J.K. Sinha IPS
Mahatma Gandhi said that “Poverty is the worst kind of violence”. The worst victims of this violence are, perhaps, the musahar community of Bihar, whose population is estimated to be 4.5-5 million. Shunned by the society and exploited by the rural elite, the musahars are predominantly landless agricultural labourers, many among them being bonded labourers. Literacy among them is 3% and education, of course, is a far cry. Musahars are widely known as the rat-eating community and were so named because ‘musa’ in Hindi means rats and ‘ahar’ means food. They are permitted to live in the ghettoes in the outskirts of the villages of Bihar and are the worst victims of exploitation, neglect and violence.
Historical records suggest that musahars were forced into petty crime by landlords and mahajans. Deprived of hope and opportunity musahars have also joined the ranks of the Maoists in Bihar. The plight of the musahars shall plague Bihar for years. My first contact with the community came way back in 1969 as a young Police officer when I was asked to raid a musahar ghetto to apprehend a musahar gang of criminals. Their sub-human existence, literally living along-side pigs which till today is a valuable resource for musahars, was a shocking and a moving experience for an urbane youngster who had lived a privileged existence and could hardly stomach this level of poverty and existence. That the society and the state had failed to remove this national shame carried for me a sense of personal guilt. The determination to make a difference whenever I got the opportunity was reinforced when I attended a talk of Mother Teresa. Her words “Make us worthy O Lord to serve the people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger” still resonates. On retirement in New Delhi as Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, in 2005, after serving 35 long years in India and abroad in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the road ahead for me was very clear. I had to return to Patna to do my bit for the musahar community. To my shock and chagrin little had changed in the community in 40 years. This profile of national shame had remained just the same.
Knowledge has the power to liberate and emancipate. Education and quality education alone can impart knowledge. The obvious road ahead, therefore, for an individual initiative such as the one contemplated by me was to provide quality education to the children of the musahar community. It was necessary to provide the children of this community a level playing field so that they could be empowered to compete with the best. The answer was to set –up a fully free English medium residential school which would provide all the three vital ingredients of quality education – a qualified faculty, necessary facilities and an environment conducive to serious studies. This was the rationale for starting Shoshit Samadhan Kenra, a fully free English medium residential school at Patna for the musahar community. It was extremely sad to discover that education in the government schools particularly in the villages, more so in the remote villages, was an eye-wash. Children studying in class V in these schools were not fit enough to be in class I. A decision was, therefore, taken to admit very young musahar children in the pre-school class. A sound foundation is an absolute must for a child to absorb quality education. If empowerment of the musahars and changing their profile is the objective, education for them should not stop after passing-out from a school. Shoshit Seva Sangh aspires to and is determined to support the musahar children passing-out from the school to complete their higher education as well. Hopefully, many of them will compete into professional courses such as medicine, engineering, law, accountancy and many other institutions of higher learning. Then and then alone will they be able to take a huge quantum jump in life from the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder to its higher rungs. Only then will the balance of advantage which has been heavily weighed against them for centuries will tilt in their favour. They will be able to take full advantage of job reservations for depressed classes. Literary thousands of well-paid job opportunities shall open-up for them.
The musahar children having made a quantum jump in life shall not only become a catalyst of change in their community, but also create within the community internal dynamics of self-sustaining change, which cannot be stopped or prevented. There will be a ripple effect as each musahar child having made a quantum jump in life will constitute this dynamic of change. They will be like stones being dropped in a stagnant pool causing, in due course, the total churning of the pool. If the trickle-down theory has failed, the ripple effect constituting internal dynamics of socio-economic change must work. This is the silent revolution which Shoshit Seva Sangh aspires to deliver.
A major challenge for me is to impart sustainability to Shoshit Seva Sangh so that as an institution it outlives me as the Founder-Chairman. The vision of the Shoshit Seva Sangh can become a reality only if it endures and it becomes an institution and not merely a product of an individual effort. Many NGOs fade away because of the failure to create norms and ethos of an institution. A huge step towards institutionalization would be for Shoshit Seva Sangh to have its own residential school building with established credentials which can attract talent to run it and wide spread support to finance it on a sustainable basis. The school was established in 2007 and presently there are 320 students drawn from remote and backward villages from various districts of Bihar. The idea is to create potential catalysts of change in the musahar community in as wide spread an area as possible so that the cascading effect that this shall engender in the years ahead will change the profile of the community. What has not happened in centuries may be achieved in three or four decades. The senior most students are in class XII and their number is four only. These were the students with which the whole project was launched. The residential school building is under construction but the huge challenge is to raise the funds to complete it. It is surprising but true that finances have always been the most daunting constraint but somehow the Almighty has made it available when it is required. It is with this belief that Shoshit Seva Sangh never gave-up planning and executing an ambitious plan of acquiring land in Patna and building a residential school with all the necessary facilities mandated by Central Board of Secondary Education (C.B.S.E.) to accommodate 1000 musahar children by the end of the current decade. The famous words of the great sage Swami Vivekanand encapsulates the spirit and the energy with which Shoshit Seva Sangh has been founded. “Your work is to serve the poor and the miserable, without distinction of caste and creed. Help another because you are in Him and He is in you. The poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted – let these be your God. Know that service to them is the highest form of religion”.