Gandhiji once said: Life should not be a pyramid where bottom sustains the top. To paraphrase it, one can say that those at the top of the pyramid should not suppress those at the bottom. But, the life of Dalits and other marginalized sections in the society throws light on a vastly different picture. Seven decades after independence, the bottom of the pyramid, consisting of the above sections, is getting crushed under the weight of the better-placed people at the top. This issue of Indian Currents takes a close look at the life and times of one such marginalized community -- Musahars. Their tales of poverty and deprivation do not come to light as real news and feeble voices from the ground often get sidelined. Their struggles for survival are not newsworthy for the media.
Musahars present a classic case of the benefits of governments’ policies and programmes not trickling down. Their story epitomizes the overall neglect of Dalits and the marginalized and its pathetic results. Their miserable life exposes big holes in government schemes through which their rightful benefits are sucked out by conmen. The persistent apathy towards these sections became clear when the government allocated just Rs. 65,500 crore for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme in 2020-21 Budget, which is Rs. 9,500 crore less than the previous year’s allocation. Interestingly, the cost of bullet train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai spanning 500 km is more than Rs 100,000 crore. So much for the love of the government for the poor.
The Food Security Act remains a riddle and puzzle for the poor as large number of them have to struggle for a square meal. The Covid 19 brought out the hunger pangs of lakhs of people even as the Food Corporation of India’s godowns are overflowing with foodgrains. Noted economist Jean Dreze points out that 77 million tonnes of food lies in India’s granaries without being delivered to the needy. Non-possession of ration cards and other documents often come in the way of many poor people availing foodgrains. A responsive government should find solutions to such mundane problems instead of allowing the poor to remain famished.
The government’s lopsided priority was exposed when Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan stated that the extra rice available with FCI could be converted into ethanol for making alcohol-based hand sanitizers and ethanol-blended petrol. The Minister seems to have forgotten the fact that sanitizers will be needed only if people have food for survival. Giving priority to sanitizers over food shows insensitivity to the millions going to sleep hungry every day.
The tales of poverty and squalor of the Musahars is only a part of the story of neglect of the poor. Isolation has become a byword in this corona-hit time. But it does not sound good when communities are isolated and made to suffer on the basis of their Dalit origins. Caring is the trait of a civilized culture. If any community or sections of a community are left out of the safety net of the government, it is a blot on the nation. Hence it is incumbent upon the government to bring them to the mainstream – economically and socially. Bullet trains will take only the rich people to their destination; others will be left out on the margins.(Published on 27th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 18)