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
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.
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.