Ground Report: No Steady Income, Houses or Toilets: Landless Manjhis of Gaya Live in Extreme Deprivation
Govt schemes like PM Awas Yojana, Swachh Bharat and Old-age pension have failed to benefit the community.
Editor’s Note: The first phase of voting for the 2019 election begins on April 11, Wednesday. Bihar’s Gaya district is among the Lok Sabha constituencies voting tomorrow. Out of the 17 lakh voters in the Gaya constituency, 2.5 lakh belong to the Manjhi community. Hence, political parties have fielded Manjhi community members from the seat. While the Mahagathbandhan has fielded ex-chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, Vijay Manjhi is contesting on the NDA ticket. Manjhis are classified as Mahadalits. While the community holds political importance in the area, there has been no improvement in their basic living conditions. Deepak Kumar has reported on the current living conditions of the Manjhi community in Gaya’s Bodhgaya block. Please read and share your thoughts.
“How will electricity supply help the labourer? When we don’t have a home, what will we do with the electricity? If the labourer doesn’t have a home, what will water supply do? Where will we take this water?” To gauge the reality, leader of the agricultural labourers Karu Paswan insists that we visit Manjhi Tola, one kilometre away from Jiktiya village.
February 8. A warm Monday afternoon. Jiktiya village in Bodhgaya district, approximately twenty kilometres from the Gaya station. There is a pucca road that comes to the village, but it ends right before the Manjhi tola. Mud walls and a tin-roof shanties are what is home to the people here.
There are a little over fifty houses in this tola. From almost every house, one or two families have left the village to live with their in-laws or relatives. The reason is only one — there are no means to survive in the village. In proportion to number of members in each family, the number of shanties here is negligible. The community members do not own land anywhere else.
45-year-old Narayan Manjhi has nine siblings. If one adds up all their children, there are over forty members in the family. For a house, they have one shanty. Narayan Manjhi tells us, “in every house here, the problem is the same. My own brothers have gone to live with their in-laws. Neither do we have land, nor a home. They found place there, so they stayed.”
On being asked where they sleep at night, Manjhi says, “Now the whether is hot. We just spread a sheet anywhere on the ground and sleep. We are unable to arrange even for a charpayi.”
Gaya will vote on April 11 for the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections. Out of seventeen lakh voters of the Gaya Lok Sabha seat, close to 2.5 lakhs belong to the Manjhi community. Like every time, the political parties have nominated Manjhi candidates from this seat. While the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), has nominated former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, Vijay Manjhi will run for the NDA.
Despite the area holding such political importance for competing parties, the Manjhi community is deprived of even the most basic amenities. India’s independence changed nothing for them. Neither do they have food nor a house to live in. Post-demonetisation rhetoric of a ‘cashless economy’ do is too heavy for this place. Each pair of eyes tells the same story and asks the same questions, looking for ways to merely survive and then die.
2 kilograms of rice for a day’s work
Most residents of Jiktiya village are agricultural labourers. Women and men from families work in the fields of other land-owning farmers. Everyday, in return for their work, they get a meagre two-two and half kilogram of rice or wheat. The nature of work being seasonal, even this is not guaranteed around the year. Hence, they have to periodically seek work in brick kilns in the area.
Narayan Manjhi’s wife Damyanti told NewsCentral24x7, “How will we survive? We get negligible amounts of grain, over and above which we have to buy salt, oil, clothes…. everything comes from selling a portion of the little amount we get.”
When we asked, Meenakshi Devi, seemingly the oldest in the clan, if she saw any changes in their conditions over the years, she hit back saying, “Yes, yes I saw it. I witnessed starvation. What will change? It’s all still the same. This is all the land that we have, what will get better for us and how?”
The Yadav community owns most land in the village. The Manjhi families works in their fields. Often enough, they also suffer caste discrimination at the hands of Yadav landowners.
Bihar District Agricultural Labour Union leader Karu Paswan told NewsCentral24x7, “Please ask the labourers yourself. Gaya is home to the highest number of labourers in Bihar. This time, the fight is against the Yadavs. They harass the Dalits in the name of caste.”
Apart from agricultural labour, there are others who are raj mistris. Saryu Manjhi, a raj misitri, tells us, “there is no surity of work here as well. We find work one day but don’t find it the next day. We take the one or two domestic animals we own for grazing on such days.”
Saryu adds that the income for raj mistris is also minimal. “If you work in the village, you earn two hundred rupees. If you work in the city, you get two hundred and fifty rupees.”
There is no place to live, where do we build toilets?
This hamlet in the village has very few toilets. Many houses do not have the space to build toilets. People say that those who owned land received money from the government to build toilets. But those who are deprived of all basic amenities, or land, where and how do they make the toilets?
Reshma Devi tells NewsCentral24x7, “We are three siblings. But we have a single room. Where do we build the toilet, you tell us? There is no space to make one. Building a home is more important to us.”
While the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to build toilets is a fail, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana appears to be a bigger failure. People reside in mud houses built on very small patches of land. They demand that the government first allot them land to building homes, and only then bring about any such scheme. The villagers tell us that they have protested multiple times for allocation of land in the past.
Paras Nath Singh associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) looks over the party’s work in Gaya. Speaking to NewsCentral24x7, he says, “A bloody revolution took place in Gaya for land rights. This problem is the same till date. You will witness it at its worse in Bodhgaya, Pairiya and Gurua. In these areas, government of Bihar owns thousands of acres of land. But people from powerful castes have control over these lands. The government is well aware. But it is reluctant to act.”
Other govt schemes have also failed
Historically, Gaya has been a stronghold of the BJP. It won the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections from here. In 2004, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Rajesh Kumar Manjhi won. In 2009 and 2014, BJP’s Hari Manjhi emerged victorious.
Hari Manjhi, a member of the Parliament for ten years, has not even ensured the most basic amenities in his his constituency. But BJP chief Amit Shah gloated of success while releasing the manifesto and said that the standards of lives of crores of poor have been raised in the past five years.
Paro Manjhi tells us, “We get kerosene oil on time, but not the ration, not so much. At times we get it, at times we don’t.”
The old age pension scheme is also as bad in the area. While a few people have the cards, other couldn’t get it made. In response to a question on Narendra Modi’s tenure at the Centre Paro Manjhi says, “What changed? Our struggles are the same. Neither do we have land, nor fields. We don’t have a place to live in. What more stories of pain do I narrate to you?”
When NewsCentral24x7 contacted MP Hari Manjhi, his personal secretary asked us about the issue of concern. On hearing us out, he cut the phone saying that the MP saheb unavailable.
It is worth recalling that in November 2016, Nitish Kumar led-NDA government initiated a 7-point scheme for provision of basic amenities in these districts. But in all these years, even land is not ready in Jitkiya village to implement any of these schemes. The same question will haunt the leaders addressing poll rallies, ‘What will I do with electricity or water supply when I don’t have a house to live in?’