The ‘Rat Eaters’ of Bi­har: The na­tion’s poor­est peo­ple

It’s a daily strug­gle for the next meal and dis­eases like lep­rosy are an ev­ery­day re­al­ity

Gulf News - - India -

The rat kept crawl­ing over Phekan Man­jhi’s arm as he bat­tled to pin it to the ground be­fore he even­tu­ally man­aged to kill it with re­peated blows to the head.

The ex­e­cu­tion drew ap­plause from neigh­bours hud­dled around the 60-year-old in a grimy court­yard out­side his mud and straw hut. An­other meal lined up for the Rat Eaters — some of In­dia’s poor­est peo­ple.

Phekan said it would take 15 min­utes to pre­pare the rat stew, as he dis­sected the an­i­mal with his fin­ger­nails. “Al­most every­one here loves this and knows how it’s pre­pared,” he added.

Phekan is one of about 2.5 mil­lion Musa­hars — ‘Rat Eaters’ — one of In­dia’s most marginalised com­mu­ni­ties. Even the brow­beaten low-caste Dal­its look down on them.

“They are the poor­est among the poor­est and rarely hear about or get ac­cess to gov­ern­ment schemes,” said Sudha Vargh­ese, who spent three-decades work­ing among Musa­hars in the north­ern state of Bi­har, where most live and sur­vive as dol­lara-day labour­ers.

Like the an­ces­tors

“It’s a daily strug­gle for the next meal and dis­eases like lep­rosy are an ev­ery­day re­al­ity,” added Vargh­ese, who was awarded In­dia’s top civil­ian hon­our for her work.

Phekan’s neigh­bour in the vil­lage of Alam­pur Gon­pura, 28-year-old Rakesh Man­jhi, be­moaned his life.

“We sit at home all day with noth­ing to do. Some days we get work at the farm, on other days we go hungry or catch rats and eat it with what­ever lit­tle grain we can get,” Rakesh said.

“Gov­ern­ments may have changed but noth­ing has changed for us. We still eat, live and sleep as our an­ces­tors,” said Phekan.

AFP

Boys of the Musa­har community play with a rat at Alam­pur Gon­pura vil­lage in the eastern state of Bi­har. An­other meal lined up for the Rat Eaters — In­dia’s low­est of the low.

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