Photo Feature: The Musahar Community of Varanasi
There are habitations of the Musahar community in Chhateri and Tathra villages, two of the 28 villages of the Varanasi district in Uttar Pradesh where this socially and economically marginalised community is found.
Priyansh Tripathi 7 Jun 2022 8:48 AM GMT
The Musahar community, a socially marginalised community, is located at the bottom of India's caste system. Musahar in Bhojpuri means "rat eaters". The community lives in Bihar and some districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. It does not own land and mostly lives in abject poverty unable to access the various welfare schemes of the government.
There are habitations of the Musahar community in 28 villages of the Varanasi district in Uttar Pradesh. Two of these are Chhateri and Tathra villages. At Chhateri village, none of the 10-12 Musahar families own land or livestock.
In Tathra village, some people have got houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. In these Msahar villages, men migrate as labourers and stay away from their homes for almost six to seven months a year.
The Musahars have been given the status of Mahadalit, which make them eligible for various government schemes. But these have failed to lift the community out of poverty and backwardness. Caste discrimination is the main reason for lack of education, health facilities, clean drinking water and employment in Chhateri village.
For instance, residents of Chhateri complained that they were not allowed to use drinking water taps or hand pumps because people of the dominant castes objected to their use by the Musahars. So latter used water of a local pokhara (small pond) for drinking purposes and their children often fell sick.
The COVID pandemic has further hit this community real hard. Their kids education has been affected and so have their livelihood sources. Due to the pandemic, the members of the community returned to their villages but finding regular work remains a big challenge.
At the end of John Steinbeck's famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, workers living tough lives in metros/cities return to their villages, as they realise that they can regain their self-esteem and life only by working in the fields. But Steinbeck's workers must not have faced the centuries-old caste system either in the city or in the village. For the Musahar community, even centuries later, self-esteem is nothing more than a word.
Priyansh Tripathi is a social worker by profession and a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Views are personal.