Children of Tribes in India: Nat and Musahar

Children of Tribes in India: Nat and Musahar

In the heart of the city, Patna (Bihar) we can see a specific group of noticeable people near the Sachiwalaya railway station. These are the Nats, and there are approximately 235 families residing in this area. Nats are identified as a vagrant gypsy tribe, who lead a nomadic life and are recognized as scheduled caste in Bihar. As stated by W Crooke (1896), the question of the origins of Nats are most perplexing. The meaning of Nat in Sanskrit is a dancer or nachaniya, this term became popular with acrobatic skills. In the present times too, Nats in Patna and adjoining areas, carry on their livelihood by performing dance and aerobatics activities and earn their livelihood through these performing activities. These people accost financial problems, survive acute poverty, suffer untouchability and are socially excluded in Bihar.

As I observed, the Nats community living in Patna, do not allow anyone to enter in their ‘boundaries’, the community follows their style of living, they have own ways, their own rules and regulations. The head of the community is called ‘Mukhiya Nat’. Anyone within the community has to abide by the rules and if they deviate or they defy the rules, the offenders have to ‘pay’ heavy penalty. This fine is paid to the Mukhiya Nat. I can relate an example here; the children are married, by the time they reach the age of say 12 or 13 years. If anyone fails to adhere to this ‘rule’, the parents are penalized heavy sum that could be around twenty-five thousand rupees or maybe more. Thus, the child-marriage thrives and is the norm in this community. Same is the fate of the parents of any child who elopes and gets married to someone from a different caste or community. Hence, the Mukhiya Nat is in charge and dominates.

Nats, have a strong belief in the ‘folk-healers’. As and when any fellow Nat falls ill or gets sick, they are immediately rush to the ‘Bhagats’ or the folk-healers. These ‘Bhagats’ are the individuals who are supposed to have expertise in alleviating suffering. The general belief persists that these ‘Bhagats’ would be the only ones who will help them find their children who go missing while they are performing as beggars. ‘Bhagat’, are also believed to effect cures of the sick by using the magical powers of Tantra Mantra’, hence, they are also called for abortions.

We can put these Nats in two groups; the first group is call themselves as ‘Gulgulia Nat’ and the other is call themselves as ‘Khaliffa Nats’, While the Gulgulia Nats are is very less in numbers, the Khaliffa Nats are found in large in numbers.  The Gulgulia Nats earn and survive totally upon performing aerobatics activities and begging whereas, the Khaliffa Nats has their women as the main earners. The families are totally dependent on their women folk because the male members hardly earn and are heavily addicted to drinking alcohol. The birth of a girl child is celebrated amongst the Khaliffa Nats, since girls are considered as the source of income. The girls bring in money to the family, because for marriages the bride-groom’s family gives money in the form of dowry. The other sources of income for the Khaliffa Nats are begging, pulling the rickshaw, and some of them are also involved in  illegal activities too.

Children of the Nat community are into begging and this ‘occupation’ thrives during the main festivals of the year. They earn the most during the months of November that is, during the ChattPuja festival in Bihar as well as in the months of March and April, when the entire community moves out of state and go for begging in different states such as Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan.

When the people from the Nat community shared their experiences with me, I found that they make good money during the ‘Chatt Puja’.  Some women of this  are involved in kidnapping of children who are abandoned by their families or those children who are separated from their families during the rush hours at the crowded railway stations. Many passengers take the trains to go to their favourite pilgrim towns during the festival seasons and some unfortunate children happen to be parted, and these women from the Nat community take advantage to take these children with them and then they sell them in the red-light areas.

Next, I would like to share my experiences of interacting and working with the Musahar community, who belong to Bihar. The Musahars means ‘rat eaters’ in Bhojpuri, literally, could denote either a flesh-seeker, i.e. hunter, or a rat catcher or eater. This community catches rats, rodents, snails, pig rearing for their survivals. This community is a socially marginalised set, placed amongst the lowermost position of India’s hierarchical caste system; hence, their presence is not accepted in the other communities. The children of this community are in bad shape. While they are deprived of formal education, and they do not go to school, they are also not allowed to work because they are considered as untouchables. To add to the agony, no teacher is ready to educate their children, ICDS workers also avo to go for vaccination and immunization for these Musahar children. Apart from these problems, these children face basic challenges of fetching food, clothes and shelter. They grow older at a very small age as they know the worries for repayment of their debts and they turn to work as bonded labour. I am mentioning here about the huge Mushar community that belongs to Patna (Bihar) and is living in Shivalapar, they are recognized as scheduled caste in Bihar.

