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'We are still struggling and fighting for our survival'

By M I Khan
October 06, 2015 15:18 IST
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M I Khan visits Jamsaut Mushhari, a downtrodden village close to Danapur near Patna, where four years ago, the world’s richest couple -- Microsoft founder Bill and his wife Melinda Gates visited it and promised all possible help to provide the inhabitants basic facilities to live a life with dignity. But he finds that nothing has changed for the residents, who belong to Musahars, one of the poor Dalit sub-castes.

Melinda and Bill Gates with Rani, at the Jamsaut village in this photograph taken in 2011. Photograph courtesy: Gatesfoundation.org

Hum sochaliya rah eke humni ke din badaltai, kuch na holai, humni ke kismatwa mein dukhe likhal hai (We expected that good days will come for us but nothing has happened. Misery is our destiny), says Ritu Devi, now in her mid-30, tells this correspondent in chaste Bhojpuri, the local language.

The Musahars, still regarded as ‘untouchables’ in the state, usually hunt rats for food in the paddy fields. Estimated to number nearly 40 lakh, they are among the most deprived and marginalised, and are yet to taste the fruits of development.

She recalls the time when her village sprung to fame when it was visited by a gora sahib and gori memsahib (Melinda and Bill Gates), and several high officials in 2011.

“We do not remember their names; but were told that they were rich people and wanted to help us. But we are still struggling and fighting for survival,” Ruti says.

Like any other hamlet of the Mushahar community, Jamsaut Mushhari or Mushahar Toli, is a poverty-stricken ghetto. Most of the Mushaharis are situated on the outskirts of powerful upper and backward caste villages in Bihar.

The famous couple, who co-chair their international philanthropic organisation -- the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- interacted with villagers with the help of a translator to understand their problems. They were keen to reduce infant and maternal mortality in the area and wanted to help check diseases such as tuberculosis, diarrhea and kala-azar.

Rani, her daughter, who was just a few months old when the famous couple came visiting, is now 4.

“When the sahib log picked up my daughter, we were hopeful, because no one had either visited us or picked her up, since we are considered to be of a low caste,” she says.

Rani has been attending the local Anganwadi Kendra which is run in a dark, dingy room, but not regularly.

A two-room government-run primary school that teaches up to Class V is near-useless. “Teachers never bother to teach our children and are always busy in gossiping. It seems like they don’t want our children to learn anything,” Phulwatia Devi, another resident says.

Rani’s elder brother Nitish is affected by malnutrition like many other children in the locality. “I don’t have money to provide a three-time meal to my family, how can I take him for costly medical treatment? It is not possible for us.”

The primary health centre in Jamsaut Mushahari does not function properly.

“A doctor some time visits the centre, but we hardly get any free medicines or any other facility,” says Ram Lakhan.

Ritu’s husband Sajan Manjhi, who works as a daily wage labourer said life has become more difficult in the last few years due to high inflation.

“I don’t get work regularly, and sometimes have nothing to eat,” he says ruefully.

The villagers pointed that though Jitan Ram Manjhi, one of their own caste, became chief minister, he too ignored this village and them.

In fact, if one visits Jamsaut Mushari, it is hard to tell that the assembly polls are just around the corner in the state.

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