Mirzapur: Gudiya hands over a rice-ball she has made by rolling cooked rice in her palm to her 4-year-old son for lunch before leaving for the nearby jungle to collect leaves. Her sister-in-law, Seema, who is busy picking lice from her daughter's hair, will look after the children till Gudiya returns.
The little rice Gudiya has cooked is the last of the rice she had in her house today. She won't be able to offer dinner to her kids and husband if she doesn't sell some stitched leaves, which she is going to collect from the jungle.
Their mud-house has no door. It just has a small opening in front which suffices. The same opening works as the window, ventilator and of course, the door of the hut. There are many such one-room huts in the basti. The basti is home to about 20 Musahar families.
Seema Musahar and Gudiya Musahar live in Musharana Hathiya Phatak area of Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh which is home to about 100 people of Musahar community.
Facing extreme poverty and social discrimination, people of Musahar community live in the marginalized areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mostly in the out-skirt of towns. Musahars are dalits (also known as banbasis) who get their name from the fact that at some point in the past, their ancestors had been forced to survive by eating rats. Now they collect leaves to stitch and sell them locally. Since they are believed to belong to the lowest strata of society; they don't get to work with, or for, the upper caste.
Bully, a barrier in basic education
Children of the community claim that they have tried going to the nearby government school but due to prolonged bullying by the kids of other castes, they have now stopped going to school. "Wo jo doosre bachche hote hain, wo humko chhoote nahi.. bolte hain inse door raho, inse baat na karo ye choohe khaate hain (The other children do not touch us, they tell everyone to stay away from us, not talk to us because we eat rats)," complaints Buchiya, a 13-year-old of the community.
Caste, a hurdle in employment
The fear of discrimination is permanent among the people of community because of the experiences they've had for generations. The easiest way to earn wages for the illiterate strata is working as labourers. But since the non-dalits still believe in untouchability in the 21st century, Musahars are neglected and kept away from giving work.
Musahar community is scattered in different places, living in clearly demarcated localities of cities and towns. Most of them are landless, and the ones having land, are deprived of water, electricity and other facilities like roads and proper food apart from employment. They are compelled to live life within their basti without any contact with the people of upper castes. "Choohon ki bhi zindagi humse achhi hai, jahan man aa-jaa sakte hain (even rats have better life than us. They can go wherever they wish to)," says Nandu, a 35-year-old from the basti.
Due to improper and insufficient food availability, the children of the community, especially those below the age of 10, are falling prey to malnutrition, which their parents don't even know about. The parents, when told about it, say, when we can't even provide them two square meals, do you think we can afford to take them to doctors? "Humare bachchon ko bhi agar school jaane do to unko kam se kam ek waqt ka khana hi mil jaaye (If our children are allowed to go to school, at least they will benefit from the mid-day meal scheme," says Kajri, a mother of four from the basti.
While most people of the community do not eat rats, there are some in Jharkhand and Bihar who are so marginalised and on the verge of starvation that they do resort to catching rats for food. For them, the day the entire family succeeds in catching a good number of rats, they celebrate.