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Learning from the Kolis

India is a diverse country in many terms. The different communities, their rituals, behavioural conducts etc. offer many insights into the problems which exist elsewhere. Looking at them through a particular lense and trying to go deeper can help us build feasible solutions.

Photo of Ankit Chhabra
15 10

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The Kolis-fisherfolk-of Mumbai are a distinct community. In Their dress, their language, their food and their lifestyle they are easily distinguishable. Especially the economically independent Koli women who are aggressive to the point of being quarrelsome.

The Koli’s entire position in society, her freedom of speech and action it a result of her economic power and independence arising from her kurga (her daily earnings).

What makes these women different from others?
  1. The most important are the community ties. Kolis is a close knit community. All of them share the same profession and the women work for both sides of the family after marriage.
  2. They are tied to their land which is real estate property worth millions of dollars in Mumbai. They know the value and still don't want to encash on it as it would uproot them all at once.
  3. They all know just one thing - selling fish and all of them do it to the best of their abilities. They work together, enjoy together, live together and are on each others side always.
  4. They have the economic control of their homes. All the women handle transactions themselves while their men are at sea catching the fish. They are well adept at calculations, art of barganing and have great prsence of mind.
  5. There is tacit collective knowledge which seems to be at work everytime you talk to them. The ways of the market, the chaos, the double burden of home and trade all seems to be reflected in her choice of words and body language.

I'll keep updating as I think of more points.

The questions that are raised for me are - what can we learn from them and try to replicate somewhere else?


Attachments (1)

Market Study - Ankit.pdf

It is a visual documentation of fish market study at Versova. Only a few slides are relevant to the current question.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

We're now in our Ideas phase and we'd love it if you might consider evolving the great thought-starter you've begun here and post it to the Ideas phase: We're excited about the potential impact which could be made from growing this idea with collaboration with our OpenIDEO community.
As you think of the Ideas Phase check out Shane's idea
which was inspired by this post.

Photo of Meena Kadri

We'd also love it if you might join the conversation on this post: as it seeks, in part, to connect newcomers to a community with established residents (like the Kolis at Dharavi) We thought with your experience there, you may have insights to add which could help strengthen the idea for impact. Looking forward to seeing you across more conversations on this challenge...

Photo of DFA NYU

Dear Meena, thanks for thinking of this connection.

Ankit, please check out our idea

We'd love to have your feedback on the idea as it is and see if you have any suggestions on how we can evolve it and maybe test it out.


Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Hi Ankit, as mentioned in the club comment above, we would really love to have your feedback. I've read your posts and comments during the research phase and I think you have a lot of expertise that would be super useful as we are trying to develop our idea and test it. I've seen that you are in Bangalore for the moment, but maybe there are ways for you to explore with people there if they think this idea would be feasible. Thank you so much! Looking forward to hearing from you.

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