|Residents of a Musahar settlement in Jamui and (below) Chirag Paswan in New Delhi. Pictures by Nalin Verma and Sankarshan Thakur
Around 10am, Phudani Devi (35) was waiting for her husband Mangal Majhi to return with, at least, four rats.
Some rice and the rat meat would serve as a meal for her four children, husband and herself. The rice was inside a polythene bag on an unlit oven outside her Indira Awaas Yojana home.
“Meat, murga, machali, tarkari kine la paisa naikhe. Chhuchhe bhat bachwan khaihey nahin. Moose tiyana baa (We have no money to buy meat, chicken, fish or vegetables. Our kids won’t eat just rice. Rat preparation serves as a supplement),” says Phudani. This is what she and others at Khagor village are living on for centuries.
Khagor is home to 65 Musahar families — a sub-caste of Bihar’s Dalit community. They live in 65 one-room houses built under the Indira Awaas Yojana scheme in 1994 when Lalu Prasad was chief minister. Nitish Kumar has ensured that the settlement has a primary school and its below poverty line (BPL) families get 15 kg of rice and 10 kg of wheat for Rs 110 every month.
“We usually work in farmers’ fields, earning barely enough to buy BPL grains. Also, we don’t get jobs regularly,” says Kanchan Majhi (85). “We still catch rats, cook them and eat it with rice or roti.”
Khagor, on the shining Jamui-Nawada highway and barely 20km from the district headquarters of Jamui, belies the government’s claim that dependence on rats for food was a thing of the past. It also ridicules Lalu Prasad’s slogan of “social justice” and Nitish’s “inclusive growth”.
“Our men smoke out the rats from their holes. I first roast the rats to remove the hair. It is then cooked with salt, chilli and pepper,” Phudani says in her local dialect. “Hamar mai hamara ke chooha banawe ke sikhailas. Hum hoon apne bachwan ke sikha deb (My mother taught me how to cook rats. I will pass it on to my kids).”
Ironically, actor-turned-LJP candidate here, Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan, is yet to meet Khagor residents, believed to be the senior Paswan’s backbone once. Ram Vilas’ fiery slogan in the 1970s - “Gore gore haath kado mein, emki bar bhado mein (The white-complexioned hands will go in the mud fields this rainy season)” made him the uncrowned spokesperson of the Dalits. Ram Vilas meant he would make upper caste women work in the fields. Those days Dalit women were derided as working hands. Ram Vilas had first won from Alauli Assembly seat (now in Khagaria district), which has the largest presence of Musahars, way back in 1969 when Lalu and Nitish had not entered politics.
But now, Raj Kumar Majhi says: “Ram Vilasji ke dil me ab Dalit ke dard na basela (Ram Vilas no longer feels the pain of Dalits in his heart).”
Makru Majhi said: “Lalu haman ke ghar dihlan. Nitish ke raj mein anaj paani sasta mein milelela (Lalu got us a home. Nitish has ensured we get foodgrain at a cheap rate).”
He particularly remembers Lalu’s words during a recent rally: “Ai chuha pakadne walon, ai suwar khane walon, padhna likhna seekho (O rat-catchers, O pig-eaters… learn to read and write).” Makru adds: “Jab Lalu chuha pakadne wala bolte hain to chhati phul jata hai (When Lalu refers to us as rat catchers, our chests fill up with pride). Nitish bhi bahoot achha aadmi badan. Hamni ke khyal rakhelan (Nitish too is a nice man. He takes care of us).
Enter Chirag Paswan in 2014 as the LJP’s Jamui candidate. The former actor has metamorphosed into a smart, tech-savvy leader who speaks a sophisticated language, eats and stays in posh hotels and is at ease in the company of fellow actors Kangana Ranaut, Neeru Bajwa and Sagarika Ghatke, with whom he debuted in the movie Miley Naa Miley Hum.
But Khagor residents are alien to Chirag. “Chirag Paswan ke hamni jaani naa (We don’t know Chirag Paswan),” says one of them .
Chirag was heard saying at a rally: “Narendra Modi ko pradhan mantri banane ke liye mujhe vote dein. Desh banane ke liye youth mere saath awaein (Vote for me to make Narendra Modi the Prime Minister. The youth should support me to build the nation).” Chirag can rest assured of upper caste support. But, should he win, the Musahars at Khagor and Dalits in general, around 20 per cent of Jamui’s electorate, could lose their voice.
Jamui votes on April 10