Rahul Bedi in Patna
Rahul Bedi tells the story of Bihar’s ‘untouchable’ Musahar community, which is slowly, but steadily rising to its feet, with the help of J K Sinha, a former intelligence officer and a Good Samaritan. He has built a modest residential school that offers their deprived youth not only free and competent education, but also self esteem.
In two identical buildings in Patna, the five-year-old Shoshit Samadan Kendra, or School for the Welfare of the Exploited provides board and lodging, uniforms, toiletries, books and even access to computers to close to 200 young Musahar boys absolutely free of charge.
“I was destined to raise pigs and live a life of wretchedness and exploitation. But that changed four years ago after joining SSK, which, for me has opened up a world of possibilities,” said 14-year-old Pappu Kumar.
Dressed in his crisp white cotton uniform and knee-length stockings, and barely indistinguishable from students of nearby exclusive St Xavier’s — the city’s oldest, Jesuit-run school — the academically brilliant Kumar plans the unimaginable: competing alongside Bihar’s higher castes to join one of the handful of Indian Institutes of Technology.
“SSK aims to bring about a palpable revolution in the Musahar community which has lived in sub-human conditions for centuries,” says J K Sinha the founder, who retired in 2005 as one of India’s top intelligence officers and returned home to found the Shoshit Seva Sangh that runs the school.
Pooling his life savings and with modest contributions from family and friends, Sinha set about establishing SSK to uplift the socially shunned Musahar community — who ate infrequently, and were exploited pitilessly as bonded labourers by upper-caste landlords and mahajans (money lenders) — through education.
Even today, the ‘untouchable’ Musahars (population around 4-5 million), remain confined by the upper castes to living in foul-smelling ghettoes called ‘Mushairies’ or ‘Musahar Tolis’ on the outskirts of many Bihar villages, with neither rights nor privileges.
Being ‘untouchables’, they were considered outcasts, outside Hinduism’s rigid caste system — an ancient hereditary class order that divides society into four general categories — traditionally associated with unhygienic jobs.
This includes cleaning human waste, scavenging animals and at best, like the Musahars breeding pigs in soiled environments.