At present, this community has begun to work as bonded labourers including bonded child labour or adolescent labour in brick kilns at Shahpur, Maner, and Patna. Most of these workers work from the months November to July at brick kiln and, after that as the monsoon approaches; they come back to their residences. The payment received in lieu of their work at the weekend is an insignificant amount of approximately  ₹ 200 for working at brick kiln for 10 -12 hours a day. What is even more disturbing, is, that the amount given to them (for which they have worked as bonded labour or bonded child labour or bonded adolescent labour) is never the full amount. The contractor or the ‘sardar’ hands over a deducted amount to them, meagrely enough for them, barely to survive and to meet the basic needs for the entire family.

The women folk again come forward as the brave souls who work hard to look after the liabilities and fulfil the needs of their families while most of the men folk are addicted to liquor and hardly do any work. At times, the Musahar community arranges for mass child marriage and ten to twelve girls of hardly 12 to 13 years old are married off to men who are of thirty to forty years old. The men turn up as bridegrooms from different states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, unfortunately, these Musahar girls never ever return to their homes.

The challenges faced by the children in these communities are immense. They are the worst sufferers because they are not safe, they are always under the danger of several children missing every year, they forced to do child labour. What’s more, they suffer the child marriage, they are sexually abused, they are deprived of education and are not  allowed to attend school, they are the victims of human trafficking, and they are pushed into commercial sex work.

I must state here that at first, I was not welcomed and my entry was not very easy in both the communities. My constant interaction lead to a breakthrough, the initial days were very tough, each day was full of challenges. No one was ready to start a conversation; I did not have anyone who could talk to me. In addition to these challenges, I was facing threats from some people who had their vested interest. Once I started to develop a rapport with the people of the Musahar community, these people threatened me in every possible ways and tried to stop me at all costs. Hence, I will share so as to how I began to actually strike a chord with these people in Musahar community. After great difficulty, I got a chance to talk to the children of Natt community one evening. And, the very next morning I again had a conversation with the children, but, now at the brick kiln when they had come after begging or they had finished their tasks. Agonizingly, their parents kept on demanding for something or the other, constantly interrupted me. I kept my efforts going on; I kept my conversations going on with the children though I was facing severe interruptions all the time. Then, I decided to change my strategy at the same time. I began to engage the parents in the conversations. I started to talk especially to their mothers. To my revelation, I found that almost all in the community they did not have their identification documents. Thus began my meetings with the people, and I started to look for government services and securities. My task was tough but I managed to organise diverse social services every month. I was now getting the community involved in activities such as generating their Adhar card, getting them enrolled for ration card, pan card, helping the elders to enrol for old age pension, getting the benefits from Kanya samrridhi yojana, kanya vivah yojana, helping them in getting admission in schools by organizing ‘admission drive’ and many more.

I could see that things were working; they were getting aware of many things around them. After some months, they began to realize that their missing children would have been trafficked. They came to the terms that if the parents of these missing children report the matter to police immediately, then there is some hope to trace them. I was happy to see that a system was being developed. A system where parents were able to take the lead to contact the concern authorities to address child protection issues in terms of safeguarding their children. I managed to create a linkage with the child protection stakeholders. And, I was also simultaneously preparing and training the parents to express the issues within a short period of time in front of these stakeholders.

The result is heart overwhelming. The effort has brought out positive results. Now, at Shivalapar (Patna) a large number of children attend school regularly. It is encouraging to see parents themselves going to school to get their children enrolled. Moreover, a few of them have taken a bold step forward and they are ready to intervene in child marriage issues. There have been cases where the parents/guardians have immediately reported about their missing child to the police, resulting in the successfully tracking and tracing of seven children. They have successfully protected a few girls from other district and have saved these girls from getting sexually abused and trafficked. Now, the brick kiln owners themselves support the Musahar children to be enrolled in schools.

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    Ms. Pushpalata

    Consultant and Nodal Officer, Bihar and Jharkhand Zone

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