India may be known for its beautiful landscapes and extraordinary culture, but there is a dark side to this enormous country. In a country where the caste system still dictates the lives of India’s citizens, the Muslim, Tribal, lower caste, or untouchable communities are marginalized and discriminated.
I traveled to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh State to document the Musahar community. Musahar means “mouse-eaters”. They are considered “Untouchable” – people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human. Musahar are relegated to the lowest jobs and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them In their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighborhood is a life-threatening offence. The main business for them, even today, is to kill rats. However, many communities, which have been supported by People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), have changed their diet. Many of them can afford to eat pork, chicken and fish.
Despite the fact that untouchability was officially banned when India adopted its constitution in 1950, discrimination against Musahar remained so pervasive that in 1989 the government passed legislation known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act. The act specifically made it illegal to parade people naked through the streets, force them to eat faeces, take away their land, foul their water, interfere with their right to vote, and burn down their homes. Many of the youngest in the community children do not found entry in the schools since the upper castes do not want their children to study along with the Musahar children.
Since then, the violence has escalated largely as a result of the emergence of a grassroots human rights movement among Musahar to demand their rights and resist the dictates of untouchability.
Most of the Musahar people work in someone else field or migrate to the cities. Their standards of living force their children to work even in hazardous industries. I visited their homes and took my attention how these communities live right next to the upper castes. Rice fields owned by the rich people surround their homes. Some of their women just need to cross one street to go and clean the houses of the upper castes. Slavery is just in the corner.
The severest human rights violations in India, as the widespread use of custodial torture, are closely linked to caste-based discrimination. In the context of crime investigation, suspects are tortured to enforce confessions. Due to the absence of an independent agency to investigate cases, complaints are often not properly proofed and perpetrators are nor prosecuted and punished. The discrimination of women and gender based violence which includes domestic violence, dowry linked violence, acid attacks, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex-selective abortion is one of the most relevant human rights issues in India.
Lenin Raghuvanshi is the Secretary General and Executive Director of PVCHR. His human rights focuses on advocating for the basic rights of marginalized groups in India society. He has been working for the rights of bonded and child labourers and other marginalized people in Varanasi and eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, India.
In 1996, he and his wife Shruti founded the PVCHR, a community-based organization, to break the closed, feudal hierarchies of conservative slums and villages by building up local institutions and supporting them with a high profile and active human rights network.
He has become the symbol of nonviolent resistance among the Musahar communities fighting for dignity. Due to his commitment on behalf of the marginalized, he has periodically suffered death threats.
If you are interested and would like to have more information, please visit PVCHR’s website
Written by Andy VC
“Made in the Earth!”