Near Kasganj, Gangajalis Sustain Livelihoods and Communal Harmony
The Hindus and Muslims of Kadarbadi are aware of the Kasganj violence, but remain undeterred by it.
Dulu Mian (55) dips one end of a thin, hollow metal pipe into the wood-fired furnace. He pulls out a dollop of the blazing orange molten mass before gently blowing into the pipe. The glowing tip inflates but just long enough for Dulu Mian to swing the blowpipe for the molten mass to elongate about five inches.
As he puffs into the pipe again, the blob magically widens at the base, taking the shape of a container with a wide base and a long snout. Soon, the glowing orange blob assumes the shape of an elegant, ocean green container – somewhat resembling a round bottom-flask – which Dulu Mian places in a pit for cooling.
Around Dulu Mian and his 18-year-old son, Mohammad Guddu, lie hundreds of these glass containers, locally called Gangajali, which are ready to be shipped out in large wicker baskets.
The Brotherhood Between Hindus and Muslims
Welcome to Kadarbadi, a village with close to 500 houses, off Soron and about 20 kms from Kasganj, where the 50-odd Muslim families manufacture Gangajali, used by Hindu pilgrims and kanwariyas to carry gangajal during socio-religious festivals.
“Yahan toh Hindu-Muslim bhaichara hai (there is Hindu-Muslim amity in Kadarbadi). What better example will you find than Gangajali-making in which Muslims manufacture the containers for unknown, anonymous Hindu pilgrims who frequent Soron,” asks Ajay Pal Singh, a Baghel by caste, sitting on an upraised mud platform under the thatched roof hut which doubles up as a rudimentary factory and homestead for Dulu Mian.
All the Muslims, including the womenfolk and girls, who should otherwise be in school, are involved in Gangajali-making in this overwhelmingly Hindu-dominated village.
The Hindu and Muslim villagers alike are fully aware of last month’s communal disturbances in Kasganj, but that has neither come in the way of inter-community relations nor in the manufacturing of Gangajali, which is a source of income for the skilled Muslim artisans.
It is this enduring cross-cutting cleavage that has held Hindu-Muslim relations in Kadarbadi on an even keel.
“The manufacturing process begins with Deepawali when winter is about to set in and Hindus reach Soron in droves to perform their rites and rituals. The work season ends on Shivratri, after which we return to toil on our agricultural fields,” says Dulu Mian’s eldest son Asif Siddiqui, sitting next to the furnace in an adjoining hut, as his daughter, smeared in dust and ash, pushes in blocks of wood to keep the furnace pit burning.
Does making Gangajali for the Hindus trouble the Muslims’ religious sentiments? “Hum toh Ganga ko maante hain. Humein khana milta hai. Humein kyun ajeeb lagega? (We believe in the Ganges. It provides us food. Why should we feel strange?)” responds 36-year-old Irfan Hussein Siddiqui as he plucks out a small blob of molten glass, transforming it to Gangajali in a few minutes.
Besides serving the purpose of Gangajali-making, the baked-earth ovens have another important function: potatoes are roasted for lunch and tea is warmed when guests, such as us, come calling. In an entire day, each artisan family ends up spending Rs 1,200 on firewood.
Hectic Work Days Leave No Time for Violence
For wholesale bulk orders, a Gangajali is priced at Rs 3 per piece. Once the baniyas of Soron receive their shipments, the retail price touches Rs 10 a piece. Each Muslim family hut makes 300 pieces a day. Work begins long before the sun is up – at 3:30 am – when steps are taken to fire-up the furnaces.
The hectic pace and the monotony involved in the process does not leave any time to be spared for even reading the obligatory namaz.
Among the Muslims of Kadarbadi, Mohammad Suleiman is in charge of logistics. He makes about five to six trips each day, packing the Gangajalis in a large wicker basket, before delivering the consignments to Hindu traders in Soron, a distance of about 5 kms. He makes Rs 400 a day delivering Gangajalis and does sundry labour jobs during “off season”.
The Muslims of this village – which takes its name from the nearby Kadar Peer, where lies the mazaar of a sufi saint called Sayyed Baba – say that they take part in Hindu festivals and social functions. Several Hindus of Kadarbadi gather at the mazaar during Urs when qawwalis are sung in praise and glory of sufi saints.
“Muslims offer subscriptions for Hindu religious occasions. We do invite each other and there is mutual respect but having food at each other’s homes is a strict no-no,” Irfan Hussein admits and quickly emphasises that the disturbances in Kasganj have had no effect on Muslims and Hindus of Kadarbadi.
“Apne ko phursat nahin kaam se. Kya fayeda hai jhagda karne se? (We do not have time to spare for things other than work. What use is to fight among ourselves?),” quips Munna Khan as he instructs his son Afzal to fix a defect that he has detected in a fresh piece of Gangajali which the latter was about to slip into the cooling pit.
While the Hindu pilgrims who come to Soron from other north Indian states may not be aware of the toil of Muslims, well-known locals in nearby Fatehpur village, such as Julian Gardner – two of whose more illustrious British forefathers, Colonel William Linnaeus Gardner and his son James Gardner married Muslim women – have “never heard of any tension” in Kadarbadi.
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