25, Nov 2022 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
Satyan goes around the village all day, on his bicycle, selling honey. Sandhya Rani returns home in the evening, with the honey that she has collected from the forests. They then plan how to sell the next batch of honey. This is a common routine for the husband-wife duo, especially amid peak honey-collection-season.
In the tribal community of Mahurapur in Birbhum, men and women work equally hard to find ways to run their homes. Many collect wood from the forest, many work in the local stone quarries, many work on farmlands – while many try to collect honey from the forests, seasonally. It’s not as popular as in the Sunderbans because there are not as many beehives to be found. But there are months when honey collection is at its highest, in certain areas. Sandhya Rani says.”Chaitra-Baishakh (Bengali months of March-April-May) is peak honey collection season. All the flowers are in full bloom during this period.” They are otherwise sparsely available all through the year.
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The process of making honey requires heavy skills, as well. She says, “when a beehive is found, we collect raw Hetal leaves, make a torch with it and create smoke to drive away the bees. We then take that honey home and take care of it. Since honey does not get spoiled, we can sell it for a long time. But our main occupation is not honey collection. We are mostly agricultural-daily-wage labourers. When there is no other work, I travel from village to village with honey.” She also has a lot of apprehension about the sustainability of this profession in the long run. She sighs, “every day, the forests are being reduced – getting cut in half. It’s very worrisome for people like us – people from tribal communities. Our lives are centred around the forest. It provides our daily bread and sustenance. How do we survive if the forests go away?”
Watch Sandhya Rani and her fellow collectors, hard at work, in the photos below
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow bardh
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.