The Musahar were traditionally rat-catchers, and there is still uncertainty as to their exact origin. According to a local legend, the father Brahma 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 Lord Brahma, who punished them by making them rat-catchers.
The Musahar consists of three sub-groups, the Bhagat, Sakatiya and Turkahia. Each of these clans are endogamous. They no longer engage in rat-catching and are now mainly landless agricultural labourers. They are one of the most marginalised groups in India, and have suffered discrimination. Although the Musahar are Hindu, they believe in a number of tribal deities.
The Musahar are found throughout Bihar and are employed in the stone quarries 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.
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 among women. 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.
The Government of Bihar operates the Mahadalit Mission, which partially funds some programs to expand education and other social welfare programs for the Musahar. An example is the Prerna schools operated by Sudha Varghese, residential schools for Musahar girls that include vocational training in the curriculum. Varghese also operates Nari Gunjan, which has 50 centres teaching 1500 Musahar girls throughout Bihar.
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