Goa government recognises women porters

Though she does not understand much English, she was delighted when Kamat read out a paragraph mentioning Bhadels -- Goa's women coolies who carry loads on their heads for a living while walking long distances.

"Bhadels, belonging to an ST community, who work and give their services to the shopkeepers and business community, is an age-old institution by itself.

During the Golden Jubilee year (of Goa's liberation), I want to recognise their selfless service to the society by honouring them with a one-time honorarium of Rs 25,000 to those who have put in at least 25 years of service," Kamat said.

Joaquina belongs to a centuries-old profession of women porters who track their origins to the Portuguese era, emerging sometime in the mid-18th century.

Believed to be Asia's only women coolies, Bhadels have been impacted by modernisation and influx of male coolies from neighbouring states in current times.

The reliability of Bhadels is legendary.During the Portuguese rule, and even till recently, the local shopkeepers in Margao town used to ask Bhadels to watch over the shops during their siesta-time. "There were 100-odd Bhadels who were in the trade till some decades back. But now most of them have grown old. The next generation does not want to continue in the profession," Auda Viegas, president, Bailancho Ekvott (a women's organisation) told PTI.

The public movement to rehabilitate the Bhadels began a decade ago, when Viegas and others began documenting the life of these women.

Several representations seeking recognition for these women had been made to state governments in the past, Viegas said.

The budget tabled by Kamat, who himself represents Margao constituency where Bhadels once thrived, also spoke of constituting a panel of traders, representatives of NGOs and social workers to shortlist the women who will get the honorarium.

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