India’s Caste-Aways: Bettiah’s Doms, Mehtars Weave Bamboo, Scavenge Human Excreta for a Living


Showing the interiors of his hut, Dablu Mallik says: “Our grandfather came here from Parsauna village 50 years ago. This is my maternal property. I couldn’t erect a brick here; I am poor. Even this bamboo hut costs Rs 20,000.”

He says his father is mentally ill and he doesn’t have money for his treatment. “Whenever we go to the government hospital, they hook up an intravenous drip…as it finishes, we are asked to leave,” he says, worriedly, adding that “I am illiterate but not an idiot. How can a mental illness be treated with a drip?”

Manual scavenging is the only source of income for Dablu to support a family of six. Like Dablu, there are more than 300 families of Doms and Mehtars in Dom Toli of Bettiah for whom there is no escape from reality except to engage in traditional bamboo weaving and manual scavenging.

“Baans ke kam karin le. uhe se laika ke khiaine. Ab ihe madai tati sahara ba (I weave bamboos. This is the only source of income for me. All left for us is this bamboo hut.),” says Kanti Devi, a widow. “A bamboo,” she says, “costs Rs. 250. I buy one bamboo at a time; I can’t afford more than that.”

Kanti, 35, earns a maximum of Rs 200 a day by weaving bamboos. She sells the products to a middleman at the outpost who then sells them in the town market. She has four kids —two girls and two boys. She married her eldest daughter under 18 years of age a few years ago. She laments, “How can a single parent manage the needs of four children?” Her younger daughter Ruti Kumari studies in class 5 in a nearby government school. Pawan and Prem, her sons, study in Class 5 and Class 3, respectively.

Kanti was a temporary sweeper in the Agriculture Department’s office. “I worked for 15 years but I was not made a permanent employee. They were not even releasing my payment for months,” she continues, “I got multiple applications written to sahibs in the department but none paid attention to my plea. One day I gathered courage to write to the Collector to increase my salary.” As she wrote to the district magistrate, her dues [salaried at Rs.700 per month for a couple of months] were paid but her employment was discontinued for complaining [highlighting the issue outside the department].

The financial condition of Shanti Devi, Kanti’s neighbour, is no different. Shanti works as a sweeper in some upper caste families. “I sometimes hide from families where I work that I am an achhut (untouchable),” Shanti admits. “We doms are called to feast in the funerals of Hindus [upper castes], they say that we are the door to moksha (salvation). But after the feast, we again become untouchables.”

Holding her grandson on her lap, Shanti murmurs,”Ekni ke ka hoyi, kaise padhiyen san ee garibi me. (How they will study in this poverty.)” Her married son is also into traditional bamboo weaving.

Anuradha Devi, who is weaving bena (hand fans) at her home, tells us that 25 benas can be made from a bamboo. She says, “Each bena costs between Rs. 10 and Rs. 20, depending on the demand.” “Many people in the town have proper power backup for electric fans thus the demand of hand fans has fallen.”

The two lanes of Dom Toli are separated by a stagnant sewage line. Ushmi Devi, whose hut faces the sewage line, says, “This overflows when there is rain. We are suffering because we have to. None from the municipality comes to clean the toilet; it is left to us because it is our caste job.” There is only one public toilet in this lane that houses more than 50 Dom families.

Rajwanti Devi, Ushmi’s married daughter lives with her. Rajwanti says, “The family of my husband doesn’t respect me.” She was working as an agricultural labourer in Punjab’s fields some years ago. After the birth of my children, it was quite difficult to manage them alone in a foreign place; that is why I came back.”

Sujit Mallik, 28, is unstacking the bamboo bundle which he bought in Rs 1,800. He expects a profit of Rs. 1000 on this. “Abhi roj ka nali- mori ka kam kar ke aye hain, kal se isme hath lagayenge (I just have returned after finishing the routine scavenging, will start weaving tomorrow.)” Sujit earns Rs. 350 which he says is maximum one can earn a day in the business of bamboo weaving. He travels to nearby blocks like Chhapwa to sell the products.

Ramsomari Mallik, in her 60s, is splitting bamboos. “We are called Mehtars. We have been removing faeces and weaving bamboos for generations,” she says. Her home, which is not in good condition, is still one of few pucca homes in the toli. “This was made under Indira Awas Yojana decades ago,” she adds.

