Dalits driven off land, forced to migrate to brick kilns, construction sitesPublished by MAC on 2018-02-16
Source: Caste discrimination plays major role, as
Many people, belonging to a Dalit agricultural community in Bihar - that amounts to more than 2.5 million in all - have been forced to migrate to other Indian states, to find work in brick kilns, on construction sites and at factories.
This is down to government inaction, compounded by discrimnation against them by higher castes, and the rise of Hindu nationalism (See second article below).
Says one Indian social scientist:
“Their marginalisation will continue if no attempt is made to eradicate the victimisation that has continued for generations”.
Bihar’s landless Musahars may no longer be bonded labourers, but little else has changed for them
This marginalised community continues to face social discrimination and financial hardships.
Mohd Imran Khan
5 February 2018
Mosaddi Manjhi is a landless agricultural labourer fighting for survival. His father, too, was a landless farm worker till his death a decade ago, and so was his grandfather. Nothing has changed for him in the past 50 years.
Manjhi, a Musahar living in Lalpur’s Musahari, a small hamlet under Siriawan panchayat in Mohanpur administrative block of Bihar’s Gaya district, is not alone. His story reflects the lives of over 2.5 million Musahars in hamlets spread across drought-prone Central and South Bihar and flood-prone North Bihar.
Amid repeated claims by the administration of development and change, Manjhi lives with his wife and six children in a thatched hut built on gair-majarua (government-unclaimed) land because none of his forefathers owned land. The same applies to all Musahars, barring a few exceptions.
The landless Dalits, derogatorily known as rat eaters, are one of India’s most marginalised communities. Upper-caste Hindus still consider them untouchables. The Musahars consider being landless agricultural labourers their fate and identity; they do not see their socio-economic status changing anytime soon.
In Bihar, 96.3% of Musahars are landless and 92.5% work as farm labourers. The figures have not changed much since the 1980s. Literacy is 9.8%, the lowest among Dalits in the country. Hardly 1% of Musahar women are literate.
There are 25 Musahar families in Lalpur and hundreds in other hamlets in this remote and underdeveloped pocket of Gaya, dominated by Maoist insurgents till recent times. Though Mohanpur block is about 20 km from Bodh Gaya, the well-known Buddhist shrine, and connected by rough concrete roads, it is a different world. Most residents belong to backward castes, particularly Yadav and Mahadalit communities like Musahars.
For Musahars like Manjhi, life revolves around food, and hence the search for work to earn a livelihood. He feels this trend will continue for generations. “Only difference is that I earn double what my father earned as a daily-wage farm labourer,” Manjhi told VillageSquare.in.
Sudha Verghese, a Padma award recipient who has been working among Musahars, said there has been no change in their living conditions in the last 40 years. “Even their livelihood income as agriculture labourer has been facing uncertainty due to use of farm machines,” she told VillageSquare.in.
Manjhi revealed that his grandfather was a bonded labourer. Two decades ago, Musahars used to work as bonded labourers for rich landlords and moneylenders. The landlords had allowed some of them to settle in their barren lands outside the village so as to engage them as farm workers.
“No doubt they have become free of bonded labour, but there may be a few still,” said Manoj Manjhi, an educated Musahar who works closely with his community in Bihar.
“My grandfather was a bonded labourer like most Musahars of his time,” said Ramjit Manjhi of Rajaundhi village. He fears his five children will also be landless labourers.
Mosaddi Manjhi, clad in a lungi and shirt, is happy that unlike his forebears, his generation has clothes and does not go without food. But he has been without work for many days because of a cold wave sweeping the state.
Migrating for a livelihood
Mukesh Manjhi, in his early 30s, moved from Noorichak village in Patna district to neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where he works in a brick kiln. Speaking to VillageSquare.in, he said the majority of the 3,000-odd Musahars in his village were forced to migrate for nearly eight months a year as there was no demand for agricultural labourers.
According to him, 80% of Musahars migrate to other states. “Most migrate with their families to work in brick kilns, construction sites and factories,” he said. The remaining, mostly women, children and the elderly, work as farm labourers and rear pigs and goats.
Mosaddi Manjhi and Ramjit Manjhi, both in their 50s, said they no longer migrate for work. Suresh Manjhi, too, told VillageSquare.in, “Only old people like me stay back in the village.”
