The Musahar are a Hindu scheduled caste found in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India, & Terai. They are also known as Arya or Banbasi.
The Musahar were traditionally rat catchers, and there is still uncertainty as to their exact origin. According to their traditions, Parmashwar (the Hindu creation god) created man and gave him a horse to ride. The first Musahar decided to dig holes in the belly of the horse to fix his feet as he rode. This offended Parmeshwar, who punished them by making them rat catchers. They are found in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and north Madhya Pradesh. The Musahar speak the Bhojpuri dialect of Hindi. In Bihar, the word Musahar is said to be derived from moos, a local Bhojpuri word for a rat, on account of their traditional occupation as rat catchers.
Present Circumstances
The Musahar consists of three sub-groups, the Bhagat, Sakatiya and Turkahia. Each of these clans are endogamous. The Musahar were once rat catchers, but this activity has been abandoned. They are now mainly landless agricultural labourers. They are one of the most marginalized groups in India, and have suffered discrimination. Although the Musahar are Hindu, they believe in a number of tribal deities.
In Bihar, the Musahar are employed in the stone quaries of the state. Many have also emigrated to the states of Punjab and Haryana, and are employed as agricultural labourers. They speak Bhojpuri, but many now have working knowledge of Hindi. The Musahar are found throughout Bihar.
The Musahar fall so far down the well of the Indian caste system that by all accounts its people live in modern India much as they did 2,000 years ago. In an initiative that was perhaps telling about the regard in which the community is held, in 2008 the Indian government acted to help the Musahar by allowing the commercialization of rat meat.
A brief portrait of their situation gleaned from what is available online and through conversations in Bihar: In the villages around Patna in Bihar state, India, child marriage at 13 or 14 is still common, although illegal in India.
In the rural areas, Musahar are primarily bonded agricultural labourers, but often go without work for as much as eight months in a year. Children work alongside their parents in the fields or as rag pickers, earning as little as 25 to 30 rupees daily.
The Musahar literacy rate is 3 percent, but falls below 1 percent for the women. Yet it is caste discrimination rather than parents that keep Musahari children away from schools. That said, the schools to which they have access apparently offer so little in the way of education that perception among the community is that schooling doesn’t offer them anything. And it is certainly true that even if they do manage an education certificate, discrimination means few manage to find jobs anyway.
By some estimates, as many as 85 percent of some villages of Musahars suffer from malnutrition and with access to health centres scant, diseases such as malaria and kala-azar, the most severe form of Leishmaniasis, are prevalent.
Besides eating rats, the Musahars are known for producing a good and cheap alcohol so not surprisingly alcoholism is rampant among the community, particularly the men.