The eternal romance of traditional farming may soon be folklore A rare insight into the wooden plough, that may soon be seen only in a museum

29, Nov 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Modern technology and science have given us many efficient tools. However, they lack the emotional connect of traditional tools, even though they get the job done faster. Images of many of these older inventions are slowly being pushed into sepia toned photos to be framed, or tucked away in books. The wooden plough with its bamboo handle is one such tool that is now on its way out of fields and into museums.

Once it was an everyday scene to chance upon a farmer tilling his land with plough pulled by his cattle. However, now that scene is so rare these days, that one has to go looking for it. Old timers tell us that the wooden plough has been used for centuries as its iron head would loosen the soil as deep as needed, and the cattle would then walk on the clumps and soften it further. The cow dung that fell on the land, added to its fertility.

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.

Now farmers use modern equipment including power tillers as the job gets done in a short time. I met Moti Sheikh, a farmer from Paikar area in Birbhum district, who still values the wooden plough. “I have been ploughing our lands since childhood. The cow-pulled plough also reduces the wild grass growing in the land. And cow dung increased the fertility of the land giving us a good yield,” he says. “Cultivating with a wooden plough takes a lot of time, but it is natural and environmentally friendly,” says Sheikh, adding that with new instruments the time will be reduced, “But it is costly and chemical fertilizers have to be applied on the land resulting in loss of soil fertility.” According to him, land cultivated with tractors tends to “become grassy” and then the unwanted wild grass has to be weeded out.

Lakhu Sheikh, another local farmer added, “It is possible to cultivate about 0.1400 hectares of the land every day with the wooden ploughs pulled by cows. It also takes less fertilizers and pesticides to increase soil fertility and cultivate crops. But day by day this tradition of our rural Bengal is slowly disappearing.”

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The older farmers recalled how once people took the harvested paddy home on bullock carts, but now they take it by tractor. They recalled the romance of traditional farming when their wives would bring Panta Bhat (cooked rice soaked overnight) for them walking along the small raised path in the rain-soaked field, but that scene is also a thing of the past now. At one time wooden ploughs were highly valued possessions custom made by expert craftsmen. Now even those craftsmen have moved to other professions. It is rare to see a plough being sold in the haat-bazaars now. Maybe one day, these last surviving ones will greet young visitors at a museum.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people.

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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