Bihar Professor Beaten for Speaking Out against Demolition of Dalit Homes

This article was published in the Times of India.

Bihar cops thrash Jamia professor, brand him ‘Naxal’

Pranava K Chaudhary, 26 December 2009

PATNA: Associate professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, Rahul Ramagundam, was assaulted, abused and branded a Naxalite by Bihar police for daring to ask the cops why the hutments belonging to Musahars — among the most backward of Scheduled Castes — were being demolished. [The Musahars, or rat-eaters,  are one of the Dalit subcastes in Bihar. See article below for more information on them.]

Ramagundam, who teaches at Dr K R Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies at JMI, was thrashed and abused and called a Naxalite by Khagaria police at Amausi village. His local companion was also manhandled and beaten up by lathi-wielding police constables and officers. The incident took place on December 22.  ”How could asking just one question lead to such physical violence? How can one be called a Naxalite and assaulted and humiliated like this,” asked Ramagundam.

Amausi had hit headlines on October 1 when 16 villagers, mostly OBCs (Kurmi), were killed allegedly by Musahars. The village has some 300 Musahar families who live in thatched huts.

“On December 22, I rode pillion on the motorbike of Varun Choudhry, a grassroots activist with Khagaria-based NGO Samta, to go to Amausi. When we reached, the village was in turmoil. The cops were breaking thatched houses of people who were said to be absconding. Shankar Sada, whom Varun met in the village, took us to the place where the police party had camped before taking up the rip-and-strip job,” Ramagundam said.

“Just as we spoke, a police party arrived and pulled down the thatched roof and walls of a hut. I couldn’t control myself. I asked the cops if they had any written orders to pull down the houses of the absconding accused.” A tall uniformed man stared at me. Instead of answering, he asked me my identity. I teach in Delhi,  I told him. ‘Name?’ I told him. ‘Father’s name?’ I told him. But even before I could take out my identity card, he turned hostile.

By then, I was surrounded by the rest of the cops. They roughed me up and thrashed my colleague, Varun, who suffered a fracture,” said Ramagundam.  ”They had guns. A constable in green fatigues called me a Naxalite and moved menacingly to break the cordon around me,” he said.

After meeting Khagaria SP Anusya Rannsingh Sodhi, Ramagundam lodged a complaint asking whether people had the right to ask police for written orders before dismantling houses of the “poorest of the poor”.

The Khagaria SP said she would conduct an inquiry and take appropriate action. She added that she would not take action against anyone merely on the basis of Ramagundam’s statement. Ramagundam is author of two books, ‘Defeated Innocence’ on the Adivasi struggle for land rights in Madhya Pradesh in 2001 and ‘Gandhi’s Khadi: A History of Contention and Conciliation’.

Bihar to uplift Musahar community by commercialising rat meat

ThaIndian, August 11, 2008

Rat meat may soon be available in hotels as a delicacy. Rat farming, akin to rearing poultry, would be given to the poor Musahar community of Bihar as a means for their socio-economic upliftment as well as promote a new kind of food item in urban pockets. The Musahars, known as the traditional rat eating community and still regarded as ‘untouchables’, usually hunt rats in the paddy fields.

“The government has decided to engage the Musahars in commercialisation of rat meat for their overall development,” Vijay Prakash, principal secretary in the social welfare department, told IANS.  “We will encourage and help the Musahars to organize rat farms in order to commercialise rat meat” he said.

The Musahars, estimated to number 2.3 million, are among the most deprived and marginalised section of the society in Bihar. They are yet to taste the fruits of development. They are widely known as rat eaters either out of choice or as compulsion to fight hunger.

Engaging Musahars in commercialisation of rat meat would help create a regular source of income for them. “It will help empower them and change their poor living conditions if the venture is properly designed and clicks,” said Prakash.

Prakash maintains rat meat has the “potential” to become a popular food. According to dieticians, rat meat is rich in protein and tastier than chicken. Prakash said when Musahars rear rats in farms, on the lines of chicken and fish farming, the age-old image of catching rats being a wild activity will change.

Eating rat meat is considered a stigma in urban pockets and confined to the poorer sections of society, said Prakash. “However, I discovered during a fact-finding mission about rat meat that it is a popular food item in the Mokama riverine areas and roadside hotels in Danapur in Patna district. It is called ‘patal-bageri’ and its demand is high,” he said.  Many people at toddy shops demand rat meat for its rare taste with spices.

The state government plans to set up stalls in rural fairs across the state, followed by rat meat centres in urban areas.  Prakash hinted that his department would approach government and private agencies in and outside the country to speed up commercialisation of rat meat. “We’d like to have a network with other experts to boost the rat meat business,” he said.

Dalits constitute nearly 15 percent of Bihar’s population of 83 million. The poorest Dalits were declared Maha Dalits in Bihar. A government commission has identified 18 of the 22 Dalit sub castes, including Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom, and Nat as Maha Dalits. They constitute 31 percent of the Dalit population in the state.

The commission has not included four Dalit castes – Paswan, Pasi, Dhobi and Chamar – in the Maha Dalit category. These four constitute 69 percent of the Dalit population in the state.

A few months ago Nitish Kumar announced a special package of Rs.3 billion ($76 million) for the socio-economic development of the poorest among Dalits. He set up a commission in August last year for the welfare of certain Dalit castes that are socially and educationally more backward than others.

Bihar is the first state to constitute a commission to study the status of the neglected sub-castes among Dalits and suggest ways to uplift them. The commission in its first interim report to the government a few months ago painted a bleak picture of the Dalit sub-castes. The report said there were no high school teachers for senior officials from these castes in the state despite reservations in government jobs for them.

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