Bamboo artisans in Bengal are at threat of losing their livelihoods  The once-thriving bamboo industry is struggling to stay afloat

13, Feb 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

In earlier times, Bengal’s rich cultivation of Bambusa tulda, commonly known as Bengal Bamboo, enabled hundreds of artisans, small business owners and people with an interest in craftsmanship to make artistic, practical or utilitarian goods for the general public. Bamboos and grass were used in countless handicrafts and products of the Bengal cottage industry. A Bamboo jungle in the backyard or just out in the open field was a common phenomenon – believed to be traditional in a lot of cultures. In rural Bengal, green makla bamboo is used to make the majority of the products that are sold as decorative pieces. Ranging from furniture, lampshades to bags and shoes, the products made out of bamboo are endless – and wonderfully aesthetic. Bamboo has been an ideal and decorous choice for the people due to it greatly replacing the use of wood. It’s difficult to find a match in the price range of bamboo products. This enabled people to sustainably continue with their business ventures, turning profits and growing the industry as time went by. Many made extremely decent living and turned hefty profits in the bamboo product businesses. But today, the bamboo industry is under imminent threat. 

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.

Even though this widespread appreciation for bamboo trees and products made by them had enabled these artisans and business owners to carve out a niche for themselves, that’s not the case anymore. The main reason being – plastic. People rampantly buy plastic goods, which might be cheaper and lightweight – and also widely available in all markets – rural or urban. Bamboo cane industry is slowly disappearing from Bengal. The makers make products but find little buyers. Deforestation has also caused a lot of bamboo forests to disappear, over time. 

When I travelled inside the Paikar Village of Birbhum, I met two bamboo product business owners and artisans – Hasibul Sheikh and Mosibul Sheikh. In Hasibul’s words, “ we used large quantities of bamboo, earlier, and made hundreds of products everyday. Thousands of men and women were associated with this profession. That kind of demand no longer exists. Slowly people ventured out to work as migrant labourers or start a different business altogether. Our financial freedom diminished.” 

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Mosibul blamed the plastic industry for this downfall. He said, “People have become more interested in plastic items. A bamboo basket currently costs 80-90 rupees in the market but a plastic basket can be bought for 10 to 15 rupees. The production cost is high and it’s getting higher by the day. That’s why we are no longer able to sell these products as before.” 

West Bengal, which claims to be a leading state for cottage and small scale industry – and apparently has a well defined plan for advancement of this sector – through the active support of West Bengal Small Industries Development Corporation and other agencies under the Department of Cottage and Small Scale Industries, is not looking into the plight of these small business owners. There has been no support, whatsoever, that is keeping alive this age old tradition of bamboo craftsmanship. The possibilities could be endless – from exporting of these exotic products globally – to supporting women artisans who make intricate decorations out of bamboo materials – to creating a supply chain management that seeks to protect people like Mosibul and Hasibul, who continuously feel hopeless and think of putting their lives, and livelihoods, at risk by taking up low paying daily wage jobs in foreign states.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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