It is that, literally… the extremely impoverished, denigrated Musahar community is being brought of ages of darkness with the spread of education
“Bhaiya ji! Schoolwa me kab namma likhtai? Tolwan ke sab ladkawan schoolwa jaye laglai,…ta hamaar ladkawa kahe na padhtai?” (Bhaiya ji! When will the admission process start in the schools? All the boys of the group are going to school. Why can’t my son study?) This heart-wrenching voice not only comes from Lal Bihari Maanjhi, Meena or Paaswan of the Musahar community but is echoing from every nook and corner of the society. The Musahar community now is craving for a new identity for its men, women and children after having lived for ages in a dark world. They want to be literated and independent and want to walk with their heads held high.
The Musahar community in India is considered the lowest of the Dalit strata and is the most despised and denigrated community in India. The term ‘Mushar’ literally means rat-eaters. They are named musahar due to their eating habits. Most of them live in abject poverty and rarely has a Musahar boy or girl gone to, let alone finished, school.
The emphasis on elementary education under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is on full swing in every state of the country paving way to education for all villages through primary schools. Making primary education a fundamental right has accelerated the level of awareness even among scheduled caste people towards the importance of education. But it is still the lowest caste, based in Bihar even today among the Musahar community.
If anything is to be held responsible for their backwardness it is certainly their socio-economic condition but equally responsible are their own customs, practices and traditions.
Like in other states, there are NGOs in Bihar also, partnering with the state government and contributing towards bringing this community at par with others in the field of education. Although right to education had been associated with fundamental rights a long time ago but it needs to be reflected in the Musahar community of Bihar.
‘Abhiyan’ is an NGO working towards the upliftment of this community. Its director Chandrabhushan has been working constantly for the past two decades for Musahar people.
The urge for the advancement of this community at the grassroots level made him choose Jahanbad district in Bihar as his work land. And today he is the last person to work closely for educating this community and make it self-reliant. He is working constantly in 35 villages of Kako block in Jahanabad and 25 villages of Masaurhi block in Patna district for the people of this community.
The organisation, before starting its work, first went to 60 villages predominantly populated by Musahar community and studied about their real conditions. Then it facilitated them in phases to get work under the MNREGA and other social security schemes. They specially took help of Anganwadi centres to spread awareness among Musahar children. Today, 1,685 children of this community go to either government schools or Anganwadi centres regularly. The efforts are building new confidence in this community as these can be seen as important steps towards mainstreaming them with the society.
On the other hand, children who could not get admission in the government schools, or they are unable to attend Anganwadi centres for some reason, go to special support centres set up in government school building premises by Abhiyan. The organisation has setup these support centres in nine Musahar majority villages of Kako block in Jahanabad district namely Titai Bigha village, Ratan Bigha, Latanpati, Golakpur, Salempur, Badsara, Kosiawan, Firozi and Usari.
Over 396 children of 400 Musahar families are getting education in these support centres after the main school gets over. It is a unique experiment that the government school buildings are used for such centres for spreading education. Not only this, Chandrabhushan and his organisation are taking a lot more initiatives in order to inculcate education, confidence and self-reliance among the Musahar community.
Until today, people of this community used to think that they are only meant to work as labourers but now they are encouraged to become members of the Anganwadi development committee. Mundar Devi, Sonamti, Shanti Devi and few other local Musahar women are contributing and supervising the development programmes by themselves as the members of Anganwadi development committee. There is a positive atmosphere in the community due to such initiatives. Young men like Maheshwar Maanjhi of Titai Bigha are working as ‘tola sevak’ (peer educators) and cooperating in running the support centres in the primary school premises.
Providing them with something as basic as education becomes even more important when we learn the fact that in Latanpati village only one person of this community is graduate. The picture is even gloomier when it comes to Inter mediate students. There is just one person who is Class 12th pass.
One can understand the level of paucity of education from such eye-opening facts. Chandrabhushan tells how his efforts have brought new rays of hope. “Puniya Devi and Rajmati Devi have fought ward and Panch elections and have won them too. Rekha Devi of Latanpati has joint the school management committee while Gita Devi is representing her community in the Anganwadi Development Committee,” says he. Such efforts have not only helped the Musahar community to come in the mainstream society but have also motivated it towards a bright and better future.
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