Last weekend, I hopped on a bus and took off for the hippie hinterland of Karnataka – Hampi. I was welcomed by big boulders, rocky mountains and the serene Tungabhadra river which divides Hampi into two parts. On the one side of the river there are temples and on the other side are shacks, lazy restaurants, lakes, and dirt roads. The temple side is a UNESCO World Heritage Site displaying architectural ruins of the great Vijayanagara Kingdom from the 14th century.
Considering the longish weekend, I knew finding an accommodation would be difficult. Luckily, our rickshaw wala, with his local gyan, helped us find a cosy homestay just by the bank of the river. At Beny Guest house, owner Sujata and her family warmly welcomed us. After years of being in the business, Su (as Sujata is fondly called) spoke English with half Kannada-half American accent. That afternoon, with coffee in her hand, Su came upstairs with a pensive face and informed us that she might not be able to accommodate us the following day. “The government people might come and check”, she said. “It is not allowed anymore, you go (to) other side of the river tomorrow night”. I was curious and wanted to know what is troubling her.READ MORE – Safe commute – not just for women, but for India’s progress
Upon making a few inquiries, I learned that Hampi is facing a problem. In 2002, the Karnataka Government introduced a law to preserve the cultural heritage and to develop the village sustainably. The law is confusing and drafted haphazardly, without any consideration to the local community and its livelihood. The government defined certain boundaries in 2002 and 2006 based on the distance in Sq. Kms from the sites. It has been evicting and demolishing the local bazaars, houses and shops within those boundaries. Sujata informed us that at times, eviction notices were issued just a few hours before the demolitions took place, giving no time or opportunity for people to respond. Neither alternate housing and compensation nor clear guidelines were issued prior to the eviction.
Local residents’ right to be heard was flatly rejected by the ruling administration. Demolitions were carried out despite protest and opposition from the Panchayat members and locals. The government also threatened the locals with criminal prosecution for opposing its actions. All this is carried out despite the fact that these people have been provided pattas and licences by the Gram Panchayat and have also been paying taxes regularly for decades.
These plans and recommendations, although carried out with good intentions of preserving a heritage site, are taking away livelihoods of locals, without involving them in the decision making. A 2005 report by UNESCO noted that there a lack of local community participation in the decision-making process regarding conservation and development in Hampi. As important as it is to preserve our cultural heritage, it is equally important to take into account local communities who thrive on tourism to make ends meet. There is an existing and flourishing eco-system which evolved naturally between the villagers, tourists and other service providers like rickshaw wallahs, cyber café owners, restaurant owners etc.READ MORE – Time to End British Raj 2.0
Tourists will be discouraged from visiting Hampi if all they see are demolitions, uncertainties, frequent raids and cannot find essential services nearby. Locals have already witnessed an extremely dull New Year in 2018 in an otherwise bustling Hampi. One section of residents were recently relocated 18 km away from their original land to a place with no tourists, no cultivable land and a mere 1.5 lakh per family in compensation which is yet to be received.
Hampi has been more than just a collection of ruins scattered in a magnificent landscape. The people of Hampi have rights like people living in any other place in India. Administration of the town, along with expert guidance, should be inclusive of the people living there for decades, since they have the most relevant local information. They also have the best interest to preserve the heritage sites, since that’s what attract tourists and therefore is a source of livelihood for them.
I promised Su and her family that I shall stay with them on my next trip as well. I hope the next time I visit, I can relive the warm welcome at Beny Guest House without any fear of raids or eviction.Disclaimer – Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.