Monday, November 27, 2006
Friday, November 10, 2006
Prabhawati, the wife of Nagina Musahar from Kushinagar, UP, told how her husband died of hunger. Her only daughter, Sambha, is two-years-old but because of acute malnutrition looks just six-months-old. To survive, Prabhawati begs and sometimes gets work in the fields. After outside intervention she was given 10,000 rupees under the National Family Benefit Scheme and a leaky house.
Mr. Chotalal, aged 42, son of Mithailal of Oraw village in Pindra Block under Phoolpur Police Station, Varanasi district, explained how the Musahar community struggle to survive under the control of other groups:
"We have no land of our own. We work in the fields of Thakurs and Brahmins. They are the upper caste people. This work is seasonal, for about two months per year. For a full day's work we are paid 5kg of wheat for a male and 3kg of wheat for a female. We work from 7am to 4pm. Sometimes we get 20-30 rupees per day for men and 5 rupees for women. We have never even hoped for the minimum wage and equal remuneration. If we demanded the minimum wage, the landlords would kill us. If we have any complaints, we must keep quiet. You can't go to the police: the police mean money here. They all work for the landlords”.
"For the rest of the year, we work as manual labourers and also make plates out of leaves, which people buy for serving food at marriages and other ceremonies. We earn about 20-30 rupees for making 200 plates”.
"The Gramasabah here has about 90 bigahs (45 acres) of land. This land was taken by the upper castes. We were told that this land was intended to be given to us but the fact is that we do not have this land. I was told that some of the property which is currently held by the landlords stands in our names, but we are not able to use it as our own property. However, we still have to work on it as labourers since the property has been taken by them. We are scared to put any claim on our property”.
"We are not even allowed to go to the place where the upper caste people live. Even the backward people do not allow us to come to their houses. This is because we are untouchables. But if there is any work in their households, we are expected to go and do the work. If we are found in the upper caste area without being asked to come there for work, we will be beaten. If there is any crime in the locality, we are by default blamed for it. In the past, there was a murder: 13 of our family members were arrested and put in jail. No one ever dared to complain because it would not make a difference”.
"Nearly all our children go to school. But their schooling is over after Grade 4. All our children are dropouts from the school. There are no schools that will educate our children for free and we have no money to pay school fees. The government schools are far away. Even though the fees at government schools are nominal, we do not have enough money to pay. We would like to see our children educated and well-employed but this is not a realistic dream”.
"We do not have any medical care or hospitals near by. Nobody from the government would ever come here. Some of us have ration cards but we do not have money to buy rations. In the past, we would have to pay at least 100 rupees to buy our rations, because the public distribution shops were so corrupt. Now, the price is normal, at 10 rupees, but we still cannot afford this."
Mr. Bhotu Musahar, aged 55, son of Sukhdev Musahar, residing at Belwa Musahar village, Varanasi district, said that starvation is treated as normal in his village:
"We have stayed here for about six generations. For eight months we work at a brick kiln. The kiln is about 10 kilometers from here. But we have no option. There is a kiln which is in the neighboring property. It is run by Rajendar Tiwari, the most powerful man in Belwa village. The property is on Panchayat land. The place from which the clay is collected for this kiln is from the village property. We were told that this property was earmarked for our community to cultivate and build our huts. But we cannot question this since the person who questions Tiwari would not live to see the next dawn”.
"For about ten years we worked for Tiwari. He never paid us any money. He used to abuse us for everything. If someone failed to turn up for work he would beat that person when he came to work next time. If anyone fell sick and failed to turn up for work, then also he would beat the person. Women faced the same treatment. Tiwari's son used to do the same. His son, Guddu Tiwari, was very young when he used beat us. I was beaten by him when Guddu was only 20. The kiln manager beat us too”.
"Tiwari would give us some vegetables for our work, once a week, and that was the only payment. This was not enough for us. It would be over in a day and the rest would be easily damaged, since what he gave us was already rotten. Once in a while we would get dead animals. These were Tiwari's animals. However, we were not allowed to take any dead animal. Only when Tiwari allowed us we could take them. We never cared how the animal died; we only cared how fast we could cook it. Sometimes we would dig up buried animals a day after without anyone knowing. We did not have any time to fetch food for ourselves since we were not allowed to leave the kiln. We could not earn anything else from other work since no one would employ us. This was because we are untouchables and even if anyone was willing to employ us Tiwari would intervene and prevent it”.
"Many people died from starvation and a few from injuries suffered at work and also from beatings. We never dared to complain to anyone. Where could we complain? We had seen police officers staying at Tiwari's house and having dinner with him. Tiwari also used to threaten us that if we ever dared to complain to anyone about this he would get the police to arrest us. He threatened us that instead of the men, he would get the women arrested. So we had no other option. Men, women and children worked for Tiwari. Every child was to work for him. The only concern was whether one could work or not. Young or old, all had to work. Rain or drought everyday we had to work. Even if somebody died and the body was still at home, you still had to go to work or else they would beat us. We were fed up with this situation and the punishments were intolerable”.
"It was Dr Lenin who came to our rescue. It was his organisation [PVCHR] which helped us from this mess. He advised us to lodge complaints at the Sub Divisional Magistrate’s court. But there was no action. Soon there was an opportunity for us to speak at a [tribunal]. After that we came to know that it had asked the magistrate to take action upon our complaint. The magistrate came here. We also came to know that Dr Lenin also had filed a separate complaint on our behalf to the same officer. One day we were all free. However, we were never paid any compensation. We were informed that the magistrate had ordered 20,000 rupees to be paid to us. But when we inquired at the magistrate's office we were told that since the magistrate is a Brahmin, he would never execute the order, and we were asked to be satisfied with our freedom, and that nothing more is to be expected”.
"We have only five ration cards altogether. The ration shop dealer never opens his shop regularly. It is open only one or two days in a week and that too during evening hours. We work in a kiln about 10 kilometers away. By the time we finish our work and return, the shop is closed. The food grains that are to be supplied for a very low price are also sold at a higher price. We are not able to afford such high prices. We know it is illegal. But we cannot complain. The ones who dare to complain will never live to see the result of the complaints. The police, health officer and district administration officers are all teamed against us. Who cares for us?”
"Hunger is accepted in our village. It is hard to manage the children. By night they start crying and refuse to sleep [due to hunger]. We have no option. We beat them hard so that they cry for a while and are soon tired and that is how we put our children to sleep”.
"Many have died of starvation here. Bahru Musahar's family is one example. His wife and two children died within four weeks of one another. His daughter Reena died when she was five-years-old. Then his wife Kismati Devi died, and soon his other daughter Hasna, who was nine-months-old: all within about four weeks of this year. Bharu has lost his senses now. This is not strange for us. Every year in July, August, September and October a few children die here due to malnutrition and acute starvation. No one cares for us."