Nagi Shiva lives with her family in Lokkere village, on the edge of Bandipur National Park in Karnataka. She is from the Kuruba Gowda community, and works as a domestic helper.
Over the course of six months, she took photographs of her daily life – the trees, the fields and harvesting, the animals, her family – on the fringes of one of India’s premier tiger reserves in Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka. This was the first time she learned to use a camera (a Fujifilm FinePix S8630). Her photo essay is part of a larger collaborative photography project about living with wildlife, and the second in a series of six on PARI. (The first essay in this series, When Jayamma spotted the leopard, was published on March 8, 2017.)
“I liked taking pictures of my people. Others should understand the problems we face and how we live here,” Nagi Shiva, 33, says. “I want to take more photos, but I don’t get much time. I want to take pictures of the cows going back home. Now it is all green after the rains. I like to take photos of sheep or goats grazing or birds drinking water in the lake.”
Lonely tree: “This tree is called jagala ganti mara [fighting tree]. No one plants it in their house or fields because they believe that the tree will cause disputes at home. This has been its name for a long time. We don’t use it; we can only use the firewood from it.”
At work in the fields: “This is near my village, the women were harvesting beans. The people in this picture are all known to me. I took it around 7 a.m.; I went out just to take this photo. Women also go and work in the fields early in the morning, not just men. I used to work in the fields too, but now I have other employment. We all work very hard in the fields close to the forest.”
Gavi Rudreshwara: “This is our landscape, we have hills and forests and we live here. This is the Gavi Rudhreshwara temple hill; it is beyond the trench of the tiger reserve. There is an idol inside the hill, and a cave that leads to the hilltop. No one can go inside it, but there is a small passage and there are snakes inside. There is a small shrine on the hilltop and we can walk up the hill. Elephants and tigers come near the hilltop, but we all have gone there. We can offer prayers there. This is near Lokkere, about a kilometre from my village.”
Brother with bulls in front of the house: “This house belongs to a man called Reddy from Bangalore. We know him, his family has helped fund the school in the village. They provide scholarships and notebooks to school children. I used to work in that house earlier as a housekeeper. In front of this house, my brother is bringing his bulls back to his own house. He grazes his cows in his field. These oxen belong to him. Now there are more of these big houses built by outsiders near our villages.”
Bull: “This bull belongs to my brother. Cows help farmers a lot in agriculture. They also work hard in the fields, that is why we worship them. We call this bull Basava.”
Woman carrying food: “This is my sister. She is taking food for her husband working in the fields in the morning.”
Forest fire: “I don’t know who lit the fire in the forest. Somebody who went into the forest could have lit it, somebody must have left a matchstick when they smoked a beedi. Or it could have happened naturally, it is possible. Someone who grazes their cattle in forests or someone who went into the forest could have done it. This is near Lokkere, the forest department people are trying to put it out. They worked until 11 pm trying to put it out.”
Peacock: “Our forest has so many beautiful birds and animals, like this beautiful peacock. I took this picture close to where I work. There is a hill and it was on the rock. It was standing very still and neatly.”
Ploughing: “We work in the fields. We plough, sow and get the harvest. We live beside the forest, but we still farm. We grow ragi, jowar and onion. There isn’t much water here, and most people depend on the rains to feed their crops.”
Sheep grazing: “We depend on the livestock, they are our livelihood. We graze them in the forest. People raise sheep and goats. We get wool. Sometimes we sell one or two goats or sheep to get some money. Many people in my village depend on this for an income. Everyone has about 50 sheep and goats. We have 25 goats, but we don’t have sheep. We don’t have a shepherd to graze them, my mother is too old to go out now. We can’t leave the sheep outside, we have to be there with them or they won’t come back, they could also be eaten. Goats will return even if they go missing. In this photo my nephew is grazing them. The sheep belong to my sister and the goats belong to me.”
Lantana carving: “This is my brother in-law. He is working with the lantana. [The invasive flowering plant Lantana camara has taken over large swathes of the landscape, especially inside the national park]. His name is Basava and he is physically handicapped. We have a self-help group with nine women and only one man in this group. Basava is the only man. We have named the group Lantana Sangham. We received training to prepare furniture and other items made of lantana. I was getting a daily wage of 150 rupees. This wasn’t profitable for the effort we put in. So I gave up and started doing household work instead.”
Training: “This is my sister teaching lantana processing to the Jenu Kuruba Adivasi girls from Guddekere village. Men get the lantana from the forest and the women process it.”
This work was facilitated by Jared Margulies, in coordination with the Mariamma Charitable Trust, located in Mangala village, Karnataka. It was made possible with the support of a 2015-2016 Fulbright Nehru Student Research Grant, a Graduate Student Association Research Grant from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in-kind support from the Mariamma Charitable Trust, and above all, the participation, enthusiasm and efforts of the photographers themselves. B.R. Rajeev’s help in the translation of the text was invaluable, too.
Nagi Shiva lives on the fringes of Bandipur National Park, one of India’s premier tiger reserves, and earns a living as a domestic worker.