Sultana Parven :
Skin wrinkled, body filled with ornaments glittering. Imprint of old age at furrowed face. By eyes no longer is seen well. Born in this village her body is hump now by spending childhood in this village. Saw rising wall of the village wall inside another wall. It was not possible to see inside outside by jumping that wall urban inside another urban.
Society inside another society village at beside was not seen people there, their moving.
Sufia is happy with so. What reason? Clear reply: ‘did foreign.’ What is that foreign? Going to India following husband. Now this time all go to India by book (passport). At that time when went, there was not book. Sometimes by jumping over barbed wire, sometimes by paying some penny. By such way coming-going was running. Living beside road by making roof. Sometimes at mid night police broke. Sometimes came on consensus by money. After the end of business during long nine months, returns to home along with earned money. Then lethargic three months, inexhaustible time.
By such way Sufia Kamal granny of Par Singra or Manta Para Village of Singra Upazila, Natore was telling the story of life. Not only of Sufia, but also such a number of stories of deprivation from life are there for women of Bede or Manta community. No education. Never had they stepped within the boundary of school. In the manuscript of memory there is only the story of pain. Only at the age of 11 to 12 years, they have to sit on plank of marriage. No education. No dream. No story of life growing within four walls. No freedom. No festival. Although has the body herself but decision by other. All move by restrictions of Sardar (leader). No marriage deed for marriage. No registration.
The bede girls couldn't give in more such living of life captured with the ancient customs. Couldn't obey Sarifa, Antora, girls of this generation. Such hell environment, superstition, surrounded by restrictions; no more feeling well. Their demand is changing. They demand change of many things. But that wall of old customs is very hard. By jumping that wall to dream, they also require permission. unlimited time. No seriousness of business than family char. No studies. Marriage at nine years old, child at ten years old, divorce at eleven years old. Again marriage at twelve. Child at thirteen. Then again divorce. As circling such unbearable life is how much! In this Singra Upazila the Bede community has been living for hundred to hundred fifty years. Approximately 25 thousand people are there. They move by grouping. Catch snakes, show play. Sell herbal medicine and talisman. Made amulet, metal ornament meticulously. No institutional education. They learnt from the nature. Illiteracy-child marriage. No existing rule. Leader is all. His arbitration is the judgment. The life style coming as descendants is their culture. Life is made by lesson from superstitions.
Not only in Natore; but also in Sirajgonj, Bogra, Pabna, Mymensing, Bakhargonj, Noakhali and Savar there are living people of Bede and Manta community permanently by making small villages. We know them as Bede, They are also known as Manta. Among them who are living in Savar they feel better to introduce themselves saying as Manta. Again the Manta community of Singra, Natore they called themselves as a clan of Bede community. Some of these people thought that their ancestors are from Arab. But in research it is said that, who are known as Bede, Manta, Byalgrahi in this country, they are not from Iran or Arab, they are people of this country as birth. Since before many Christian eras they are living on snake, making herbal medicine & talisman, selling metal made amulet. In the pre-historical deed of the Before Christian era also its proof is clear.
But the people of these communities living in Bangladesh are of Islam religion. Gypsy. Additional to certain places, they are also seen in different areas of the country, open field, rail line or beside river bank living as grouped. In every community there is enough similarity in values. Kinship is firm. Moving as grouped, leadership customs, arbitration, marriage, religious thought and social cultural program means life styles are same.
Bede or Manta, whatever we call, girls of this community are falling behind compared with boys. Maximum age of marriage for girls is 14 years and minimum 10 to 11 years. Most of the girls are got married within 11 to 12 years. And the marriage of boys is within 15 to 16 years. For their marriage no marriage deed is registered. Since they are Muslims, hence marriage is solemnized by huzur of the village mosque. In the marriage ceremony the village leaders remain present there.
Not only the restriction of sardar of community; the sardars of village have control also upon them. Even one year before in their marriage ceremony there were village lyrics, dances, songs. Songs were singing through horn. Even by order of the village leader there is running the custom of giving Tk 40,000 as mohrana (dower) in marriage. If these orders denied then there is a rule of paying fine as per family status. Although in this restriction the children of new generation have disinterest. But they have no courage for protest. The order of the village leader is all here. Snake, roots, talisman: Professional life begins since 11 years old. Since they don’t go to school, hence from the childhood they engaged with work with father. 99 per cent people of this community are in that similar profession for about 150 years. They demanded themselves as kabiraj (herbal doctor). Now a day, in their business recession is there. Therefore, many times they went to different provinces of India. Particularly in Kalkata and Orissa. Nine months of the year they have to live in India. They live there by making roof beside road. Some make ID card issued to avoid police harassment.
If asked what is type of business- people of this community informed that, made medicine by trees, bones of different animals. By this pain, heart diseases, particularly the bite of fox, snake, long time fever, mental problem are treated. They made medicine themselves and sell by sitting on road. There (India) this business is much good. In terms of that, from one side they are living; like that they brought foreign currency to the country also. Even the life standard of them developed 40 per cent compared with previous as said. But at present in that business there is recession is going on. Cause, people are no longer believed these medicine and talisman. Therefore they tried for other business. But they have no institutional and proper education, so they couldn’t.
