Asia-Pacific

Wednesday 23 July 2014

India's poor rejoice as rat catcher rises to top

Dean Nelson

Published 21/05/2014|02:30

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Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, who will be the next prime minister of India, shows to the media a letter which he received from India's President Pranab Mukherjee after meeting him at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi. Reuters
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, who will be the next prime minister of India, shows to the media a letter which he received from India's President Pranab Mukherjee after meeting him at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi. Reuters

INDIA'S lowest caste is rejoicing as a rat-catcher has been sworn in as Bihar chief minister.

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For centuries the Musahar "untouchables" have caught and eaten rats to stave off hunger.

Now Jitan Ram Manjhi (68), who was born into the community, has been sworn in as chief minister.

The ceremony marked the most extraordinary rise of any politician in the history of India.

While Narendra Modi's rise to prime minister was aided by his origins as a tea boy and several Dalits have broken through the caste barriers to become powerful political figures, none of them can match the rise of Mr Manjhi.

His rat-catcher Musahar caste is the very lowest of India's 900 Dalit sub-castes who do the dirtiest jobs considered the most repellent to higher castes.

Brutal

While all Dalits suffer inhuman and brutal treatment, none of them are quite as marginalised as the Musahar.

They account for almost half of Bihar's 80 million population, but hardly any of them have a government job, while literacy rates are among the very lowest in the whole country.

Campaigners for Musahar rights said they believe the election of Mr Manjhi will finally roll back the prejudice they suffer and allow them to take their place in mainstream society.

"We have been oppressed for centuries by the upper classes and his appointment as the chief minister of Bihar is a historic step," said Umesh Kumar Manjhi, of the Rashtriya Musahar-Bhuyian Vikash Parishad group. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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