A mobile learning centre is bringing hope to a subjugated caste across rural Bihar.
“People are disgusted by Musahars, we are considered inferior. We are not accepted in society,” says eleven-year-old Santuli Kumari. Santuli belongs to the Musahar caste, considered untouchable by ‘upper’ castes because of their traditional occupation as rat catchers. Musahar, in their native Bhojpuri, means those who eat rat. Today the Musahars, spread across East India, are among the most marginalised. Employed mostly as landless agricultural labourers, the community has historically been deprived of access to health, education and dignity.
Originally known as Rikhiyasan, the history of this community tells us of a rich background with tribal origins. To revive the past and imbue the community with new hope, Nari Gunjan, an NGO based in Bihar has launched a unique initiative–a mobile vehicle which acts as a school, a library, a resource centre and an awareness drive about the community and its past. Founder Sudha Verghese says “I chose this community because I felt they were most in need. Very few in this community go to school. Among the girls, almost none. So, it’s important to educate them. I work with the weakest caste. Even today changing people’s mindset is the most important and most difficult task.”
The results are here to see. Benefactors from the community are growing in confidence. “Now, I live and study here and tell others about the discrimination,” says a smiling Santuli. “I really like it. I get to travel far and wide. Because of the Rikhiyasan Rath, girls in the villages now go to school. I also learn other skills like karate that I can use to defend myself if someone harasses me,” she adds, smiling. Others from the community echo her sentiments. “People’s attitude towards us has changed. Now they behave normally with us,” says a man from the community. Shanti Devi, who is an anganwadi worker, adds “Nari Gunjan gives us an opportunity to learn things.”
The colourful Rikhiyasan Rath is painted by the young girls from the community. Today, it travels from village to village spreading knowledge and dispelling the darkness of caste oppression. We wish it a long and successful journey spreading its message and bringing hope to people.
Video by Community Correspondents Amir Abbas and Mukesh Rajak
Article by Madhura Chakraborty, a journalist in the VV editorial team