A profile of national shame: In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Wonacott wrote ‘In Bihar, India’s poorest and least literate major state, the musahars are the poorest and least literate’. The musahars are really the poorest of the poor community in India. Though no caste-wise census is available, the musahar population in Bihar is estimated to be around 40-50 lakhs. A senior government official speaking to Peter Wonacott admitted that this is the group that has remained excluded from India’s growth. Musahars are predominantly landless agricultural labourers, many of them bonded labourers. Literacy among them is said to be around 3% – education, of course, is a far cry. O.P. Agarwal a Sociologist who has worked on musahars says that at present rate of increase in literacy “it will take musahars 4,419 years to secure 100 % literacy. The plight of musahars shall plague Bihar for years”. He adds that for centuries musahars had worked as bonded laboures and historical records suggest that they were forced into crime by landlords and mahajans (village money-lenders). Deprived of hope and opportunity musahars have also joined the ranks of Maoists in Bihar and have taken to violent ways. Musahar children only know poverty and have an aimless existence. Widely known as the rat-eating community, for musahars (the word is derived from musa, the Hindi word for rats) the most valuable resource are pigs. The community is permitted to live in ghettoes in the out-skirts of villages in Bihar and are treated as untouchables. Fruits of rural welfare programme of government has not trickled down to them and they have remained untouched by India’s growth story. Caught in a vicious cycle of poverty the musahars have lived in sub-human conditions for centuries.

The unfortunate truth: The only road for the emancipation of the musahars is to make available to them quality education. Mere literacy is not enough. Unfortunately, the government run village schools are not the answer. Undoubtedly, these school can spread literacy but deprived of both a quality faculty and adequate facilities, these schools cannot empower the deprived through quality education. Discrimination against ‘the untouchables’ is the norm. Many studies on rural schools have revealed that majority of the school teachers believe in the concept of heredity based educability of children which is articulated through their misconceived notion of hereditary ‘sanskara’, a Sanskrit word for destiny. The flagship Indian government project for universal education, the ‘Serva Shiksha Abhiyan’ does not have a systematic strategy or plan of action to address these issues or challenges according to a research document entitled ‘Social Hierarchy And Notion of Educability’ published by Deshkal Society, a foundation based in Delhi which researches on the deprived castes in India. Yet another monograph entitled ‘Changing Culture, Identity and Livelihood of the Musahars in the Gangetic planes’ published by the Deshkal Society quotes a prominent social worker, Dwarko Sundarani “if the musahars have to be rescued from their present state, then in my opinion education is the only way out. But if we are to think about education, we will find that the state has made provisions for the free and compulsory education of the musahars for the past 40 years. But the truth is that not even 2% of the musahar population has reached the level of government schools. Let alone the next five years, it is doubtful if they will be able to enter schools in the next fifty years”. To sum, up the salient features of the pitiable conditions of the musahar community are –

  1. The musahars community is the poorest of the poor community in India and have lived in sub-human conditions for centuries.
  2. The rural welfare programme of the government have not really touched them. Being at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder, benefits of growth have not reached them. The benefits of trickle-down have not trickled down to them. Corruption, inefficiency and de-motivation of the government machinery at the cutting edge, particularly in the rural areas have made change impossible for the musahars.
  3. Bringing quality education to the musahar community is the only key to changing this profile of national shame. The government schools in the villages are woefully inadequate to bring about this change. There are perhaps three essential conditions for quality education particularly for first generation learners coming from most depressed and exploited families. These are proper environment, availability of necessary facilities at the school and not only a qualified but also a dedicated faculty. None of this can be made available in village schools particularly those run by the government.

The Panacea – the ripple effect rather than the trickle down theory – If quality education is to be imparted to musahars or for that matter, to children of the most depressed communities, it is necessary to ensure a level playing field so that they can be empowered to compete with the best. The answer is a fully free residential school which provides the right environment conducive to serious studies, proper facilities at the school and a qualified as well as a dedicated faculty. This demands efficient and honest micro management of the school, a requirement which the rural schools of the government just cannot fulfill.

The Shoshit Seva Sangh (SSS) was launched on July 16, 2005 with the objective of providing quality education to the musahar children. The musahars are spread in penny packets, in ghettoes, in villages all over the Indo-Gangetic plains of Bihar. The Shoshit Seva Sangh, therefore, established in July 2007 a fully free English medium residential school in Patna, the capital city of Bihar for the musahar children. The school not only provides free tuition but also free boarding, lodging, clothes, books, medical care etc. It has recruited a fairly well paid and qualified faculty which is at par with the leading schools of the city. Children passing out with a high school degree from the school will be able to compete with the best and take full advantage of the reservations in institutions of higher education mandated by the Govt. of India for the depressed classes. To enable and empower the musahar children to make a quantum jump in life and become a catalyst of change within their community, it will be absolutely essential to see them through not only high school education but also through higher education in reputed institutions of the country. Hopefully many of them shall compete into professional courses such as Computer Software, Medicine, Engineering, Law, Accountancy and many other professional courses now available. They will also be able to take full advantage of job reservations for depressed classes in the government as well as various public sectors undertakings controlled by the government. Those who can’t, will have to be given vocational training which will ensure decent employment opportunities. Literally thousands of well paid job opportunities shall open up for musahar children. The Shoshit Seva Sangh believes that it will have to parent the musahar children till they reach the desired destination.

A silent revolution: The musahar children having made a quantum jump in life shall not only become a catalyst of change in their community, but also create within the community internal
dynamics of self-sustaining change, which cannot be stopped or prevented. There will be a ripple effect as each musahar child having made a quantum jump in life will constitute this dynamic of change. They will be like stones being dropped in a stagnant pool causing, in due course, the total churning of the pool. If the trickledown theory has failed, the ripple effect constituting internal dynamics of socio-economic change must work.

Plans & Projections: It is important that Shoshit Seva Sangh provides fully free quality education to musahar children in as large a number as possible to eventually bring about a change in the profile of the community and virtually cause a silent revolution to remove a national shame. It is planned to increase the numbers by 50-55 each year. As there is lack of both literacy and education in this community, almost all the new admissions are in the pre-school class (UKG). Notwithstanding claims on paper and official handouts, even those children who are studying in 5th and 6th classes of the government village schools under the Serva Siksha Abhiyan, are not fit to join even class 1 or class 2. Therefore, the increase in the numbers in the school has to be gradual, and it is hoped to build a capacity to have 800-1000 students in the fully free residential school by 2020. The school has recruited a well qualified and an experienced faculty in all the subjects taught at the school. Presently the ratio between the taught and the teachers is 1:20.

Chain of annual admission of 50 children must not be broken as gaps can never be filled through lateral admissions to higher classes. The SSS has acquired about 2 acres of land in Patna at a cost of approximately Rs.3.5 crores and has built a residential school which can accommodate upto 500 students at a cost of Rs. 13.5 crores. The school has all the facilities mandated by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

J.K. Sinha
Shoshit Seva Sangh