Child marriage is the rule: It is known from discussion with the people of this community that, age of marriage for their daughters is maximum 14 years and minimum 10 to 11 years. But the boys got married at 17 years old. In this child marriage of age by age the girls have no objection. Boys are also happy. In their marriage no marriage deed, no registration. Since they are Muslims, hence marriage is solemnized by huzur of the village mosque. In the marriage ceremony the village leaders remain present there. Even one year before in their marriage ceremony there were village lyrics, dances, songs. Songs were singing through horn. Neighboring people of 10 villages could know the information of that marriage. But now that is not existed. By order of the leaders of village since a last one year, dances, songs, horn singing in marriage ceremony have been stopped. Even by order of the village leader there is running the custom of giving 40 forty thousand taka as mohrana (dower) in marriage.
In this regard the leaders of village informed that, by considering the religious matters this decisions have been taken. If these orders denied then there is a rule of paying fine as per family status. To obey the decision of village leaders they have no objection. But the children of new generation are angry with such order. Disagree to obey too. They demanded the opportunity of education and for stopping the child marriage.
According to them, what rule restrictions have been coming for such a long days, those are pushing them more behind. Creating obstacle to living a beautiful life.
In divorce also strange condition: As par survey, among the bede and manta community, divorce is comparatively more. But this community is disagreeing to obey it. But in the divorce also there strange rule. Like marriage, divorce is also will be effective in presence of sardar (village leader). Boys and girls could give divorce mentioning proper cause. But if boys gave divorce, then they have to pay their 50 per cent property to the girls. In this clan, 94 per cent marriage solemnized among themselves.
Now days, some marriages are occurring outside their clan as hidden. In such case, if boy and girl got married by as fleeing, then the sardar in the presence of two families again solemnized that marriage. In such marriage, the wish of girl gets priority.
Laws rules by own: The people of this community have also vote right. Many voters gave vote. Considering that, they are citizen of this country. They are bound to comply with laws rules of this country. But that not happens. Their all judgment arbitration has been done by their sardar. In that case, by taking one member from the big families a team is formed. That team has a chief and deputy chief and one Choukider. This Chowkider before starting meeting informed that to all families going there. Whatever large problem is occurred; the entrance of police is prohibited in their village. All the responsibility of judgment is done by the team under the leadership of that sardar. Even over the judgment of sardar none able to say something. For judgment arbitration this team didn't take any wage or taka paisa. But being happy there is a rule to entertain them with foods. Although there is physical punishment, but rare. Even, killing, woman harassment, rape or women oppression are hardly there.
Losing own language: Once upon a time there was a regional language mixed with bengali means this community had an own language. Still 50-80 years old people speak in that language. But gradually that language is declining. People of community now live in which region, speak in language of that region (such- Natore, Singra, etc). They are used to ‘tui’ (you) in approaching little-elder all. In approaching people outside their clan also generally use ‘tui.’
Jewelry, ornaments, paraphernalia: The people of this community feel well to wear very much jewelry & colored dress. Boys and girls wear three-four nos. ear rings. At the nose of girls two-three nos. nose pin are there. Mall at leg, Bicha at waist and hairs are tied in various cutting style. Generally in afternoon, girls decorate themselves much. Since six-seven years girls of this community are wearing burka as observed. Now outside the village 95 per cent girls wear burka. But this go was not before there.
No self culture, thinking power also limited: Originally this community comes of river. People of this community live sporadic in line of boat floating in river or in open space adjacent to river side. But in Singra Upazila of Natore people of this community are living permanently for 100 to 120 years. The sardars of the village think, as they are Muslim, hence songs, dance, poem reciting etc. cultures or entertainment are not good.
Therefore they don't go in that way. One or two watch television or go to school for learning, without these there is no way to exercise culture here. Traditionally Muslims are performing those religious festivals, they also perform those. Among them patriotism, thinking power, modern education thought are limited.
They have no eagerness in education: In Manta Para, two Ananda Schools and two Mosques are there. Among children of this community the rate of education is only 5 per cent. Among them one studies honors and another BBA. In last year, three person passed Higher Secondary Examination and five in Secondary. Among them only one is girl. In class IX two are studying.
They said, from today five-seven years before also parents don't think about study. To children also, education had no importance. But now a day, although parents think about studies, children don't want to go school as said by parents of this bede rural. In two Ananda School, at present 37 students are studying. Among them, in Class I 11 persons, in Class II 6 persons, in Class III 7 persons, in Class IV 4 persons and in Class V 9 persons. They think, Class V means very much education. Children of Bede rural informed that, they don't like feel well to study. But they study Arabic, study Seepara. Among them many don’t know clock. They have no eagerness in news or learning program, also don’t understand. n
(Sultana Parven, Principal, HMJA Commerce College, Bogra)