interview | Fr Tomy Nishaant Kolkata

‘Political parties have used Mahadalits as vote bank for decades’

As political parties in Bihar are vying with each other to woo the Mahadalit votes, The Hindu caught up with Fr (Prof.) Tomy Nishaant, a Jesuit priest of the Patna Province of the Society of Jesus, who has written a book on Musahars, “Musahars: a Noble People, a Resilient Culture”. Excerpts:

How are the Musahars significant in a State like Bihar?

The Musahars are the third largest Scheduled Caste group in Bihar, after the Chamars and Dusadhs. According to Census 2011, they are about 27.25 lakh... they must be 35-40 lakh by now. Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi is of the opinion that they will not be less than 60 lakh. They are densely populated in districts like Gaya, Madhepura, Khagaria, Purnea. In reserved Assembly constituencies here, the Musahars have a big say in the election. In 2015, six MLAs were from this community. The Musahars and Rajwars are offshoots of the Bhuiya tribe and if we put all of them together, they will be the largest SC group in Bihar who can bargain for a bigger share of the political cake.

Who was the first member from Musahar community to contest election in Bihar and how politically conscious is this community today?

Kiray Musahar was the first one to contest the first Lok Sabha election in 1952 from Madhepura on a Socialist Party ticket. He fought and won against the Congress. After that we had many prominent leaders like late Misri Sada, late Naval Kishor Bharati, late Bhagawati Devi, Jitan Ram Manjhi. There were 6.5% SC MLAs in 1952 but in 2010 and 2015, there are 23% and 15.4% respectively.

Have the successive State governments done something for their upliftment?

All the governments keep promising and announcing schemes. But when we look at the ground reality, it is a dismal picture. However, one good thing that happened in the previous RJD government was that many benefited from the Indira Awas Scheme. This is due to Lalu Prasad Yadav, who asked them to build their own houses in three stages instead of asking the contractors. This ensured the participation of people’s labour and construction of rather liveable houses. In the last 15 years, the Nitish government did start schemes in the name of the Mountain Man, Dashrath Manjhi. But I do not think that the Musahars benefited much as the middlemen looted quite a big percentage. Lack of enlightened and empowered leadership among the Musahars is also a big drawback.

Do you think political parties use Musahars as a vote bank?

No doubt at all. This has been happening for decades.

Have the Musahars been deceived even by leaders from their own community?

As far as I know, Misri Sada, Naval Kishore Bharati and Bhagawati Devi lived a very simple life and cared for their people. The modern leaders are absorbed by the present system.

Despite so much focus on Musahars, why has their condition remained the same?

Lack of empowering and enlightening education. No political mobilisation as it happened in the case of Paswans (Ram Vilas Paswan). Centuries of oppression resulting in a rather dead consciousness and lack of motivation. Caste oppression: the dominant castes conferred the name Musahars which is derogatory. They are victims of severe caste discriminations and exclusions. No effective land distribution. Almost 95% of Musahars are landless labourers. If they were given land, they would have been much stronger.

What prompted you to write this book?

I lived with the Musahars of Sikandarpur village, Danapur block, for 10 months in 1989-1990. What I could not understand was that though these people were subjected to abject poverty, illiteracy, landlessness, alcoholism, malnutrition, ill health, they did not show much interest in the developmental schemes of the government as well as the initiatives of Manthan, an NGO, of which I was part of. I wanted to find out the reasons for their apathy, their exclusion from mainstream. I believe that this will accelerate their integral liberation.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 10:30:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/political-parties-have-used-mahadalits-as-vote-bank-for-decades/article32719203.ece

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