Bamboo vs. Plastic: Dharkaar Community's Plea for Bamboo Land

World Bamboo Day- The majority of the Dharkaar Samaj in Uttar Pradesh depends on bamboo, but bamboo work has declined due to the increased use of plastic. While plastic has harmful effects, bamboo is eco-friendly.
Santosh Dharkar, The National President of the Akhil Bharitya Dharkar Mahasabha( left) with artisans
Santosh Dharkar, The National President of the Akhil Bharitya Dharkar Mahasabha( left) with artisans

Lucknow- The NDA government restructured the National Bamboo Policy in 2018 with the aim of utilizing the product. It emphasized the development of an effective value chain in the Bamboo sector to connect planters with consumers. In 2009, the World Bamboo Organization founded World Bamboo Day on September 18th, during the 8th World Bamboo Congress held in Bangkok.

Bamboo holds great potential as a clean source of energy and can also replace single-use plastic, thereby promoting environmental and climate causes in India. Bamboo has a wide range of uses, including in buildings and interiors, handicrafts, agarbatti (incense stick) production, garments, and as a bio-fuel resource.

Status of Bamboo Production in India:

India boasts the highest area under bamboo cultivation, with 13.96 hectares dedicated to it. The country is home to 136 species (125 indigenous and 11 exotic), making it the second most diverse country in bamboo varieties, after China. In 2017, the Indian Forest Act of 1927 was amended to reclassify bamboo, removing it from the tree category, which facilitated bamboo cultivation and business without the need for felling and transit permissions. However, bamboo grown on forest lands still retains tree status and is subject to existing legal restrictions.

Santosh Dharkar, The National President of the Akhil Bharitya Dharkar Mahasabha( left) with artisans
55-yr old tribal man helping villagers cross river on a handmade bamboo raft with tyres-tubes

The Community Dependent on Bamboo:

Unfortunately, various initiatives related to Bamboo have failed to benefit the artisans who work with it. The Dharkaars from Uttar Pradesh are a prime example, as their livelihood revolves around bamboo product crafting. Approximately 90% of this community depends on bamboo-related activities. There are four sub-castes within the Dharkaar community: Betvanshi, Lakadihaara, Kharoosh, and Bansfod. The Bansfod sub-caste is nomadic, constantly in search of bamboo. These sub-castes have a history of facing untouchability. When they migrate to cities, they often find themselves in labor markets. Bamboo work prevents them from settling in cities, and they typically reside in the outskirts of places like Lucknow, Prayagraj, Barabanki, Azamgarh, etc. They are also involved in playing musical instruments during events.

The members of the Dharkaar community are landless.
The members of the Dharkaar community are landless.

During a visit to Azamgarh some time ago, The Mooknayak interviewed members of the Dharkaar community. One artisan mentioned, "We sell our products in the city at wholesale prices, and there's little profit in this business. However, because it's our family profession, we continue with it." He also noted that they don't have a gas cylinder at home, and his wife added that they haven't received the benefits that others have. A 62-year-old man lamented that corrupt government employees prevent funds meant for artisans from reaching them.

The Landless Predicament:

In places like Prayagraj, members of this community purchase bamboo from the city to craft products because they lack land, which means they miss out on the commercial advantages associated with bamboo. They have demanded that bamboo be made more accessible to them and that the bamboo trade be freed from the control of mafia.

In popular culture, the Bansod sub-caste of the Dharkaar community is referenced in the novel "Godan" written by Prem Chand in 1936.

The education of children from these communities is rare, leading to minimal participation in administrative services. One woman from Azamgarh posed the question, "If we send them to school, what will we eat?"

Dharkar Community's Land Demand- Santosh Dharkar, the National President of The Akhil Bhartiya Dharkar Mahasabha, stated, "The majority of the Dharkar Samaj depends on bamboo, but bamboo work has declined due to the increased use of plastic. While plastic has harmful effects, bamboo is eco-friendly. The youth should receive government training." He emphasized that policies and schemes are often exploited by capitalists for their gain. He added that the Dhankar community is nomadic and, therefore, landless.

He urged the government to provide land leases to the community to allow them to plant and develop bamboo. The lack of land has also hindered their progress, as many community members lack essential documents like Aadhar cards, making them ineligible for bank loans and government schemes. He urged the government to facilitate land leases for these communities.

The theme for World Bamboo Day this year, "A call to action for environmental preservation," is a commendable initiative if realized. However, there should also be a call to empower communities dependent on bamboo, as they contribute to environmental preservation. The government can achieve this by making them stakeholders in the bamboo industry through land lease provisions.

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