The word ‘Mushari’ conjures up images of poverty and filth – of people rearing pigs, working as labourers and picking out pieces of plastic, iron and paper from heaps of rubbish; of people who eat rats, snails and pigs; of people who distil liquor from ‘mahua’ and sell it; of people who get something to eat in the evening only, and only if they work during the day; of people whose settlements are outside the village limits.
This is the enduring image of Musharis (settlements of Mushars) of Bihar. But the Jamsaut Mushari is different. It has grown and progressed. There are about 110 houses in the locality and the total population is around 400. One can well say that the Jamsaut Mushari, which lies to the west of Danapur, is like a lamp flickering amidst pitch darkness.
In 2012, this Mushari suddenly came into limelight when one of its residents Manoj Kumar reached the hot seat of Kaun Banega Crorepati. There is an organisation called Shoshit Samadhan Kendra at Jagdev Path that provides free education to Mushar boys, along with free food and accommodation. Manoj lives and studies here. Currently, more than 300 Mushar children are studying here. Manoj represented the organisation in KBC and returned with a reward of Rs. 25 lakh.
But there are other things that distinguish this Mushari from others, one of them being that people here do not deal in Mahua liquor. The level of cleanliness is also very high. A visitor feels that he is in a normal village, inhabited by cultured people. Jamsaut has no signs of a typical Mushari.
I meet Biteshwar Saurabh here. He is doing an MA through correspondence. He tells me that 15 children from the settlement have cleared the matriculation exam. Eight have passed the intermediate exam and one is a BA. Biteshwar is an assistant resource person in the Bihar education project.
According to Biteshwar, 100 of the 110 houses in the locality have been constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana. Around 65-70 people have health cards. But MNREGA is in bad shape here. Not everyone gets work under the scheme. The Mushars have been classified as Mahadalits, but the nomenclature is only a part of the vote-bank politics. They have gained little from being declared Mahadalits.
Jamsaut is not all happiness and contentment. There is economic hardship. Some families live hand to mouth. If they fall ill, they are helpless. Health facilities are simply non-existent. Some of them were forced to spend the money they received under Indira Awas Yojana on treatment. Their houses now lie unfinished.
I came across Ramjhadia here. She is about 70. When she saw me, she thought I was some government official. She showed me a piece of land where her old house once stood. It collapsed about six years ago and the mukhiya refused to help her build a new one. “He is a good-for-nothing fellow. Who will listen to us Mushars? Now that you are here, get the proposal for my house passed,” she said.
The settlement was preparing for the annual puja. I was told that every year on this day, the villagers perform Devi puja. A clay statue of Devi is placed on a wooden plank at the centre of the village. Women bring dholaks and sit around the statue. They begin singing devotional songs to the Devi. A sorceress arrives. An elderly man sacrifices a pigeon. The bhaktin says that the Devi is not happy. Then, they sacrifice a goat and offer country liquor to the Devi. The sorceress starts dancing as if in a trance.
The government schemes may have failed this Mushari, but that has only made its residents self-reliant, and achievers in their own right – an ideal for other Musharis.
Published in the February 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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