The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nomads off beaten track

Behrampore, Feb. 6: The ordeal the nomad families faced in Cooch Behar in the past week, caught between the guns drawn by the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles, is something the groups are gradually learning to avoid at the cost of livelihood.

Used to living for generations in a world without boundaries, pitching their tents to sell charms and herbal cures, enthralling villagers with their music, magic, jugglery and handling of snakes, these gypsies — bede in Bangla — are now coming to grips with a new reality.

Rajinder Bede arrived here yesterday with a group of about 25 and pitched his tent on the roadside. “For quite a few days we were camping near the border at Bongaon but did not get a chance to enter Bangladesh, unlike other years when no one stopped us from walking across and back. This time, it was very tense along the area, we could sense it and decided to come here instead,” he said.

“Both are our land, we belong to wherever we can find means to earn a living. We have seasons. Around this time, we camp in Bangladesh to collect birds and honey. A month later, when the harvest is over, we sell medicinal plants and charms to villagers,” the nomad said.

The other members of Rajinder’s group said for about six months every year they roam the streets of Khulna, Chuadanga, Kusthia, Meherpur and other parts of Bangladesh.

They return once the “season” is over at the onset of monsoon. Once back in India, they travel the length of Bengal, from East Midnapore to North Dinajpur.

Camped on a field adjacent to National Highway 34 was another group of gypsies where Hazrat Bede sat smoking a bamboo pipe.

“We have been travelling on well-laid out paths for generations. We wanted to move towards Bangladesh when we heard from another group that it was mighty difficult to cross over, the situation was so tight that even the police (the BSF or the BDR) were refusing to be bribed to let us through,” Hazrat said.

Hazrat’s wife Pankari was worried that her father-in-law, Bhola, was still in Bangladesh.

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