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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 49, November 27, 2010

Report Card of the Government in Bihar

Wednesday 1 December 2010

by Sanket Samudra

In his open letter to Sonia Gandhi [Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 47, November 13, 2010], Shree Shankar Sharan has strongly defended the Government of Bihar. According to him, “Nitish has been nationally and internationally acclaimed as having turned Bihar around by his new accent on development. His linking of rural and urban areas by a vast network of roads and bridges is the talk of all sections, castes and communities in Bihar, because they have all benefited from it. Thanks to infrastructure development Bihar’s rate of growth has hovered around 10 per cent, among the best in the country.” However, there is room to offer comments and make observations as ground realities militate against many of his contentions.

Unconstitutional Social Engineering

THE concept as also creation of Mahadalit in Bihar during the last five years is intriguing and hence not above board. In all 23 Scheduled Castes of the State aggregating 1,30,48,608 souls out of a total population 8,29,98,509, accounted for 15.7 per cent (basis 2001 census). Save and except the Dusadh, who numbered 40,29,411 persons, all SCs stood included in the conglomerate. Initially, 18 castes were taken on board, leaving Chamar, Dusadh, Dhobi and Pasi beyond the fold. But by two subsequent phases, three (for example, the Chamar, Dhobi and Pasi) of the excluded castes were added to the Maha-dalit list. Only the Dusadh remains untouchable among the untouchables on the official calculas of eligibility of Bihar.

Indian intellectual classes vociferously protested, resisted and criticised the British for their “divide and rule” policy during the colonial era. Strangely, not much attention seems to have been directed to Bihar’s social engineering for official stratification and compartmentalisation of an already divided and stratified society. The scheme, most of all, does not meet the constitutional sanction. And, therefore, keeping the Dusadh out in the cold seems anything but pious. The colonial masters, unlike the present regime, never tried to divide the untouchables for deriving political mileage.

The Bihar Government’s Welfare Department announced a scheme to launch the project to commercialise “rat meat” and to “market it as delicacy” for the benefit of the Musahars who are widely known to catch and eat rats. The Principal Secretary in charge of the government’s Welfare Department went to the media to claim as well as proclaim that rat meat was a favourite delicacy of the non-Musahars too. Hotels, restaurants, tea stalls and dhabas along the roadside across Bihar were serving rat meat to its connoisseurs. He was, however, reticent about education that works universally as the most powerful engine for growth and development. Sharan should have thrown light on the “rat meat” project as a vehicle for uplift of Musahars.

A Bihar Musahar Woman invited to address the UN Body foiled by Government Negligence and Apathy

ONE Girija Devi was invited to New York to address the 15th session of the UN’s Division of Advancement of Woman and Department of Economic and Social Affairs in 2006. An illiterate Musahar woman of a nameless Bhirkhia-Chipulia village under the East Champaran district, Girija was a one-woman brigade to create awareness against the widespread and ruinous addiction to alcohol in her community. The BBC news South Asia on February 19, 2006, Sunday, told the world about the quiet revolution sweeping the countryside in Champaran of north Bihar:
Girija Devi has always led by example—her husband Singheshwar Majhi was the first alcoholic to face her wrath.

Finally the same agency stated:

Her untiring efforts have led to 125 Musahar villages in East Champaran to become “alcohol free.

The shining achievement in reforming alcoholism had earned the august UN body’s attention. Hence the invitation to hear Girija and her crusade.

But she did not address the 15th Session of the UN body. Rather, we should say, despite an invitation in hand, she could not address the session. She did not get her visa to travel across the Atlantic to New York. In anguish, the frustrated crusader was quoted in the media as saying: “Daurwate daurwate kagaj nahiye delak, Motihari se lekar Patna tak ke hakim eke ba, ee raj ke sudharal mushkil bate (even after running from pillar to post at Motihari as well in Patna, the officials did not give the papers in time. It is very difficult for this State to change).” Juxtapose this view from below as well as from the margin of the society vis-a-vis the national and international encomiums for the Government of Nitish Kumar. We can rarely brush it aside as canard without compromising truth and reality. She was just and candid.

The visa for Girija Devi’s travel was delivered to her a day after the session concluded in the glittering New York city. She could have been the pride of Bihar and the face of Mahadalit. Alas! otherwise a dream journey for life has turned Girija Devi into an antagonist of those who tomtom Bihar’s development during the last five years. No Musahars have ever set their feet outside the land of their birth except those who, in the nineteenth century, emigrated as indentured labourers to overseas British colonies, for example, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, Grenada, Fiji, Natal, Burma, etc. Social prejudice and hatred drove the Musahars in hordes out of their motherland in the nineteenth century.

