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A Need To Ensure The Safety, Dignity Of Musahars In Caste-Ridden Bihar

The government’s role in ensuring the safety and dignity of people from marginalised communities like Musahars is paramount in a caste-ridden society like Bihar

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Deprived Lot: Musahars make a living by working in labour-intensive industries. They have to struggle for basics like shelter, electricity, piped water, education, and livelihood
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On June 22, eight-year-old Anubha (name changed) and her younger sister were playing with friends near their home in their village in Jainagar town in Madhubani, Bihar. That evening, when Anubha did not return home, her family, and many others from the village, started looking for her.

Two days later, Anubha’s body was found barely 100 metres from her home, in one of the abandoned and dilapidated buildings at the site of the Kosi Project—an ambitious government project started in the 1950s to minimise the impact of floods in the Kosi region. Now, it has become a crime scene. It is also a hideout for perpetrators of heinous crimes.

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The horrific incident of abduction, gang rape and killing of Anubha—who belonged to the Musahar community, one of the most marginalised communities in Bihar belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) category—was largely overlooked by the local and mainstream media. The most disturbing bit about the whole incident was that one of the main accused, Sushil Kumar Rai, was Anubha’s chacha—her father’s friend, who lived in the same village.

Narrating the incident, Lal Deo Saday, the General Secretary of the Bhartiya Musahar Bhuiyan Pariwar Sangh, a caste network related to the Musahar community, says the accused joined the family and other villagers when the frantic search for Anubha began.

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“It was only after the villagers questioned the children, who were with Anubha, did her sister share that she was last seen walking away with chacha (Rai). The family questioned the accused several times, but he denied his involvement and kept on misleading the family. Finally, the father approached the local police, who started a search operation,” informs Saday.

Finally, Rai confessed to the involvement of Omprakash Jha, a person from the same locality. “When the family went to Jha’s place along with Rai, a fight broke out between the two. Jha claimed that he paid around Rs 60,000 to Rai and was furious that despite this, Rai dragged his name in the case,” says Saday.

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Photo: Getty Images

The local police arrested Jha and Rai and charged them with abduction, gang rape, murder, and human trafficking. One person who is involved in the case is reportedly absconding and the police are trying to trace him. The sustained interrogation of the accused by police led them to the body of Anubha dumped in the dilapidated building.

The family members said they were aware that the accused befriended their children by giving them toffees and candies and would visit them frequently. The two girls would fondly call him chacha, and they never questioned the way he behaved with the kids.

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There has been an increase in the number of cases of Dalit atrocities and human trafficking in Bihar though the government considers its governance as “susasan”.

The Musahar community is the third-largest community in Bihar after the Dusadh and Ravidas communities. People from this community make a living by working predominantly as agricultural labourers and brick kiln workers. They also work in mandis, quarries and other labour-intensive industries.

In Bihar, the cases of human trafficking have increased in the recent past, shows the NCRB data. While 75 cases were reported in 2020, 111 cases were reported in 2021.

According to the 2011 census, at around 29 per cent, their literacy rate is dismally low. They have to struggle for basics like shelter, electricity, piped water, education, and livelihood. The community faces the challenges of landlessness despite the lofty claims of successive governments when it comes to social justice. In the sheer absence of sustainable livelihood, these people migrate for several months to states like Punjab and Haryana. With a dismally low literacy rate, they are unable to reap the benefits of reservations, especially in government jobs.

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The prevailing social and economic structures are not conducive to the community. It is pertinent to cite an old observation from the 1931 Census report in which the enumerators noted: “The Musahar who aspired to climb the social ladder on his own merit would always and everywhere find the dice heavily loaded against him.” Despite the continued emphasis on social justice by the government, marginalised communities in Bihar, like the Musahars, are at the receiving end as dominant communities in villages continue to control resources like lands, pastures and ponds.

Against this backdrop, Saday expresses his concerns over the fate of Anubha’s case as Rai hails from the powerful OBC community in Bihar. He resides in the same village and the social and economic status of his family is strong, unlike the minor’s family.

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As per the data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 50,900 cases pertaining to crime against Scheduled Castes (SCs) were registered across the country in 2021. The government reckoning established that crimes against the SCs (Dalits) have increased in the past couple of years at the pan-India level.

In Bihar, the cases of human trafficking have increased in the recent past, shows the NCRB data. While 75 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2020, 111 cases were reported in 2021. Many cases of Dalit atrocities and human trafficking have been reported in the local media in the past couple of years.

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Following the Anubha incident, the members of the Bhartiya Musahar Bhuiyan Pariwar Sangh visited the village and followed up on the case. In the absence of reporting on the case in the mainstream media, the members documented the accounts of family members.

Their pain clearly reflects in their conversations and the family has demanded capital punishment for the accused who have committed such heinous crimes. The investigation in the case is in the preliminary stages but there are multiple strands—ranging from Dalit atrocities, human trafficking and the fragile economic position of the family members—that make the case a sensitive one. The government’s role in ensuring the safety and dignity of not just Anubha’s family but all the marginalised communities like Musahars is paramount in a caste-ridden society like Bihar.

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(Views expressed are personal)

(This appeared in the print as 'Caste and Crime')

 

Vivek Kumar Rai is pursuing his PhD from Teri School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi. His doctoral research is related to the Musahar community in Bihar 

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