Ramsomari’s husband is paralysed. She has three daughters; two of them are helping her in weaving. Chulbul Kumari, Ramsomari’s youngest daughter, studies in Class 6 in a government school at Sagar Pokhra. She says, “I feel disheartened when I see my mother working tirelessly. As it is summer vacation, I can help her with this.” “Bamboo weaving is not easy, it is difficult. I don’t want this traditional art to disappear from my family.”
Old Age Pension, Awas Yojana Far Cry

The mukhiya (village head), Ramsomari says, doesn’t approve vridha (old age) pension. Mukhiya Ravindra Kumar Ravi alias Ravi Painter left the village after learning that a news reporter has come to the village; he did not respond to phone calls.

None in the Dom Toli knows that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently extended the pension amount for those who are in the age-group of 60-79 to Rs 400 per month while those above 80 years old are to receive Rs 500 per month as pension under the scheme.

“Ration ke chaur etna kharab dewela ki suaro na khai (The rice given to us is so contaminated that even pigs would not eat it),” says Rita Devi. She tells us that the ration is carted once in two months. Most of the families in Dom Toli cook food on wood fire as they can’t afford a gas cylinder every month.

Rita gave Rs. 15,000 to the mukhiya for releasing the Awas Yojana fund last year but was not provided with any receipt. She alleges some corruption angle. “I went to the municipality today and they assured us that our funds would be released within a week. It is exhausting. If we go to the municipality every day, who will do our bamboo work?”, she adds.

“Ketna sal se suna tani san ki Indira Awas pas hoyi, pas hoyi, lekin kuchhu naikhe bhail. (We all have been hearing since ages that funds of Indira Awas Yojana would be released; we have received nothing yet.),” Rita adds. She fears that speaking to media may further suppress the release of funds.

Like many others in Dom Toli, Shivakali’s life is also pivoted on the bamboo weaving. Shivkali Mallik’s son Rama Mallik died of a prolonged illness. “We visited the hospital and they gave us some pills; Rama became temporarily stable. One day, his condition deteriorated which took him away from us,” Shivkali says, “Look at this wall [behind Shivkali: Inset], two days ago bricks came crumbling down to the ground due to a rainy gale. Government is not releasing funds for the construction of the house”

“We are poor, how can we bribe them for Awas Yojana,” says Badlol Mallik who is cleaning the bamboo clum nodes in the front of his home. “Ihe noon roti ba (Bamboo is livelihood for us.)” He plans of making kharata brooms out of the bamboo clum.

Guddu Mallik says, “We had the livestock [pigs] worth of Rs 1 lakh. All of them died a few months ago due to unknown medical reasons. Each adult pig, Guddu says, is sold at a minimum of Rs. 8,000. “Pork’s price has now gone up to Rs. 200 per kg. Had there been pigs, our financial condition would have been better,” he adds.

Mehtars and Doms have been traditionally rearing pigs here. There are numerous pork stalls and pig slaughter centres.

“Badka log ke makan pe makan banata auri dom-mehtar-dhangad-mushar san bhukhe mara tare san (Rich are getting richer and Dom-Mehtars don’t even get ration from the government.),” exclaims Chandan Mallik, a pig butcher, whose Aadhaar card was not issued because the biometric device failed to register his disfigured fingerprint. “I am good enough for EPIC [voter ID] but not for Aadhaar.”

It has been three years since Chandan has received any ration.

Panna Devi is weaving dauras (baskets to be used in Bihari weddings) on the road. She has dipped some bamboos in sewage water. She says, “We don’t even have clean water to drink, how will we arrange water to dilate bamboo fibres.”

Each daura has a market value of Rs. 40 which requires at least one labour hour. Panna earns a net profit of Rs 150 after six hours of labour. She feels that bamboo weaving is underpaid, she also thinks of leaving this work but the fear of loss of tradition haunts her. “This is our ancestral work, how can we leave this?”

