|We want computers, not rat farming: Bihar's Musahars
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
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
Cleaners of the city dont have a place to call home
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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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