Caste

The Basket Makers of English

Three generations ago, the people of a Dalit hamlet called English, in Bihar’s Banka district, gave up burning bodies and took up weaving baskets.

It’s called English, this Dalit hamlet off the Amarpur-Shambhuganj road in Banka district of Bihar. It’s in Amarpur block, after the turn at English More (as the Hindi word mode or ‘turn’ is spelt in online searches). The hamlet has around 25 houses amid lush mustard fields. All the residents share the same last name – Maholi – and they all weave baskets. Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

Shreya Katyayini is a Video Coordinator at the People’s Archive of Rural India, and a photographer and filmmaker. She completed a master’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in early 2016.

Banka, Bihar: This Dalit hamlet in Bihar’s Banka district is called English, and all the residents here have the same last name. Three generations ago, they gave up burning bodies and took up the more respectable occupation of making baskets.

Sanju Maholi, 30, has been weaving baskets since he was 15. He says, “The Maholis were a community who lived on the banks of the Chandan river [in Banka] and burnt dead bodies for a living. Many years ago my great grandfather and some others spilt from the community and took up this occupation. Weaving baskets is more respectable than burning bodies.” Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

Rupa Devi (left) and Malti Devi are from neighbouring hamlets. They learnt the art of basket weaving after they got married and came here. “I start the weaving work after finishing the daily house chores by late noon,” Rupa Devi says. Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

While Malti Devi is busy completing her fourth basket of the day, her grandson Golu Maholi freshens up after his evening play time, preparing to get down to his school homework. Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

It takes 4-5 days to turn bamboos into baskets. The bamboo splitting, drying and weaving are simultaneous processes. Each person makes four to five baskets a day. Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

Vendors come to collect the baskets to be sold in neighbouring markets. The basket weavers get Rs 90-120 for each basket, depending on the size and design. The demand peaks from October to early January, during the wedding season and Chhath puja (a four-day Hindu festival in Bihar and neighbouring north Indian states). Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

The temple in the hamlet has just one idol of Lord Shiva. “This temple was built by my great grandfather and others who settled here many years ago,” says Sanju Maholi. “Our idol looks different from the other idols of Lord Shiva around this area.” Credit: Shreya Katyayini/People’s Archive of Rural India

This article was originally published on the People’s Archive of Rural India on November 27, 2017. Read the original here.