Ancestral snake charmer profession fading in Jharkhand village


By Praduman Choubey

Dhanbad, April 18 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Srikant Bedia started playing with snakes when he was just 13 years old, unaware that these reptiles would one day become the only way to feed his family. The 54-year-old resident of Bedia Tola village in Dhanbad, Jharkhand started snake charm as a profession at the age of 20, after his father died, earning rice or other food grains from the villagers.

However, technological and other advancements have had a detrimental effect on the snake charm in Bedia Tola. Here, the majority of the 55 families were once snake charmers by profession, but their numbers have dwindled to just 12-15 at present. All the others have turned to day labor.

“In urban areas, no one – not even children – cares about snakes these days. They prefer to cling to their cell phones. Such apathy has left us no choice but to visit rural pockets , where most of the time we get rice and grain rather than cash,” says Srikant, a father of four sons, who works on construction sites as a daily wage to support the family.

“We are forced to eat only ‘maad bhaat’ (porridge rice) and ‘chokha’ (mashed potatoes) because we cannot afford vegetables which cost Rs 50 per kg or more. “, he adds. “Also, after working as a snake charmer to feed my family for so many years, the Forest Department is pressuring us to leave the snakes in the woods.”

Further emphasizing his plight, Srikant points to the lack of government alternatives to his current profession, wondering what he would do if the Forest Department forced him to give up the snake charmer. He adds that they don’t have the money to refill the LPG cylinders he bought through the Ujjawala program. Instead, the women of the family cook using the dry wood they collect in the forest.

“Lack of education and sources of income are the biggest challenges for the people of Bedia Tola,” he said.

Jitendra Nath Bedia, another resident of the village, relies on his daily salary, earning Rs 5,000 to Rs 12,000 per month. But even so, he says they are no better off than snake charmers due to lack of education. In fact, he attributes the shortage of government jobs in Bedia Tola to this illiteracy.

“Even Sanjay and Manik Kumar Bedia, two bright young men from the village, had to drop out after class 11 due to pressure to start earning money for their family,” says Jitendra, adding that they were also deprived basic amenities such as a source of safe drinking water. “The lonely hand pump here often fails to meet the water needs of the 55 families, forcing many of us to fetch water from nearby villages. We asked the authorities to dig a pond in the village for us help meet our drinking water needs.”

Sapan Bedia is another daily bet of Bedia Tola who gave up the snake charm two decades ago due to the paltry sum it earned him. He too highlights the miserable conditions in which all the inhabitants of Bedia Tola live because no one could complete their studies, further accusing the authorities of never having visited the village, leaving them to fend for themselves.

“Some NGOs and social workers visit us on occasions like Diwali to distribute clothes and sweets to children, but that’s just an appearance,” said Raju Bedia, another villager. “Unless training in useful skills is given to young people and women, we will have no choice but to continue to work as unskilled workers, earning far less than skilled workers.”

A language rights activist from the nearby village of Sindurpur, Bengu Thakur, echoes Raju’s views, pointing out that vocational training would also help families earn more and ultimately enable them to fund their children’s education.

“This, in turn, will improve their socio-economic status as it will help them find jobs,” says Thakur, who founded the Bangla Bhasa Unnayan Samiti.

In addition, families in Bedia Tola are often landless because they risk being evicted by forestry or railway authorities, says Thakur.

“Because of their landless status, they previously had difficulty in obtaining caste certificates. But after raising the issue on various platforms, they have obtained their certificates, which can help them apply for reservation benefits. because they come from scheduled castes.”

(The author is a Dhanbad-based freelance journalist and member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of local journalists.)

Source: IANS

Ancestral snake charmer profession fading in Jharkhand village

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