‘We have nothing but fishing’: Why Kolis of Mumbai are building man-made ponds in Mithi river | Research News,The Indian Express

Nestled across Mithi river banks, there once were flourishing Koliwadas, the pride of the Koli community. As recent as 2006, one could fish in the waters of the Mithi, but today, it is dark, the fish are gone, and the Kolis are doing all they can to ensure that they don't succumb to the same fate.

These ponds are the product of the Koli community, a group of fisherfolk who have inhabited the city for centuries. Facing both man-made and natural threats to their livelihood, the Kolis were forced to adapt to the changing landscape of the city by advocating for mangrove conservation and deploying indigenous solutions to combat modern developments.

The Dharavi ponds signify not only the resilience of the Kolis but also the onus all citizens bear to understand if not adapt to the Mumbai’s tumultuous relationship between land and sea.

The ponds are a microcosm of an ecosystem worth aspiring to. Where the water is clear, the fish bountiful, and the community keenly in tune with its symbiotic connection with nature.

The name Koli comes from the Sanskrit word kula or clan. The term is used to describe a number of tribes, inferior in nature to the cultivating classes, with little other distinguishing factors. The origins of the Kolis remain unclear with some stipulating that they emigrated from Sindh while others claim that they are a western branch of the great Kol tribal group. While the widely dispersed Kolis have few concrete links to their ancestors and culture, Bombay’s Kolis had a unique identity that held them together and cemented their legacy on the coastlines of the city.

The Koli community arrived in Bombay in the 12th century around the time that King Pratap Bimb invaded Mahim, a now populous suburb. Some historians even say that the Kolis have been fishing the shores of Maharashtra since before the time of Alexander the Great. Although there are no concrete figures on how many Kolis live in Mumbai, their population was estimated to stand at 1.5 million in 1969. Today there are only 7 million Kolis in the whole of the country.


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