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Gachhi [Courtesy: M Monirul H Khan]

Gachhi an occupational group engaged in extraction of tree juice, planting and cleaning of shrubs. Gachhis in rural Bangladesh are frequently found to collect juice from khejur gachh (date palm trees), or to climb tal gachh (palmyra palm trees) for collection of juice or bringing down fruits. The gachhis, also called pashis or shiulis, extract juice from date palm trees by first scraping the soft part of the tree just below the cluster of leaves with a da (chopper) and then inserting a short bamboo pipe into it to allow the flow of juice in drops into a vessel fixed to the tree. The incision is made every evening and the juice is collected every morning. The juice is sweet and refreshing only at the early morning. But if after collection in the morning, it is stored for some two hours or more, it gradually ferments and becomes an intoxicating drink popularly known as tari.

The juice of the date palms is largely turned into gud (molasses) by being boiled in a vat. A special variety is the patali, a hardened circular cake of molasses generally consumed with rice and milk. Sugar candy is also made from molasses. The small amount of juice extracted by gachhis from the palmyra palm trees has the same use as the juice of the date palms. The hardened sugar mould prepared from the juice of the palmyra palm is locally called talmisri. The fermented juice of palmyra palm is more intoxicating and is a more favoured tari to many, especially in urban slums.

Gachhis in some areas of Bangladesh are often engaged in the work of bunching sugarcane stems in the plantation fields so that they do not fall on the ground while growing. Traditionally, they also collect juice from the sugarcane for sale as drink or for processing into gud. Gachhis use two round shaped wooden blocks worked by a pair of bullocks to crush sugarcane. The juice is then boiled in a large vessel to concentrate into gud.

However, the juice of sugarcane is now produced in crushing machines and a good number of sugar mills have been established for making sugar out of sugarcane juice. Gachhis have now become an almost extinct community and the work of gachhis, especially collection of juice from the date and palmyra trees or cleaning shrubs from coconut trees, is done by any rural dweller, who has earned the skill through doing the work some two or three times. [Gofran Faroqi]