The impoverished habitants of a Dalit village in Darbhanga district are hoping the new dispensation will care to look in the direction of Kubaul Musahari, a village of Musahars or rat eaters–where nothing has changed over the past several decades.
The village, which comprises 1,500 people of the most backward Dalit community, is forced to subsist on eating snails often, with food grain a scarce commodity.
A typical scene at homes across the village situated some 65 km from Darbhanga in Kiratpur block…
It&’s 6 am and Rani Devi, 35, is worried what to cook for her children as the stock of food grains kept outside her house was destroyed in the floods. She decides to prepare snail soup–a dish almost every villager is forced to depend upon, especially during the monsoon season.
She sends her seven-year-old child to fetch some snails from the nearby marshlands. And when the child returns after half an hour with a plateful of snails, Rani Devi cooks the soup over a chulha (earthen stove). This is the picture in most Musahar homes in Darbhanga. Few opened up to thestatesman.com to share their stories.
“Hamni ke kaiek saal se aise hi rahi chiye, iha kucho nae badalal chiye aau naye aawe wala sal me badali chaye (For several decades we have been living like this. Nothing has changed here and nothing will change even in the future),” Rani Devi said.
During the monsoon, Kubaul Mushari village is cut off from the civilized world. To reach the village, one has to cross several swamps formed due to heavy rains and flooding along the Kosi river region.
“Abhi paniya kam gelai che, naye to ehija paniya chati bhar rahal cheyi, (The water level has come down or else the water level comes up to chest level),” Sanjit Yadav, who resides in a nearby village and arranges a buffalo for us to cross the swamp, said.
“Paniya dubao chaye, ehi se ekara par karke school jaila hamni bhaisiya ke pith pe jai chiye, (During the monsoon, we sit on the buffalos to cross the swamps to reach school),” says Badka, who is 7 and studies in Class 4.
Badka says he has to cross at least three swamps to reach his school, which is 1.5 km from his village.
The village has no toilet and the people defecate in the open. With most of the hand pumps out of order, there is no source of clean drinking water, forcing the people to rely on water collected in the nearby swamp. Adding to their misery, there is no healthcare centre in the village either.
There is no electricity. Residents depend on power supplied through a generator operated in the nearby Yadav-dominated village. The generator owner charges Rs.200 to light a bulb for two hours during the night from 7-9 pm.
“Several times our animals have been electrocuted when the generator power supply cable falls into the water,” Yadav says, adding, “The village goes dead after 8 in the night every day.”
The village community building where most of the people spend their time is in a dilapidated state.
There is no family which hasn’t lost a child in the last couple of years due to lack of medical facilities and malnutrition. The 46 families that thestatesman.com correspondent met had together lost 89 children between ages one to five in the last couple of years due to disease and malnutrition.
Tula Devi, 32, mother of three lost all her three children, two due to malnutrition and one due to miscarriage. “Iha har ghar me tin go bacha na rahai che, je rahai chey u bhagya se bachai che (At least three children have died in every house. And if anyone survives it is just out of luck),” she said.
Asked about the medical facilities being provided by the government, Tula Devi says, “The medical centre is 7 km away. And if there is any emergency one has to carry the patient on a khatiya (wooden cot) on our shoulders to cross the swamp and take them to a doctor.”
“In case of a delivery, sometimes it takes place on the cot,” she added.
A private nursing home one km away from the village provides some generic medicines. It is run by a local, known as Nandu ji, who runs the Asha Kendra Tarwada after being trained by a few senior doctors in the area.
Narayan Jee Chowdhary, a Darbhanga-based social activist who has been working for the upliftment of Musahars community in the area for the last 15-years, says, “Their life is like a hell as they live in miserable conditions. They don’t have any land on which they can depend for their livelihood. The male members have to go to other states to earn money.”
Ramchander Sada, a villager, told thestatesman.com, “We work as laborers in the farm lands of nearby villagers and get paid in grain or Rs.50-100, which is only available during the harvesting season.”
“We face a number of problems. Many times our children fall into the swamps while going to school, even the women slip and fall while into the swamps while carrying grains on their heads from the local dealer. The government or the administration has not even arranged a boat for us to cross the swamp,” Sada adds.
The Musahar community was re-labeled as Mahadalit or extreme backward class in 2007 by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in order to help them, but in reality nothing has changed for them.
“What have we got after being labeled as Mahadalits?” asks Phaguniya Devi, 60, in anger.
“We never got the grains or coupons for the grains and no aid for marrying our children,” she adds, and is joined by the other womenfolk in unison.
Explaining the failures of the government schemes, Chowdhary says, “The state government rolled out many schemes for them. Under the Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Scheme there is provision for providing land for housing, constructing toilets, clean drinking water supply, road connectivity, schools, anganwadi kendras and many more — but it is all only on paper.”
When this reporter asked the villagers about former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who also hails from their community, Sada said, “We felt proud as he was the first person from our community who became chief minister, and after coming to power he at least spoke about our rights.”
But till the government cares to look towards this community, their state is unlikely to change.