Kishore Mallik, who has a furnished house at one end of Dom Toli, tells us that his grandfather built it with the income he had from a government job. For him, caste is independent of class. Asked about any experience of untouchability in spite of being relatively well-off, Kishore confirms, “Yes, once I went to Areraj Malahi and I was prohibited from touching the hand pump by the upper caste people there after they came to know my caste” “They buy our daura and supli for the sacred festival of Chhath but don’t even let us touch their hand pump. They pour water into our hands maintaining a distance. In some villages, we are asked to go to Dalit basti to drink water.”

DNA SPECIAL: With wires dangling, danger lurks in Kandivali’ Bihari Tekdi


After two kids were electrocuted in Kandivali while playing in the first showers, DNA visited the Bihari Tekdi area on Wednesday. We observed that many more alleys in the locality have wires precariously and dangerously dangling waiting for a mishap to happen. Many residents that we spoke to had their electric supplies connected in a random fashion with wires lying exposed to rain impact.

“Most of the residents who are staying here since decades had taken the single connection and the power supply flows from the main fuse to their house through a network of hanging cables. Gradually, the demand for connection rose tremendously and wire connections increased. The residents are only concerned with getting power bills on time,” said a local resident. Asha Shukla, secretary of the Vimla Devi chawl where the mishap happened is candid enough.

“Ultimately, the people are themselves responsible for protecting their lives and there is no point in blaming the police, politicians or politicians. People were warned before to look after their power supply wires but they distanced themselves from taking additional concern. Every year, the chawl faces waterlogging area and despite complaining them several times, they did not pay any heed. After the incident, the power supply has been suspended.”

The office of the electrical inspector of the IE&L department has promised the residents to fix leakages, address earthing and make repairs to avoid further mishaps under the supervision of the licensed electrical contractor.

Why A 16-Year-Old Boy Refuses To Post Anything On Journalist Jailed In UP



A 16-year-old boy was detained by the Uttar Pradesh police in August last year for his Facebook post on the day former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee died. In his post, the teenager had expressed his anger at Mr Vajpayee and alleged that he was involved in the demolition of Babri Masjid. He spent 39 days in custody.

Such is the impact of his time in custody that the boy and family have decided not to post anything on social media over the arrest of journalist Prashant Kanojia that has sparked a huge debate on social media on freedom of expression in the country.

In August 2018, the police went to the boy’s home in a village in Meerut, looking for him. Since he was in Delhi then, his father was taken to the police station in Jewar, 116 km away, near Greater Noida.
The teenager surrendered before the police the next day and his father was released.

“I got to know that my post was viral on many RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological) and the Bajrang Dal pages on Facebook. A day later, I got to know that a case had been registered against me. I also heard that people on social media had said that my post should be reported. I had seen the posts circulating. The Hindu Jagran Manch in Jewar filed the complaint,” the teenager told NDTV.

The police sent him to a juvenile justice home for 39 days. He was charged of “promoting enmity between different groups”, “assertions prejudicial to national integration” and “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” and under the Information Technology Act.

The boy’s 23-year-old brother too was booked for sharing a different post about Atal Bihari Vajpayee and charged for “disturbing public peace” and defamation. But the elder brother was given anticipatory bail.

The 17-year-old, who aspires to be a doctor, recalls the traumatic days and is worried about his future. “It was a horrible time. I stay in a family where nobody indulges in drugs but those in the jail were drug addicts. The food too wasn’t good. Most kids were dependent on drugs and that was very tough on me. I am doing a coaching for NEET(National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) for MBBS. There is a fear because of my documents have been tainted due to the case,” he said.

But the social boycott that he faced is what has broken him the most. “I got a lot of support from my social circle. But my friends in the village reduced. A communal angle came in.They started thinking that because I wrote against Mr Vajpayee, I am a staunch Muslim. That led to a lot of problems. But friends on social media supported then too and continue do so. They say I did nothing wrong,” he said.

“My non-Muslim friends circle completely boycotted me. They don’t talk at all. But among school friends, some talk to me and some don’t,” he added.19 COMMENTS

The student has now made it a rule not to post anything political, no matter how strongly he may feel about them. He said, “There is fear. My father explained to us that we have to stop political posts completely. Since the arrest of Prashant Kanojia, so many of our friends have been sharing posts using various hashtags. But we aren’t writing anything about it even though Mr Kanojia seemed to have been taken without reason. We don’t upload political things anymore.”