Mirzapur: They are skilled in bamboo craftsmanship. Their population is small and works of art are their main source of income. Contrary to the fact that their products are popular in India and around the world, they are highly marginalized and forced to live in abject poverty. The lofty demands and lofty promises made by different political parties during election campaigns are meaningless to them because they have long since been forgotten.
After days of hard work and cutting edge artistry, what they earn is something that should be said loud and clear – a maximum of Rs 200 and that too, not every day.
They belong to the Benvanshi Dhakar community in the eastern district of Uttar Pradesh in Mirzapur. The Scheduled Caste (SC) group is so pariah that people are not even allowed to work as agricultural laborers because the yield will become “unclean” if they touch it.
They manufacture many products such as tokdi, bhauka, jhauaa (bamboo baskets of different sizes), soopa (used in kitchens to separate the husk and stones from food grains) and hand fans. These products are not new to Indian culture as bamboo has been popular here for a long time. But the products, lately, are losing market due to government apathy.
GOVERNMENT APATHY LEADING THE PROFESSION TO EXTINCTION
Seema, 40, makes baskets and soopa and her husband (Samru, 45) and three minor children. With hard work for three days, they make a large-sized basket – which her 15-year-old only son will sell in the local market for Rs 200.
“People don’t want to tip their wallets to pay even that small amount, which is nothing in these times of high inflation. Fear of returning with an empty pocket, we are sometimes forced to resell it at the entrance price, which is around Rs 150. We have to do it with a bleeding heart, because coming back without a penny means starving at home,” said said the resident of Newadhiya village in Patehara block. NewsClick and burst into tears.
Wiping the tears from her face, she struggled to describe the unimaginable suffering she and the other villagers in her hamlet face every day, but she broke down again.
“We (the wife-husband duo) can afford to sleep without eating, and we have to do it very often. But as a mother, how can I watch my children go to bed without eating? No one can. minimal, the midday–roast, at least twice a day, otherwise rich, wholesome food,” she cuts off again and refuses to say more.
Sitting on the dirt floor in front of her ramshackle thatched house, Mahdei was engaged in conversation with other women in the village. As this reporter was striking up a conversation with her, she got up, walked into her room. katchcha house and took out a charpe (baby cot). She hesitantly asked if I would mind sitting on the cot.
She sat on the floor again despite repeatedly asking him to share the same bed. “We belong to a lower caste; how can I even think of sitting next to you, even though you are my son’s age? This is the first time that someone acknowledges our existence and comes here to know about the issues we are facing,” she said.
No government program seems to have reached the village, which has about 110 houses. They are landless. Although they applied several times, they did not get a pucca place under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY), under which Rs 1.3 lakh is given to the rural poor for building a house.
“Apart from free rations twice a month, we receive nothing from the government. Whenever our products are not sold, we sell wheat or rice that we obtain (under the public distribution system or PDS) to earn money to meet other needs,” a- she declared.
The 55-year-old said she made baskets and soopa with his four sons. But they barely manage to earn even Rs 100 per day. “Most of the time people take the produce in exchange for food grain (barter system). Life is hard,” she added, desperation visible on her face.
Babu Nandan, who was sitting across the road making a basket, came and intervened. “After repeated requests from Pradhan (village head) to push our house request failed, we also approached the relevant officials to no avail. They took papers but did nothing so far. This probably happens because we are not numerically significant. All political leaders take us for granted. They think they’ll get our votes in exchange for booze,” he said.
The Benvanshi Dhakar community numbers about 10,000 people in the whole district. They are found in small numbers in the ghettos of Patehra, Sant Nagar, Rampur, Kanhaipur, Rampur, Raikal, Malua and Amoi villages of Mirzapur.
The 45-year-old urged with clasped hands to pursue his case with the government for relief. “What’s missing is a proper platform where we can showcase our skills. Without government assistance, we struggle to keep this art alive,” he added.
Vinod Kumar, 28, said his community had voted for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in previous elections – hoping the party would do something for their welfare.
Asked who they would choose this time in the ongoing elections, he said his people have not made any decisions so far.
“Since the people of this region vote for the BJP, we also follow to do the same. No candidate comes here to seek our votes. We are told that even if we don’t vote for the BJP, it won’t make any difference because the party will win even without our votes,” he alleged.
Resident of the village of Rampur in the block of Patehra, Changur, 70, and his three sons practice the same profession. His monthly income, as he said, is somewhere around Rs 1,000.
“Humke ee kaam karai se jutat haa taa khaat hain, naahi to naahi khaat hain (If our products are sold, then we manage to eat. If not, we remain hungry),” he sold when asked about the state of his business.
He is the only one in his hamlet to own a studio pucca lodge. “I built the house with Rs 1.2 lakh which I got six years ago from the government under the housing scheme,” he added.
They said festival seasons boost their business, but the influx of plastic products into the market presents them with a big challenge. “This has greatly reduced the demand for handcrafted bamboo products,” they said. NewsClick.
“Our age-old craft is on the verge of extinction because the government does not protect our interests who earn a living by making bamboo products. We breathe life into bamboo by making various products from it, using our expertise,” said Suraj Prasad. , 30.
The manufacture of bamboo products involves several stages. First, the bamboo is cut into pieces along its entire length. Each piece is cut into thin slices lengthwise. It is now left for days to dry. The long and thin slices are colored usually with green and red colors. Finally, the slices are woven according to a particular pattern according to the products.
“The process is complex and labor intensive, but the return is too low. As a result, many have turned away from the profession. Many of us have now started working as construction workers who, s ‘he gets work, earns at least more than us,’ he added.
The Ujjwala Yojana, which provides cooking gas connections to poor households, means nothing to women in the community who still use earthen stoves and are still at risk of contracting respiratory diseases.
Swachh Bharat’s programs have not improved the hygiene and safety of villagers who defecate in the open without toilets.
The community sits at the bottom of all indices, the most backward and neglected even among the SCs. Yogesh Kumar Benbanshi, a journalist by profession belonging to the same community, explained the reasons for their delay.
“We are not numerically significant. Our numbers are somewhere around 1 lakh across the state. Due to the circumstances, we may not be that vocal. Therefore, we fail to attract the attention from government, political leaders and the media,” he said. NewsClick.
The resident of Unchdih in Prayagraj is the educated man of the second generation. He could study journalism and law because his father, an accountant in a private company in Mumbai, has a decent income. He is one of three men in his community who went to school and then to university for higher education.
He felt that his community could only be brought into the mainstream of society if the government set up a separate commission like the SC and ST, giving a special financial package to craftsmen to boost their business and making special arrangements so that children study. .
With 136 species and 23 genera spread over 13.96 million hectares, India is the second largest bamboo grower in the world after China. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India, the annual bamboo production here is estimated at 3.23 million tons.
However, despite such high production, from the country The global share of bamboo trade and trade is only 4%.
The state government’s One District-One Product program, which promotes these traditional and specialized products and crafts, appears to be having no impact on the ground as artisans continue to struggle to make ends meet. However, bamboo products have also been included in the ODOP list and placed in “Hunar Haat” for display.
It would have been comforting for these people if the party and others in the fray had felt that the issues of this population were important enough to feature as a key aspect of their election plans.
Mirzapur will vote on March 7 in the final round of seven-stage UP Assembly elections.