Far away from the mainstream discourse of equality and rights, Musahars or the rat-eaters is a socially excluded, economically deprived, and politically marginalized community placed at the bottom of the rigid caste system in India. They derive the name “Musahar” from their tendency to eat rats in dire need. They mainly reside in four states of India: Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Out of these states, Bihar has the maximum population of Musahars. Numbering around two million in population, they speak Hindi, Angika, or Awadhi.
Though the constitution holds Scheduled Castes as a homogenous category, the reality is that only a few Scheduled Castes such as the Dusadhs, Dhobis, Pasi, and Chamars in Bihar primarily derive benefits from the reservation system whereas others including Musahars hardly benefit from it due to which, they were accorded with Mahadalit status by the state government in 2007. The status though promised them various governmental schemes but they can hardly avail any due to poverty and backwardness. The stigma of untouchability attached to their identity makes them all the way more vulnerable. Neither are they allowed to enter temples nor are they allowed to mingle with others outside their community. Attending schools is a far fetched thing for their kids. Even if they try to, they are subjected to alienation, humiliation which ultimately demoralizes them enough to back out. This practice plunges them deep into misery.
With an already alarming literacy rate of around 6-9%, it will require more than 500 years for Musahars to attain full literacy. Land owning is a rare thing for the community and for generations now they have been selling labour to village landowners who exploit them further by cutting down on their wages. No significant leadership has yet evolved from the community which makes them be led by wealthy and higher castes in the village for their own benefits and requirement. Their constitutional rights of education and food subsidies are routinely denied through corruption. Any scope of economic upliftment dies out before even commencing due to caste-based politics. They are rendered powerless and voiceless by the working forces of the nation.
The life of Musahar women is even more difficult for they are not only confined to the caste-based implications but also are kidnapped or sold into prostitution in the major metropolitan cities. Due to poverty and forceful dwelling under unhygienic conditions, musahars tend to be suffering from malnutrition and are prone to chronic diseases as well. Limited means, unavailability of sufficient health assistance and hospitals around the villages they reside in, they widely depend on herbs, plants and on witchcraft to cure the diseases. Moreover, they avoid visiting public hospitals because of the inhumane behavior meted out at them due to their caste. The immunization has been to a great extent successful among the Musahars though but there’s still a long way to go in order to grant them a healthy living.
Discrimination against Musahars has excluded them from government schemes and flagship programs in the fields of education, health, and nutrition. Policies like the Integrated Rural Development Programme, the Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana, the Drought Prone Area Programme and the Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana, should have ideally benefitted Musahars the most but only if they could avail it. The only time the community receives uninterrupted attention is during elections as they are easy to influence and fall prey to fake promises, vote capital practices, and shallow intentions of politicians.
Social & political neglect, structural violence, and suppression have led Musahars to become the most underprivileged community in India with hardly any escalation in welfare for years now.
The potential and possible solution for the problems Musahars face is unwavering attention, destigmatization, and honest concern towards them.