In Focus

The Locals, The Legends, The Development

Elephanta Island’s three villages – Rajbunder that houses 550 locals, Shetbunder that houses 400 and Morabunder which houses 250 natives – 1,200 locals in all have inhabited the island for well over five hundred years.

Elephanta Island also has a lengthy association with modern Indian history

Elephanta’s original residents were Agris and Kolis. As legend goes, Agla - the ancestor of the Agris - and Mangla (Kolis) - the ancestor of the Mangelas (fishermen) were born to sage Agasti. Agla was told to subsist through the manufacture of salt from the sea while Mangla was told to subsist by fishing.

Parashuram, intending to throw back the sea, was prevented by the intervention of the Agri and Mangela women on whose request he consented to throw it back only 27 miles. The strip of land, thus formed, came to be known as Konkan. Elephanta being an integral part of Konkan houses the Agris and Kolis.

The island also has a lengthy association with modern Indian history. Shetbunder that lies at the base of the island near the jetty yet retains broken-down Electricity and Telephone poles since the British period when the island housed a British Military Base that possessed electricity as well as telephone lines. “Seems like the islanders were better off then when power wasn’t an issue to start with,” says Shetbunder’s Uttara Bhoir.

Anyway, even the Elephanta local wasn’t really bothered with the power shortage and lack of communication as well as shortfall in educational facilities. The spirits remained high: After all, they never had the ‘facilities’ like neighbouring Mumbai and couldn’t quite figure what was the big deal about them either. So, after passing the tenth standard, the Elephanta student would go to study at a college at Uran and then pursue higher education at, say, Panvel in mainland Maharashtra.

For decades, seven in all since Independence, while the state government continued to dilly-dally on issues of ‘basic development’ here, the will to survive ran high among natives here.

This report has been prepared for DraftCraft International’s Flagship Initiative, The Elephanta Island Project to research, analyse and determine the rights and liabilities of Islanders, local and foreign tourists vis-a-vis the responsibility of the State towards all stakeholders and natural resources while upholding the law of the land and ensuring the protection of environment that tops the list of priorities. The initiative examines laws and policies regarding islands, sea transport, privacy, women’s rights, health, protection of the environment and rights and liabilities of tourists guaranteed to all by the State in context of the Right To Equality, Freedoms, The Right to Life and Global Conventions to which India is a signatory.