Soon, if you stop by a restaurant or even a roadside eatery in Bihar, you might find an interesting addition to the menu - rat meat.
A controversial pilot project to popularise rat meat in Bihar, thereby helping uplift the impoverished Dalit community that cultivates it, has been approved by the state government.
"It is a well calculated move to promote and popularise rat meat in the state," Jeetan Ram Manjhi, Bihar's social welfare minister for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, told IANS.
Manjhi said the government would publish research-based reports that establish that rat meat is healthy.
A few months ago when Manjhi came out with the idea to popularise rat meat in the state, it created a controversy. Several people questioned his proposal to serve rat meat in restaurants, 'dhabas' or roadside eateries and other places.
Vijay Prakash, principal secretary in the social welfare department, said rat meat may soon be available in hotels as a delicacy.
Rat farming, akin to rearing poultry, would be encouraged among the impoverished Musahar community of the state as a means of socio-economic upliftment as well as to promote a new kind of food item in urban pockets.
Musahars, known as the traditional rat eating community, usually hunt rats in paddy fields.
"The government has decided to engage the Musahars in the commercialisation of rat meat for their overall development," Prakash said. "We will encourage and help the Musahars in organising rat farms."
"It will help empower them and change their poor living conditions if the venture is properly designed and succeeds," Prakash added.
Musahars, estimated to number 2.3 million, are among the most deprived and marginalised sections of society in Bihar and still considered social untouchables despite a law against it.
Commercialising rat meat is part of the state government's efforts to uplift Dalit communities that constitute nearly 15 percent of this eastern India state's population of 83 million and are among the most socio-economically poor sections.
According to some dieticians, rat meat is rich in protein and tastier than chicken.
"However, eating rat meat is considered a stigma in urban pockets and confined to the poorer sections of society," Prakash added.
"I discovered during a fact-finding mission that rat meat is available in the Mokama riverine areas and roadside hotels in Danapur in Patna district. It is called 'patal-bageri' and is in high demand," he said.
The state government plans to set up stalls in rural fairs across the state, followed by rat meat centres in urban areas.
Prakash said his department would approach the government and private agencies in and outside the country to speed up commercialisation of rat meat.