Who are Musahar?
Musahar, known for hunting and eating rats, are one of those communities who, by virtue of atrocities of caste based discrimination and untouchability, are most backward in social, economic, educational, political and religious fields and are deprived of human dignity and social justice. Musahar constitute 2.2 million populations and are the third largest group within the Scheduled Caste population in Bihar, India.
The law & the truth
For them, the majesty of Parliament or the State Assembly had no meaning. The only authority that controlled the lives of the Musahars was the Zamindar, or landlord, on whose fields they worked.
India is a party to several human rights related instruments including the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial discrimination. The Indian Constitution has ensured the Right against Untouchability and Racial discrimination as fundamental rights. But, the implementation of it is very weak. Still, there are number of practises prevalent in Indian Society that contain discrimination against Musahar. The classic examples of it was seen when idols and premises of Parmeshwari Village in Madhubani district were washed and purified within half an hour of visit of Jitan Ram Manjhi, the first Mahadalit former Chief Minister of Bihar.
Right to Education
The Right to Education Act 2009, emphasized on the equal opportunity for all the children to acquire education. However, Studies revealed that Musahar children are deprived of even the basic rights of survival. They are not only discriminated by non-scheduled caste populous but by their scheduled caste counterparts as well. Even teachers and staff members expressed reluctance regarding the admission of Musahar children. They remarked “Yeh, sab Jati kay log humare yaha nhi aatay hai”. Teachers appear to have a preconceived notion against Musahar children that they are eligible only for rag picking and are unfit for any other occupation. Literacy rate among this community is 9.8%, the lowest among Dalits in the Country.
The Government of Bihar initiated a special scholarship provision to provide Rs. 1200/ per annum to each Musahar student for their educational development. But, due to delay in distribution of scholarships in school, all went to waste. Even, the confusion of their identity in the documents deterred them from availing the scheme. The irregular distribution of text books added to their misery.
Access to land and natural resources and extreme poverty
Land is the principal asset for determining an Individual’s social status and standard of living. Musahar’s land holdings are small; and the landlessness among the Musahar is extreme. Most Musahar victims of violence and discrimination are agriculturalists and occupational labourers who are generally landless. About 96.3% of them in Bihar are landless and 92.5% work as farm labour. Musahars comprise the poorest community in India, in terms of all poverty measures- income, consumption and human development.
Livelihood and Employment
Almost all the Musahar are dependent on elementary occupations for their livelihood. This indicates that they have been excluded from better employment opportunities. The lower status of education and discrimination become barriers to obtain better jobs for Musahar. They are de facto denied the right to earn a livelihood by running business of their own interest.
Right to Health
If education was indifferent, health care was close to non-existent. Though, government initiated Integrated Child Development Services but primary health centres in the vicinity are understaffed and lack even the most basic medication. They are forced to district headquarters for expensive private health care others search in the jungle and use some herbs till illness supersedes life.
Role of the State
While India is making rapid socio and economic development, Musahar’s are still not allowed to live anywhere in Bihar except in hamlets earmarked exclusively for them in unhygienic conditions.
This brings us to the role of State. Its poor enforcement of laws and implementation of programmes for Musahar welfare points towards the lack of political will. Various studies on Musahar disclose the failure of many state driven imaginative development schemes led by local elites and former landlords.
National Labour laws such as the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, is routinely violated. There is little evidence of effort made by state and district administrations to enforce the law, by taking punitive action against those who violate it. Similarly, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 remains a dead letter as various forms of bondage being widely practised against Musahar. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is ideally suited to provide Musahar with livelihood security they need, taking into account their chronic vulnerabilities. But many do not hold the Job cards. Few get employment (NREGA) but that too is for a limited durations- average 7 days a year. Uthan Kendras, established to act as bridging system to get out-of-school children into the school system are poorly planned and managed. The condition of Mahila Akshar Anchal Yojna which is promulgated to educate women is even worse.
The Way Forward
It is thereby necessary that the government and society join hands to come out with a different way to attract Musahar children to schools and create a comfortable environment. A political will is imperative which is absent in today’s time. They are merely seen as vote bank by many parties, therefore civil society groups and International Human Rights Community’s support in this regard is crucial.
It is the community of people with great potential. It is the community of people like Dashrath Manjhi who made a road across a mountain, amid rocky terrain in the remote Atri block of Gaya, Bihar, with just a hammer and a chisel and crowbars, so that people could have access to hospital.
Authored by Mr Aman Chachan (Fourth Year Learner, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA)
The author in his endeavor to closely understand the plight of the Musahar community has conducted field visits to 3 Musahar villages.