Asharfi Sada, president of the Musahar Vikas Manch, which works in the northern districts of Bihar, pointed out that Musahars no longer starve like they used to, since they earn a reasonable income after migrating.
However, Manoj Manjhi said migration for survival deprives them of the benefits of several welfare schemes of the Central and state governments. “We try to give work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to those who do not migrate,” Shoaib Akhtar, panchayat rozgar sewak of Siriawan, told VillageSquare.in.
Ignored and ignorant
According to Verghese, government welfare schemes hardly reach the Musahar community. “That is because we are illiterate and are not aware,” said Sarju Manjhi of Kolxaura, barely 2 km from the Bodh Gaya shrine. Many drop out of school.
A group of children playing said they did not attend school since they were discriminated against. “For them, we are unclean because we eat rats, rear pigs and live in a poor environment,” Bhola Manjhi, one of the children, told VillageSquare.in.
Sada said the community has no access to health facilities. There are no primary health centres near their settlements. He also pointed out that Musahar children are easy victims of malnutrition, kala azar and encephalitis. “It is common to find parents who have lost their children,” he added.
According to Manoj Manjhi, in 2009, the state government promised 3 decimal (1,307 square) land to landless Mahadalits, including Musahars, but this has not been implemented till date. Musahars also do not benefit from old age pension schemes as most of them do not survive till 60.
However, Bihar’s Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Department Minister Ramesh Rishidev said several schemes have empowered Musahars for more than a decade. “Our government has been trying its best to empower Musahars,” he told VillageSquare.in. “It is visible; their life condition has improved.”
Philip Manthara of Manthan, an organisation working among Musahars, said they should be provided equal opportunity to improve their status, adding, “Children’s education is the need of the hour.”
Anto Joseph, director of Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti, concurred, saying that they needed a special education programme. According to Joseph, there is no easy solution for the economic empowerment of Musahars, unlike other marginalised communities. “It is an irony that an agrarian community dependent on an agrarian economy is landless,” he told VillageSquare.in. Joseph as well as Manoj Manjhi and Verghese suggested that they should be given agricultural land for their economic empowerment.
Vijay Prakash, a retired bureaucrat who has worked with the community, said the government should certify them as skilled labourers considering their agricultural skills. Manoj Manjhi is hopeful that the situation will improve and that a time will come when the much-awaited land reforms come into effect.
Sunil Ray, director of the Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, said Musahars have to be brought to the mainstream. “Their marginalisation will continue if no attempt is made to eradicate the victimisation that has continued for generations,” he told VillageSquare.in. “Society has to create space for them to lead a dignified life.”
Mohd Imran Khan is a journalist based in Patna.
Growing extremism in India
13 February 2018
Hinduism is perhaps one of the most oppressive systems of religious belief in the world. It is the only religion which divides its own followers into an impregnable structure of castes barring vertical social mobility. One’s status in the Hindu society is determined by the accident of birth in a particular caste. Those born in higher castes have a privileged position as compared with those born in the lower castes or strata of the Hindu society. Dalits or untouchables, as the name suggests, are at the lowest rung of the society, destined to lead a life of abject misery and deprivation. Hinduism does not allow a person to change his or her caste, thus, barring vertical social mobility. On top of that, it teaches the doctrines of karma and transmigration of soul under which members of lower castes are expected to be content with serving members of higher cates as penance for their sins in the previous life. Thus, Hinduism not only consigns members of lower castes to a life of continuous suffering, it also teaches them to accept their sufferings as the logical consequence of their misdeeds in their previous life. Consequently, it robs them of the ambition as well as the possibility of improving one’s social status in the present life through one’s conduct. For that, one must wait for the next stage in the cycle of life! By way of contrast, Islam teaches human equality and brotherhood. In an Islamic society, the social status of a person is determined by his or her character and conduct, and not by the accident of birth. Further, there is no bar to social mobility in an Islamic society.
In view of the retrogressive and oppressive features of Hinduism, it would not be surprising to see mistreatment of and discrimination against lower castes, especially Dalits, in a Hindu society. It would also be logical to assume that the mistreatment to which non-Hindus would be subjected in a Hindu society would be even worse. What living in a Hindu society, marked by the strict application of the teachings of Hinduism, implies for Muslims and other minorities can be gauged from the following quotation from the 1938 work of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalker, the second supreme leader of the hardline and militant Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), entitled We, or Our Nationhood Defined:
“The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture….In a word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu religion, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—-not even citizens’ rights.”
The landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, under the leadership of Narendra Modi in the general elections held in 2014 reflected a huge rightward shift in the Indian politics with dangerous implications for lower castes in the Hindu society and even more so for the minorities in India such as Muslims and Christians. Considering BJP’s close alliance with RSS and the deep commitment of both to Hindutva or the revival of Hindu nationalism and the interpretation of the Indian culture exclusively in terms of Hindu values as explained by Golwalker, it was logical to expect after the 2014 elections that there would be growing cases of religious extremism at the expense of minorities and lower castes in India . This is precisely what has been happening in India over the last four years. However, the stage for the tidal wave of religious extremism sweeping India currently was set by the destruction of Babri mosque in 1992 and the massacre of about 2000 Muslims by extremist Hindus in 2002 in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was its chief minister. The Sachar Committee Report, commissioned by the Indian government in 2005 and tabled in the Indian Parliament in November, 2006, highlighted the pathetic condition of the Muslims in Indian. In many cases, their conditions were even worse than those of Dalits because of discriminatory practices prevalent in the Hindu-dominated society in India .
Despite the safeguards provided in the India constitution for the protection of lower castes and the minorities, there have been increasing cases of Hindu extremism and bigotry against them more recently. It would be reasonable to assume that under the Narendra Modi-led BJP government conditions of minorities, especially Muslims, and Dalits are likely to get worse instead of getting better. According to a report carried by the weekly Economist of 27 January-2 February, 2018, daily headlines in India reveal such horrors such as Dalit Woman Raped and Murdered, Man Poisons Well Used by Dalits, Dalits Attacked for Slaughtering Cow, Dalit Youth Attacked for Watching Upper-Caste Ceremony, and Dalit Forced to Shave Moustache.
The report further points out that protests by Dalits against repressive and discriminatory practices are suppressed with excessive use of force. Similar protests by members of higher castes typically end with politicians and officials acceding to their demands. Dalit parents regularly protest that schools have singled out their children to clean toilets. They also complain that state schools assign numbers to plates when handing out free lunches, lest a child whose family insists on ritual separation from Dalits be served on “polluted” crockery. One can imagine the extent of the suffering of members of lower castes considering that they constitute about 41 % of the Indian population.
The growing incidents of discriminatory practices against Dalits, other members of lower castes in India , and minorities reflect the oppressive character of the caste system embedded in the Hindu religion and culture. During the relatively moderate rule of the Congress party, these tendencies were kept in check to some extent. Now that an extremist Prime Minister fully committed to Hindutva is at the helm of affairs in India in the form of Narendra Modi, the latent oppressive tendencies of Hinduism have fully come into play, revealing the dark side of the so-called shining India . Now that the genie of Hindu extremism is out of the bottle, it would be well-nigh impossible for a future government, even of a relatively moderate character, to put it back.
The growth of Hindu extremism has serious implications for Pakistan-India relations. The extremist mindset of the present BJP government in India would not lend itself to policies of moderation and compromise in the management of Pakistan-India relations. Instead, India’s emphasis would be on a muscular and coercive style of diplomacy with the aim to browbeat Pakistan into acceptance of its unilateral demands on such issues as terrorism, New Delhi’s quest for hegemony in South Asia, Kashmir, Siachin, and Sir Creek. In all likelihood, Pakistan is likely to resist such demands on the part of India . Therefore, in the foreseeable future, certainly during the rule of the Narendra Modi-led government, the prospect is of continued tensions and strains in Pakistan-India relations. In the face of such an inflexible attitude on the part of India , Pakistan should keep the door of dialogue open so that India can walk through it whenever it is ready to do so. At the same time, Islamabad should firmly adhere to its principled positions on outstanding Pakistan-India disputes. A policy of appeasement of an India with hegemonic mindset would merely whet its appetite for more and more concessions from Pakistan. However, in the best interest of Pakistan, adherence to a principled policy should be combined with a low-risk and non-adventurist approach in the management of Pakistan-India relations.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.