tattooing is another skill helping them to earn some money.

Though surrounded by Dravidian languages, they speak a unique language Vaghiri Boli, an Indo-Aryan language. Hakki Pikki people are gifted in traditional medicine and the knowledge is passed on from one generation to another. The community, though worst affected by COVID19, managed to bounce back with their traditional medicines and innate immunity. Though a marginalized community, Hakki Pikkis are classified as a Most Backward Community which is a big hurdle for their development. There is a long pending demand to include them as a Scheduled Tribe which would provide them government benefits.

Though subsisting on the very fringes, Hakki Pikkis are classified as a Most Backward Community. There is a long pending demand to include them as a Scheduled Tribe which would provide government benefits

The appeal is decades old and started when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. Though Parliament agreed to the demand, a Bill was never drawn up.

In Tamil Nadu, they were wrongly classified as Narikuravar when MGR was Chief Minister. The actual name of the community is Vaghiriwala. They are locally known as Kuruvikarar, Nakkale and Hakki Pikki.

Kuravar is a community classified by Sangam literature as mountain people. Kuravars who live in the Western Ghats are said to hunt with bow and arrow but Hakki Pikkis use a country-made rifle. Hakki Pikkis are not familiar with basket weaving or honey gathering that Kuravas use.

The nomadic lifestyle of Hakki Pikkis allowed them to pick many words from the local language including Tamil. Though the community is largely illiterate, their sense of hygiene is praise-worthy.

One of the unique cultural practices among the community is that men are entitled to provide a dowry to women while getting married. Mother worship is prominent. They worship Goddess Parvati and her incarnations. Sacrificing a buffalo is an important element of their worship.

Women usually wear colourful skirts and men sport long hair. The elders are respected and the elderly of the clan dictate the terms. Despite this cultural richness, Hakki Pikkis remain at the fringes. The literacy rate is negligible. The forest laws have turned their profession illegal. They don’t make a big living by selling beads or tattooing. Neither do they have a permanent place to live. Despite all these troubles, Hakki Pikkis are cheerful people. They could be spotted in markets or bus stations selling their wares.

Classifying them as a Scheduled Tribe will greatly benefit them. But they don’t have a collective voice to pressure the government. The Tamil Nadu government’s gesture towards Ashwini was heartwarming. But it shouldn’t stop there. The state government should take up their case for empowerment.

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