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The KGF movies may have acquired the tag of films from Karnataka that were pan-Indian but in truth the true story of Kolar Gold Fields, KGF, is a typical Tamil story that has been repeated in Karnataka at many times. “We have taken our Constitution seriously which is why we go everywhere and try to grow there taking others along,” says Tamilvanan, a labour contractor in Kolar who was instrumental in getting thousands of miners from Kolar Gold Fields to Sandhur iron ore mining sites for work. The second part of the KGF series recalls the Tamil story by paying tribute to the people.
KGF and Kolar district in Karnataka has over 40,000 Tamils. This is among the largest Tamil population group outside Tamil Nadu in India. Tamils in Kolar are not settlers anymore. “We have passed that time and we have accepted Kolar as our home. Some of us have left for Bellary after gold mining hit a low here and settled there. Kannadigas have accepted us as one of them,” says Murugarajan, a Tamil settler in Kolar.
Vickramadithan is an advocate who fought for the revival of the Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) in KGF between 1998 and 2004. Vickramadhithan, the then BJP president of KGF, stated that the Government of India took many steps to revive the mines.
GOI was ready to revive the mines if the trade unions accepted reducing the workforce from 3,500 to 2,500. But the 19 trade unions rejected the proposal. The Indian government was ready to continue the mining operation in the late 90s and was ready to place the proposal before the Board of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction if the trade unions accepted pruning the workforce, which never happened. Eventually, they had to accept the terminal package announced later. “The government had announced re-phasement and revival package twice but there were 19 trade unions who did not buy into it. The VRS package announced in 2002 was accepted by half the workers. For Tamils, it was a loss of income and livelihood,” says Vickramadithan.
KGF and Kolar district in Karnataka has over 40,000 Tamils. This is among the largest Tamil population group outside Tamil Nadu in India. Tamils in Kolar are not settlers anymore.
Gold miners of a rare kind
But for the Tamil workforce, the BGML could not have operated the 100-year-old Kolar Gold Fields. “Who would work in a shaft mine going down thousands of feet where the temperature could reach 55 degrees C? It was the Tamil labourers who made the gold mining worthwhile for the government,” Vickramdithan said.
Kolar and Kolar Gold Fields have over 60 per cent of Tamil people. Tamil-speaking people of Telugu origin from the Chittoor district from the erstwhile North Arcot region constitute 20 per cent. A former IAS officer who was the MD of BGML stated that the Tamil mine workers were among the best. Iron ore mining in Goa, coal mining in Jharia, Bihar, and manganese ore mining in Sandhur could not be compared to Kolar, he says, adding that each time the miners entered the shaft there was no guarantee they would return. The BIFR financial reconstruction did not offer much in terms of salaries and risk management funds which was one of the great drawbacks, he added. The KGF Tamil story has not been without tragedy therefore.
Kolar is now home to third generation Tamils. The fourth generation has taken up jobs in Bengaluru city. They take the train to Bengaluru which is about 100 kilometres at 4.30 am and return at 9 pm home only to refresh and sleep so that they get up early to catch their train the next day. Over 20,000 people from Kolar go to Bengaluru every day ever since the BGML closed down in 2001, Vickramadityan points out.
Despite being hardworking and committed, Tamil workers lived in appalling conditions in hutments built by the British government that were 12X8 feet. Some managed to save money and built a bigger house for themselves.
The BGML has over 12,600 acres of land of its own out of which 9,000 acres is barren land. Recently the government has been examining the development of 3,000 acres into a multi-product Special Economic Zone which has the potential of employing 15,000 people initially and could go up to 20,000 jobs after five years of its establishment.
Historians of Karnataka link the influx of Tamils into Kolar to the legacy of the ancient Gangas kingdom which extended into present day Karnataka. Kolar had been one of the centres where Tamils under the Gangas dynasty flourished. Though Ganganadu was frequently ruled by non-Tamils, the majority of its population remained Tamil, and the Kannadigas referred to them as Thigilaru. The Thigilar’s traditional homeland was Ganganadu which is now identified as the region around Kolar in Karnataka.
In recent times, however, there has been some tension between Kannadigas and Tamils. Many Kannada Chuluvaligars wanted better deals for Kannadigas who are a linguistic minority in Kolar. Though Tamil-dominated demographically and linguistically, Kolar voters elected many Kannadigas as their representative in the state assembly. “This vindicated our stand on Kannadiga-Tamil unity and cooperation,” said K Gopalan, a senior Tamil leader.
Historians point out that Tamil-speaking settlers migrated to Bengaluru in four major waves, the first after the 10th century, the second during the Vijayanagara period, and the third in the 18th century, due to the British East India Company. The fourth wave was migration into Kolar for building railway tracks and the Hutti Gold Mines which later grew into Kolar Goldfields.
Politically Kolar has multiple parties of Tamil origin. The AIADMK and DMK are active. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa did not visit KGF but she was well-liked and respected by a big portion of the local population.
Tamil Nadu politics and KGF-Kolar
Politically Kolar has multiple parties of Tamil origin. The AIADMK and DMK are active. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa did not visit KGF but she was well-liked and respected by a big portion of the local population. They recall her helping when the Bharat Gold Mines Ltd (BGML) mining operation was disrupted in 2001. The AIADMK had a strong representation in KGF in the 1980s and 1990s and three MLAs, all Kannada speaking, were elected from that party to the Karnataka Assembly.
M. Bhaktavatsalam, an AIADMK candidate, was elected MLA from the Kolar Assembly constituency in 1983, 1989, and 1999, displacing Leftist candidates. Even today Jayalalithaa’s poster comes up at Robertsonpet and Andersonpet in Kolar and KGF during her birthdays and death anniversaries. The Tamil story in KGF would be incomplete without their larger-than-life leaders.
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