Patna (IANS): The Musahar community in Bihar is up in arms against a government proposal to promote rat farming for their uplift, saying the move would keep them where they had always been - at the bottom of India's socio-economic heap.
They have urged the state government to abandon the project. "We want to use the computer mouse rather than adopt rat farming. Times have changed; we are eager to change our lives through information technology," Rashtriya Musahar-Bhuyian Vikash Parishad convener Umesh Manjhi told IANS.
"At a time when people were talking about India's moon mission Chandrayaan-1, it's unfortunate that the Bihar government is planning to start rat farming for Dalits. We will oppose it," he said.
Manjhi said the government's move to start rat farming would end up keeping them backward.
The community derives its name from the practice of eating rats and usually hunt for them in paddy fields.
An estimated 2.3 million Musahars live across Bihar in extremely poor condition. Less than five percent of them are literate and most of them make a living as labourers. They are still considered social untouchables despite a law against it.
The government had announced its intention to popularise rat farming in the state by involving Dalits to help improve their economic status.
But the Musahar community is unhappy. "The poor among the Dalits need education, vocational courses, and not rat farming," said Parishad general secretary Rajender Manjhi.
The state government has announced a pilot project to popularise rat meat in Bihar.
Commercialising rat meat is part of the state government's efforts to uplift Dalit communities that constitute nearly 15 percent of this eastern India state's population of 83 million.
"Rat meat is available in the Mokama riverine areas and roadside hotels in Danapur in Patna district. It is called 'patal-bageri' and is in good demand," social welfare department principal secretary Vijay Prakash said.
Ahmedabad: The state may be rich when it comes to housing policies and schemes for the under-privileged. But in reality, most of it is on paper. The poor, especially the Dalits, still await a roof over their heads. About a lakh or more houses are needed to shelter the safai karamcharis in Gujarat. There are over 12,000 manual scavengers and about 65,000 sweepers in the state. In Ahmedabad alone, about 80 per cent of these people do not have a house.
Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana (VAMBAY), an initiative of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was launched by the Central Government with a motive to house the valmiki samaj, who are placed at the bottom of the social ladder and live below the poverty line. Nevertheless, after a few constructions by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)
and the Ahmedabad Development Authority (AUDA), the scheme is virtually non-existent.
"We have achieved the target estimate and finished constructing 2,176 units in Sardarnagar, Ranip, Vastrapur, Jodhpur and other areas. We do not know if the scheme has stopped functioning, but there has been no construction under the scheme for the last four years," said officials from the Estate Department of AUDA.
VAMBAY was a joint scheme by the Centre and the state government, which had to fund constructions through subsidies and loans. AUDA had received Rs 544 lakh from the Centre to build houses, and the cost of construction of a house ranged between Rs 40,000 and Rs 80,000. "VAMBAY has been now merged with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Since a parallel scheme had been running for the urban poor, we stopped constructing houses under this scheme," said Anand Patel, the Additional City Chief Engineer of the AMC.
"A few houses had been constructed for the valmiki samaj a few years ago. But today, there is only EWS (economically weaker sections) housing for the poor," added AMC officials.
It is worth mentioning that a target estimate of 3,000 houses for safai karamcharis was mentioned in the AMC budget under the VAMBAY scheme. The AMC constructed only 1,024 houses in the city and discontinued construction on the pretext of constructing the remaining under JNNURM.
Contrary to AMC's claims, H P Mishra, director, Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal, said: "VAMBAY was initiated to build houses for the Dalits and the valmiki samaj. It was clearly mentioned that under the scheme, safai karamcharis will get the first preference when the houses are allotted. Although the government claims that there are no manual scavengers in Gujarat, there is a huge chunk of people still working in the gutters."
Dalits in Gujarat say their dead have no place to rest in peace
Banaskantha Runi, nearly 25 km from the Rajasthan border, is a village that has always acted as a breeding ground of politicians. Although the village has seen a lot of development, the Dalits have a different story to tell. Their main complaint—they do not know if their dead are actually laid to rest. Unlike high-caste Hindus, who have well-developed crematoriums, thanks to the Rs 5 lakh grant under the Panchvati Yojana of the state government, Dalits from nine separate categories still follow their age-old custom of burying the dead. But their burial ground has been encroached upon by the village high school that has left little space to bury the dead. The story is similar in over 60 villages under Dhanera taluka of Banaskantha district.
Varsha Ganguly, who heads the Ahmedabad-based Behavioural Science Centre (BSC), said: "The divide is evident, even in the eyes of the government. The reason: in the Hindu religion, last rites are always understood as cremation. The government has not even cared about regularising burial lands for Dalits."
The divide exists everywhere in the state. According to the BSC, there are nearly 18,100 villages in Gujarat; of these around 5,000 have no legal burial ground for the Dalits.
Bharat Dhabi, a resident of Runi said: "They have funds for the upper castes—those who cremate their dead—but not for our community. We have been using the burial ground for a century now."
He added, "Runi Gram Panchayat had allotted around 8.5 acres of land to Matrushree Vidyalaya—a private high school. However, the school authorities have encroached upon nearly 1.5 acres."
Elsewhere, in Ruppur village under Chanasma taluka of Patan district, Valji Patel of the Council for Social Justice recounts how a Dalit burial ground located there was taken over by the Nirma trust. Incidentally, Karsan Patel, the founder of Nirma, belongs to this place, said Patel.
Even as Dalits have been burying their dead for such a long time now, it is not regularised by the state government. As a result, the land is now considered a wasteland, Patel said. Interestingly, the price of burial lands at Ruppur has increased. The reason: with the construction of a national highway connecting Chanasma and Patan, around 1.5 acres of Dalit burial land came to the front.
"Settlements were made between the Gram Panchayat and the trust, and the land was given to the latter, last year, to develop a garden," Patel said. He added: "We started a 30-day agitation at the collectors office and also filed a petition in the high court, last year.
Inquiry was ordered against the district collector. Land, however, was not allotted. Instead of the piece of land lying adjacent to the highway, a small patch in the interior of the village was given to the Dalits ."
The institute has now taken this matter to the Supreme Court, said Patel.
Despite the fact that the Revenue Department had passed a Government Resolution in September 1989 to consider 1972 as the year for earmarking land for burial, nothing seems to have been done so far.
"Apart from the Revenue Department, the Dalits have to approach the Health Department also to regularise land for burial, but this provided the decaying bodies do not spread any disease. Quite ironically, Gram Panchayats in several villages have allotted residential land that are in close proximity to burial lands," said Manu Pandya, a local volunteer associated with BSC.
In Odha village of Banaskantha district, the Gram Panchayat has allotted a residential zone just adjacent to the previously existing burial ground.
Leela Solanki (40), a widow from Odhav village witnessed a gory scene when the body of her three-year-old son was accidentally exhumed by the plough of a farmer from the Patel community. "My husband was alive when the incident happened a few years ago. He died a few days later," she said.
Fakir Vaghela is the state's Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment of SCs and Socially and Economically Backward Classes. He also holds the portfolio of Sports and Youth and Cultural Activities. Although Vaghela is aware of this problem faced by the Dalits, he was unaware of the status. P Panneervel, Principal Secretary, State Revenue Department, was not available for his comments.
The reality, at the end of the day, is that the tale of woes of the Dalits does not seem to have an end right now. When asked about this, Leela said: "My son, Mahesh, and I work as farm labourers. We get two bags of wheat in lieu of our work on which we have to survive for a few months. I have to fill my stomach before I can fight for the dead."
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