The bhadels are women porters who mostly work in Margao city in south Goa. ('Bhadel' is Konkani for 'porter'.) The occupation was handed down across generations by the women in the family – either daughters or daughters-in-law

But no one from the present generation of younger women has become a porter. “Our daughters are not interested in this work, they have studied a little, so want to work in offices," says Maria Borges. Only around a dozen bhadels now work in Margao market, all over 50 years old. Although bhadels worked in other Goan markets in the distant past, there are limited records, mainly a mention in folk songs, to corroborate this

The women make the daily bus commute from towns and villages neighbouring Margao city, such as Borda and Fatorda. They reach the market at varying times, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., after completing their morning round of household chores. They leave for their homes by 6:30 p.m.

The bhadels in Margao have traditionally been Roman Catholic. They are Kunbis – a tribal community considered indigenous to Goa. Elpine Almeida has draped her dress in the typical Kunbi style, although the cloth and colours are not what was traditionally used those are no longer in production

The bhadel women usually gather in a lane outside one of the oldest shops in Margao market. It’s the Christian season of Lent a time for austerity a slow shopping season. This is bad for business, but allows the women to take a breather

The introduction of the Konkan railway in the late 1990s brought in migrant workers from neighbouring states, affecting the women’s earnings – cheap labour and sturdy young men were tough to compete with, leaving the women without work, resting their feet. But local merchants swear by the trustworthiness of the bhadels. They leave their shops open in their care and do not hesitate to send them to the bank to deposit large amounts of money

The bhadels earn anything between Rs.50 to 200 a day. As things stand in 2015, carrying a medium sized shopping bag will fetch Rs.3, hauling a steel cupboard will bring in Rs.50 to be divided by the number of women involved ,and carrying 50 kilos goods will earn them Rs.20

Store owners as well as shoppers use the services of the bhadels to carry various items and heavy loads. Elpine Almeida carries a basket full of groceries for a local merchant as he goes about a weekly round of shopping for his home

With shops in Goa closed from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the women use the downed shutters as their lunch spot

The bhadel community cat gets its daily meal

The all-important Goan siesta

Rita Camara is the oldest of the working bhadels – she is around 70. She lights her daily dose of a beedi – tobacco flakes rolled in dried tendu leaves

A few bhadels have prescription glasses but find it inconvenient to wear them while working. “The specs come in the way of my work,” says Pauline Almeida. She quietly wears her glasses only at the end of the day when she prepares to head back home

In 2011, as part of the events to commemorate 50 years of liberation from Portuguese rule, the Goan government recognised the services of those bhadels who worked during the occupation for over 25 years. They were given a one-time honorarium of Rs.25.000. Although the women can apply for government pension schemes for senior citizens, the bhadels are proud workers who have so far shied away from taking help

Sonia Filinto is a Mumbai-based media professional.

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