Amid incidents of communal conflicts in parts of the country, people in a tiny hamlet in Dhanbad district are sowing seeds of love and peace. Around 40 Muslim families in Vikhrajpur village of Baliapur block, 20 km from district headquarters, have been growing flowers and weaving garlands for Hindu temples in and around the district for the past four decades. The families depend on flower cultivation for their livelihood, said a farmer Sheikh Samsuddin.
“We supply flowers and garlands to a trader in Jharia township, who then sells the wreaths to agents of different temples as per requirement,” he said, adding that the garlands were sold at Rs 5 per piece. On occasions such as Ram Navami and Durga puja, the farmers often shoulder the responsibility of decorating the temples free of cost. Dayashankar Dubey, a priest at a local Kali temple in Jharia, said the farmers in Vikhrajpur had never failed to deliver wreaths during festivities.
“The temple committee tries to compensate their contribution in different ways,” he added. Communal tension has never deterred them from supplying flowers to the temples. “This is the question of our livelihood… No communal strife in the last 40 years has stopped us from growing or selling flowers,” said Md Safi, another cultivator. There have been occasions though when the farmers were pressurised to change their profession.
“Pressure comes from different quarters to switch profession and sell profitable items like vegetables or cash crops, but the villagers here are sentimentally attached to flower trade,” said Anwar Ali, a villager. Ali, however, admits that the money earned from the trade is not enough to provide for his family. “We have to look for a side business to support our families because flowers don’t bloom round the year,” he said.
Saukat Ali, who has been engaged in the flower trade for more than two decades, is of the view that the farmers can cater to the needs of temples across the state if provided with proper irrigation facilities. “The government officials have visited us five times in the last 10 years and promised to look into our demands. No help, however, arrived so far,” he rued.
Echoing similar sentiments, social activist Anwar Ali Khan said the farmers had approached former BDO Kundan Bhagat and former deputy commissioner Ajay Kumar Singh several times in the past but to no avail. Baliapur Block Development Officer (BDO) Dhiraj Prakash, who assumed office a week ago, said no one had approached him for help so far. “I have recently learned about them (flower farmers) and would try to help them under the MNREGA scheme,” he added.