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Left high and dry, a village of musahars in Gaya cries for attention

Gaya, a constituency reserved for the schedule caste (SC) who constitutes 30.33 % of the 15 lakh voters, goes to polls along with Aurangabad, Nalanda and Jamui in the first of the seven phase Bihar polls on April 11

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 10, 2019 12:09 IST
B Vijay Murty
B Vijay Murty
Hindustan Times, Gaya
musahars,Gaya,village of musahars
Dalit village Kurkihar in Gaya District(HT)

Jitendra Manjhi and Murdhal Singh live in the same village, but in two different settlements neatly demarcated by a narrow, muddy lane that leads one to have a peep into the stark realities of their world.

To the left of the muddy lane in this ancient village, Kurkihar, located 22 km to the north-east of Gaya, a little ahead of Wazirganj on the road to Rajgir, is Bhumtoli, a colony of upper caste, mostly Bhumihars, where you find affluent people living in tall concrete buildings, smooth metalled road, drains, government installed tube-wells, power, community hall, separate temple called Devi mandap and what not.

To the right of the entrance lane lie the Harijan Tola, a hamlet where live Bihar’s extremely impoverished and the lowest of lower caste, the Mahadalits, mostly comprising the musahars (rat eaters) and the Haridas. This tola has nothing in the name of basic amenities. No roads, no pucca houses, no drains, no job cards, no health cards to many, no education and no place of worship of their own.

Of the 300 families that reside in this tola, majority of them are illiterate or school drop-out landless labourers. Only two men have studied up to intermediate and work as quacks for a living. The children are extremely malnourished, majority men have migrated to other states for work while the women and teenagers work as farm labourers in the fields of the upper caste fellow villagers, who own huge land parcels.

While Manjhi lives in a thatched hut with an entrance that is not even four feet high, Singh lives in a concrete, impressive building.

“It’s not caste but the class-divide that has kept the Mahadalits away from development,” says political and social analyst D M Diwakar. “Unlike the upper caste, the Mahadalits have not evolved as potential threat to political parties. They are treated as mere vote bank that can be swayed with money, gifts and goodies. Same goes with the Muslim voters. Their leaders, once elected, never come back to them to lend ears to their problems and address them. They devote most of the time rehabilitating their own family members in politics. Hence the sorry state of affairs of persists,” he says.

Gaya, a constituency reserved for the schedule caste (SC) who constitutes 30.33 % of the 15 lakh voters, goes to polls along with Aurangabad, Nalanda and Jamui in the first of the seven phase Bihar polls on April 11. Candidates and their party leaders have over the last one month travelled extensively across the town and villages to woo voters, but hardly has any candidate visited the innumerable Mahadalit villages and tolas dotting the constituency.

“No candidate has ever visited us during the parliamentary polls, though we are barely 22 kilometers away from Gaya town,” said Dilip Majhi, a daily wage labourer from Kurkihar, lamenting how they are deliberately kept away from all the welfare and development schemes and are still subjected to discrimination in equal access to hospitals and other government service centres.

Still will you vote? “Oh yes,” pat comes the firm reply. ‘We will vote for the Grand Alliance (GA) candidate and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi as he is one amongst us, a musahar.”

Fellow villager Joginder Majhi chips in. “For long, we have supported the BJP, which had promised Rs 15 lakh in our accounts, temples, roads, education and health, but the promises proved to be empty. We will vote for change this time,” he says, pointing towards the ramshackle one-room community hall next to his house. “Today, if a baraat comes, there is no place to put up the guests. The baraatis (groom’s side) are made to stay in the homes of villagers.”

“The MLA has very little powers these days,” says local Congress legislator Abhay Singh, replying to a query on the deplorable condition of Kurkihar’s Harijan Tola and its inhabitants. “Bulk of the development work these days is carried out by the ward welfare committees under the panchayat’s supervision. Still, I will visit the Harijan Tola and address their problems,” he says.

Diwakar says the Mahadalits are not a homogenous entity. “They are now divided into caste and hierarchy issues continue to persist. Hence a uniform voice is not coming out of the community,” he explains.

First Published: Apr 10, 2019 12:06 IST