But the whole attitude of the social elite and dominant classes would have transformed into euphoria, if only Girija belonged to their charmed strata. The entire administrative machinery then would have swung into spontaneous action for ensuring her smooth journey to the US well in time. Alas! we do not know how her visit was sabotaged by the jealous vested interests which play aplenty their role in every sphere and layer in the Bihar society. Girija was the softest target to finish off.

Lalita, a Musahar from Sitamarhi district adjacent to East Champaran, was the cover girl of the prestigious UNESCO report in 2002 (?) for her extraordinary determination and spirit to overcome her social handicaps. Her parents continue to be landless agricultural wage earners.

The case of the PDS dealer, Gurucharan Das, Minapur Banglatola, under police station in the Minapur development block in Muzaffarpur district, is revealing. The then Commissioner, Tirhut Division-cum-Vice Chancellor, B.R, Ambedkar Bihar University visited this Musahartola in 1994 to familiarise himself with their plight.1 After interaction with them, the seniormost field officer of the division asked what they would want the Commissioner to do for them. The Musahars demanded a PDS shop as they did not get their quotas of wheat, kerosene, sugar from their earmarked dealer whose disdain for them was unconcealed. The Commissioner assured them of a PDS dealership. But who would be the dealer to run it? They unanimously selected a fellow Musahar, Gurucharan Das. He was granted a PDS licence. May be, Gurucharan was the only Musahar to hold a PDS shop in the district, if not in the division. Since then several offensives were launched to get his dealership cancelled. The shop became an honest and assured source of living for the family. About a year back, his licence has been suspended on flimsy allegations which could be commonly held against each and every PDS dealer in Bihar and none would be fit to retain it. But only Gurucharan has been targeted. Faced with hostility on all fronts, the dealer does not know how to fight the case and overcome the hurdle. There is none to help him out of the danger. The ex-Commissioner had on previous occasions tried to secure his interest by timely intervention at the administrative level. But he has retired and left Bihar. This is a disease that has originated in social hatred. In Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Kerala the upper castes have scuttled upwardly mobile Dalits on their tracks by damaging their sources of growth and strength. In recent times, the Balmikis and Chamars in Haryana, for instance, have suffered attacks from Jats.

This, the fate of one of the populous Mahadalits, is precarious. Musahars boasted of 3.3 per cent literacy in 2001. There are serious doubts if there is yet an MBBS, a Deputy Collector, or an engineer or a holder of MBA degree from any of the IIMs amongst the Musahars.

And if any, who has left lasting contribution from the community for the people, has died unsung. Dasarath Majhi, 78, a Musahar of village Gahlor Ghati, district Gaya, died of cancer at AIIMS, Delhi, a frustrated man. It must be noted with due acclaim that the Bihar Government arranged for his treatment.

Dasarath Majhi’s village nestles inside with mountains on almost all sides. To travel out of the village to the nearest town involves a journey of 75 kms. It lacked a drinking water source. Women were required to climb a 300-feet high mountain to get to the nearest water source. While climbing the hill, Dasarath’s young wife in 1960 injured herself badly. That left the young husband deeply distressed. He vowed to do something that was incomprehensible, maddening by any standard—to discipline the osbtinate mountain itself. With his rudimentary chisel and hammer, the Musahar youth launched himself to rip off the hill and open up a road through its belly. Bit by bit, inch by inch, in season and out of season, Dasarath, with unflagging commitment, zeal and undaunted determination, pursued his mission. One day he succeeded in tearing off the audacious mountain and the village was open to the world outside. A solitary man in 22 years reduced the 75 kms’ jouney to just one km. Twentytwo years of sweat and toil of Dasarath brought down jouney time to 15 minutes on foot. This hill road has been named in his honour as Dasarath Majhi Road. But he did not want anything for himself from the government. Dasarath wanted five acres of land for a hospital in his village. The Chief Minister had promised land for the project but it is till to materialise. His son, Bhagirath, a handicapped, lives on handicapped persons pension always in penury. In the meanwhile, Dasarath has passed in to folk songs and folk tales as a legend. The government is yet to convert the Dasarath Majhi Road into an all-weather road.

