The state of the Musahar community in north Bihar is said to be much worse than any of the indigenous tribals of the country
Members of Bihar’s 13-lakh-strong backward scheduled caste Musahar community are selling children to earn a living, according to a report in Outlook.
Musahars are people who have traditionally survived on eating rodents (musha means rat and har is eater). But these days even that is not enough. According to the Outlook report, in the north Bihar districts of Madhubani and Muzaffarpur, Musahar families are routinely selling off their children to brokers for anything between Rs 400 to Rs 4,000 to survive.
Siyaram Sada, the only matriculate villager of Rakhwari, told the magazine that more than 500 Musahar children have been sold in Madhubani alone. “If an independent inquiry is held, the number would rise further,” he claimed. Laxman Bhagat, the block development officer of Muzaffarpur’s Kurahni block, admitted to “some incidents” of sale of children.
Evidence abounds in the parched, poverty-stricken hamlets of Muzaffarpur. Kamata Manjhi, of Chajjan-Gangaram, sold his 11-year-old son Ramesh Manjhi for anything “between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,500” some six months ago. He has no news of his son now. Driven by hunger, Sarjug Manjhi sold Butan, his 20-year-old son, to a broker about five years ago. And in the case of forty-something homemaker Phoola Devi, her husband Poshan Manjhi disappeared with her three sons, leaving her to feed their three minor daughters. “I don’t know where they’ve gone. Neither have I received any money from them,” she said. Frail-looking Yugeshwar Manjhi’s four sons—Harchandra, Srichandra, Shankar and Sakla—have disappeared too. Villagers whisper that Yugeshwar was paid Rs 10,000 by a broker for the four boys.
About 150 km away in Madhubani district, similar instances of sold-and-missing children abound. The Musahars of Rakhwari, Phulwaria and Olipur villages under Andhratharhi block, Kamat Bhawanipur in the Rahika block and Jagatpur, close to Madhubani town, are selling their children to meet their hunger and to fight the ever-tightening grip of poverty.
In fact, as early as in 1997, in one of the first, isolated cases, six-year-old Sukhdeo Sada of Rakhwari was sold off to a broker for just Rs 400.
The sad plight of one of India’s lowest castes is directly linked to sheer government apathy to improving their lot. Said Sachindra Narayan, anthropologist with the Patna-based A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Sciences: “Musahars are mainly landless agricultural labourers. They have only their physical labour to sell. They do not have any fixed economy and their annual income is less than a primary school fee.”