Most marginalised of them all

Hapless lot: Members of Mushahar community, at a meeting in Hyderabad on Wednesday.

Hapless lot: Members of Mushahar community, at a meeting in Hyderabad on Wednesday.  

Suresh Krishnamoorthy

HYDERABAD: Until four years ago, they did not even know that they were entitled to a ration card. Even now many DMs (District Magistrates) in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh do not acknowledge them as a community at all. That is the story of a class of people numbering about 10 lakh each in these States, considered ‘Dalits among the Dalits’.

They are the hapless souls from the ‘Mushahar’ community, who find a place way down in the list of Scheduled Castes and are now fighting to be included as Scheduled Tribes, relentlessly struggling against the Government. The name of the community is split into ‘Musa’ and ‘Aahaar’ (translates into rat and food in English). While one school of thought considers them as ‘rat-eaters’, the other says these people hunt for rat-holes and steal the rodents’ hoard of grain to stave off hunger.

Appalling ignorance

If ‘Mushahars’ in some districts like Maharajganj and Kusinagar are marginally empowered, it is thanks to the external intervention in the form of the NGO. “We came to know about our eligibility for BPL (Below Poverty Line) cards and ‘Antyodaya’ cards only recently,” says Bikhari Prasad (26), a community leader.

For someone who is illiterate, he displays surprising levels of political understanding. Ask him what he takes back after the conclave and pat comes the reply “We will take back the experiences of other marginalised groups from other parts of India that we have heard in the past four days. We need to struggle together and form a people’s alliance to tackle poverty and uncaring Governments.”

Durga (26), a ‘Mushahar’ and a cluster leader of ActionAid, has left behind in her village a husband who runs a kirana shop, to be able to attend the conclave. However, she has her one year-old daughter Ragini with her. She says until three years ago, they did not even know what ‘vaccination’ meant. “Our struggle thus far has resulted in a promise from the DM that we will soon get an Anganwadi centre in Dhuriabhat, our village,” she says.

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