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Musaharas worst hit by liquor ban in Bihar, girls now at the risk of exploitation


Liquor ban in Bihar may be a welcome move, but it has adversely impacted the Musahar community in Bihar– particularly the women.  This community earned its livelihood by manufacturing liquor at home and selling it in the market.

``Ever since the liquor ban, the women who used to make liquor at home have now started working as domestic helps which has become a little dangerous for them. These young girls are sexually exploited at times,’’ social activist Sudha Varghese told a gathering at a function organized to mark the 70 years of UNICEF in India.  

Musahars have very low literacy rate with only 0.01% women literate and only 2% men educated. The community is so backward and exploited that the girls did not even know rape was a crime, Sudha said.   

Sudha Varghese, also known as Sister Sudha, is a social worker from Bihar who has devoted herself to the upliftment of Musahars, the Dalit community of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Musahars are the last community of the caste ladder in India and are considered as `untouchables.’

While some improvement has been made in education and skilling of adolescents, child marriages are still prevalent as the community believes that girls should be married at a very young age. Several girls who wanted to study further but could not convince their parents have even ended their lives.

Sudha, addressed fondly as `didi’, lives and works in Jamsaut, a village in Patna district. Born in a prosperous family in Kottayam district of Kerala, Sudha moved to Bihar in 1965 to work for the poor with the Sisters of Notre Dame Academy after resigning from her job as a teacher in a convent. She moved to 1986 to live with the Musahar community to educate girls of this community.

In 2006, she established a residential school `Prerna’ (inspiration) on the outskirts of Danapur with financial help from the State government. It is an all-girls school designed to remove girls from farm labour to ensure they receive education. Varghese also teaches about the fundamental rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution. The Prerna Residential School for Mahadalit Girls was replicated in Gaya and at present there are 250 girl students in both the schools.

Sudha Varghese is working for the empowerment of women, providing leadership and livelihood training and also the training to fight against domestic violence to Dalit women at Panchayat level. She has organized 300 groups of youth, both Dalit boys and girls who have been provided training in sports in three blocks of Patna so as to instill in them a sense of self confidence and help them find a place in the community. She has been closely working with UNICEF for several years now.

In 2006, she was awarded the Padma Shree for her extraordinary contribution to social work."

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