Even today in the darker areas there are few castes among the Dalits of Uttar pradesh and Bihar who live in abject poverty and social isolation. Economic vulnerability, malnutrition, ill health, disease illiteracy, hard labour etc. are such words which are crowed in the dictionary of these people. Musahars, according to some anthropological accounts, draw their antecedents from the Kol tribe of Chhotanagpur (in Jharkhand), having migrated to paddy cultivable areas of what is currently Bihar, probably from the 12th century, and have been the single largest source of agricultural labour in the region since.
As goes the record, today, the Musahar are a scheduled caste community and mainly landless agricultural labourers. According to the 1981 Census of Government of India, their state-wise population are- in Bihar 13.91 lakhs, in Uttar Pradesh 1.26 lakhs.
What enables such an abject poverty, of the kind suffered by Musahars, to endure in India? Why cannot the poorest abstain themselves from the poverty trap, even across generations, despite policies and programmes, and economic and political changes and opportunities all around?
The prism of chronic poverty is used to understand the drivers and maintainers of poverty, such as poor asset base and weak capabilities, and structural factors like unequal land distribution and caste hierarchies, which hold back marginalized communities from making use of newer opportunities. In Bihar, Musahars can be traced in several districts Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Champaran, Hazaribagh, Santal Pargana, Bhagalpur, Munger, Purnea and Gaya etc. Known by their numerous names commonly rat eaters, pig rearers etc
Even today, poverty and inequality are attached in the social structure, with upper castes having the power over much of the assets and opportunities. Each Musahar (indeed, Dalit) family is linked to a grihasta family, in some sort of a symbiotic (but unequal) relationship between the two, which is wholly disadvantageous for the Musahar. Typically, the Musahar family (kamia or mazdoor), lives on land belonging to the landlord. In return the owner has first right over the kamia’s labour, for work on fields or minding cattle or household chores, at a significantly reduced daily wage rate of `25–40 per day, paid mostly in kind. Mostly, owners are the moneylenders that entrap the hapless kamia Musahar.
There are other such forms of dependence too, such as Musahars having to use common lands in villages (ghairmazrua land)—that are mostly occupied illegally by upper caste families—or use land belonging to upper caste farmers, for reasons as varied as grazing livestock or meeting the call of nature, even to use ponds and water bodies for bathing and washing, and for livestock.
EMPOWERING THE MUSAHARS
For a positive change, a strong institution of the poor enabling effective social mobilization, which underlies all successful cases of Musahars to transform their condition would require unprecedented social mobilization. This would definitely require serious and sustained investment in education policies, programmes to create the awareness, aspiration and capacity to enable the Musahars to become agents of change.
In today’s era, the ideas of development and developmental strategies have undergone imperative changes. Both formal and non-formal agencies go hand in hand in order to extend and meet the demand of an all round development of a society viz-a-viz the nation. The poverty stricken marginal communities and their vulnerability have been the legacy of Indian Democracy from time immemorial. However its high time that we as a society seek to change the country.
Apoorva Priyadarshini, Student Editor- Legal Desire