Have you seen a village where a bachelor cannot marry if he doesn’t have a sister? If not, then you will have to visit Jogidera village (Tehsil Bilhaur) in Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, this age-old tradition has nothing to do with the much-publicised government campaign of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’.
The ‘daughter saviours’ are snake charmers who simply are unaware about the campaign despite being away only an hour’s drive from state capital Lucknow.
Bizarre it may sound to those so-called affluent and educated couples longing for a son’s birth and willing to spend a huge amount to get a girl child killed in the womb, poverty-stricken snake charmers always pray for the birth of a girl.
Ever since they became disciples of 15th-century saint Guru Gorakhnath, the community has always held women as ‘shakti’ (goddess Parvati) who gives courage to them to tame deadly snakes, cure snakebites, conduct surgery for removing venom of a king cobra and traverse through the most turbulent times of their life.
It is altogether a different story that even after seventy years of independence, this community continues to live a life full of uncertainties and other troubles. Interestingly, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath happens to be ‘mahant’ of this community.
Things were indeed rosy for them in the 20th century, when the rulers of princely states treated them well and sent them overseas to please their British masters by exhibiting ‘rope trick’ that had branded India as the land of snake charmers and propelled many writers to dub India as a nation of semi-nudes with miraculous powers and tricks.
The dawn of independence brought cheers to them like all Indians but within twenty-five years they found themselves marginalised and today the community can best be described as an oppressed and persecuted lot which is on the verge of extinction. The misery came in the form of Wildlife Protection Act- 1972 that deprived them of their age-old means of earning a livelihood.
As their fortune nose-dived, their unconditional love for a baby girl neither dampened nor dispirited. A snake charmer in Jogidera village, tugged away on a dusty road full of potholes and an hour’s drive from the headquarters of Yogi Adityanath who had announced to make UP as ‘gaddha mukt’ (potholes free) state, would prefer to die instead of making a woman as a source of earning.
“After the forest officials started troubling us, we formed ‘naagin’ band to earn money. It was then when our community members decided that only males will give dance performances. We would prefer to die than make a woman dance for earning money,” said Shamsher Nath, who runs Sanju Sapera band and is also the leader of the community.
His counterpart Kamlesh Nath was quick to endorse, “Tradition is our religion. We practice what our forefathers have preached. The ancestors told us not to marry our girls into a family without daughters. For us, this is a diktat we cannot ever overrule.”
Adding on Nath clarified, “Family without daughter is not a bad omen but just destiny or simply an outcome of sins committed in the previous birth.”
Speaking about the tradition of saving the girl child, Kamla Devi said: “I think it is only in our community that we as women get immense respect. In other communities, a woman might get killed for giving birth to a girl child, but in ours, we are literally worshipped for doing so.”
Other women of the community had almost similar thoughts but they had their own set of problems too. LPG cylinders figure at the top of their list of priorities, which are yet to reach Jogidera. They have seen how the cooking lifestyle of women belonging to neighbouring villages has changed due to Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
“All we need is freedom from using the traditional ‘choolah’. Everybody is getting cylinders, I wish that someday we will also cook using cylinders,” said Urmila Nath.
When questioned about their poor condition, Sub-divisional Magistrate Himanshu Gupta had no words about their economic deprivation.
While the community seems to have accepted all this as their destiny, Gupta had no idea at all about their existence. On the pretext of being too busy with election-related work, he simply said better you go to block office if you have any such detail. The block officials happened to be in the ‘field’ for poll-related work.
However, when contacted, Additional District Magistrate (ADM) Virendra Pandey genuinely heard about their plight and even assured to visit the village soon and promised to seek a report from Gupta.
The incredible story of Jogidera leaves one wondering as to where women empowerment resides in India? In the high corridors of power or in the hearts of snake charmers. They are illiterate, poor but innocent, contented and happy. However, they are happy without smartphones, but smartest in turning ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign into a reality unknowingly.