Dusadhs fought for Clive in Plassey

THE Dusadhs are a caste akin to the Rajputs or Bhumihars in physical prowess, agility and bravery, which are qualities crucial for a martial race. Nevertheless they have been repeatedly subjected to massacres and carnages by the upper castes in general and Ranveer Sena in particular in the 1980s and 1990s. Before the battle of Plassey, Lord Clive had visited Patna and recruited some 1500 Dusadhs. With proper training in arms, they were put to good use against the Nawab of Bengal, leading to the foundation of British rule in India in 1757. The four-million strong Dusadhs grovel at the lowest end of the society like any of the Mahadalits. Their exclusion from the Mahadalit category demonstrates a motivated political point.

It would be unfair and blind not to see the development under Nitish Kumar. The Secretariat area of Patna looks spectacularly bright and charming. The kidnappers and abductors have either gone underground or been sent to the place they deserve. Some important criminal cases that outraged the country have ended in conviction. The Additional Sessions Court, Patna, for example, awarded death sentence to Anand Mohan Singh, Akhlaq Ahmad, and Arun Kumar Sinha in the case of murder of G. Krishnaiah, former District Magistrate, Gopalganj at the outskirts of Muzaffarpur town on December 5, 1994. Life sentences were awarded to the former MP from Vaishali, Lovely Anand, wife of Anand Mohan Singh, also ex-MP, Vijay Kumar Shukla alias Munna Shukla, Janata Dal (U) MLA from Lalganj, Harendra Kumar Shahi (leader of Janata Dal-United) and Shashi Shekhar Thakur. Except lifer Lovely and her husband besides Akhlaq Ahmad, all the accused were Bhumihars. Save Anand Mohan all have got bail and the prosecution’s failure to oppose effectively their bail shows the government’s weakness towards members of the dominant caste who have squeezed maximum benefit out of the Nitish Government. They campaign for the Chief Minister’s success as an administrator most vociferously. True, infrastructure development has helped trade and commerce in Bihar. With road connectivity, transportation and communication to the interiors have improved. Life has become com-paratively smooth as a result. Property prices have shot up in Patna. Malls and Inoxes, cinemas and restaurants have been humming with activities. But the life of the low and the deprived has, nevertheless, not improved perceptibly.

The following report speaks eloquently about relief and rehabilitation provided by the Government of Bihar following the Kosi flood devastations in 2008. We cannot deny wholly it as incorrect nor can we accept it without due reservation.

Associated Press correspondent, Gavin Rabinowitz reported from Triveniganj in Bihar’s Supaul district (bordering Nepal) September 2, 2008,

In the two weeks since a monsoon-swollen river burst its banks, ancient prejudices have run just as deep as the floodwaters. India’s “untouchables” are the last to be rescued—if at all—from a deluge that has killed dozens and made 1.2 million homeless.

The story further ran:

Most Dalits live in destitute villages of rickety mud and thatch huts with no electricity or running water, kept down by ancient prejudice and caste-based politics. In much of rural India, people from lower castes are barred from using upper-caste drinking wells, kept out of temples and denied spots in village. Ignoring the prohibitions is often met with violence.

His defining comment comes next: “In times of calamity, their situation is no better.” They were the last to be rescued and the least to be offered for relief. Only the stone blind would fail to see such home truth touching the life of the disadvantaged.

A Dangerous Social Engineering of Nitish Kumar

THE story of crowning success of any government does not depend on the overflowing malls, casinos, restaurants, Inoxes, fashion shows or beauty pageants held in the city’s exclusive locations or spots. It’s real index of success should be reflected as well as measured on the wellbeing and wellness of the last man, the most disadvantaged and deprived souls, who actually seek protection of authority for survival and sustenance. This is a wild dream.

Finally we apprehend the social engineering adopted by Nitish Kumar has dangerous dimension for India, home to a million castes and tribes. The virus may invade other parts of India wherever tribal people, besides Scheduled Castes, are in substantial strength. They may be further subdivided and fragmented elsewhere for political convenience, replicating the Mahadalit model of Bihar. And the time may not be far off when inter-Dalit conflicts, hitherto unknown, would break out to settle political and other scores. It may not be surprising to see the patrons and protagonists of Ranveer Sena, Sunlight Sena, Diamond Sena, etc. engineering Dalit and Mahadalit massacres and carnages. Conspirators and instigators to harvest rich dividends would not suffer from want of agenda other than social wellbeing.

FOOTNOTES

1. A. K. Biswas was the Commissioner, Tirhut Division.

Sanket Samudra can be contacted at e-mail: samudra. sanket@gmail.com

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