As the Eastern Progresses In Bihar

Who’s going to return the goats of Mahesh Paswan?

Since last ten years, this question failed to elicit an answer or offer him a solution. On the other hand, Mahesh has not got any more serious questions concerning with anything else under the sky or beyond.
We praise it as Jahanvi, the mother, but the the woolly Ganges of Begusarai had extorted from Mahesh his last scrap of land and shelter, in a single calamity. Mahesh and his family waited for some indefinite departure of the river to get blessed again with his own chunk of land and shelter. The haunting reminiscence of the disaster twenty years back is still fresh in Mahesh’s memory. After a four-day long fast, they had to feed themselves with the victuals collected from the neighbours on the fifth day. None had granted them a single paisa of compensation ever. Rather they were snubbed – why would the government be paying for the erratic behaviour of the river?

Mahesh made his temporary accommodation with paddy stem residue and long grass on the road flank of Nayagaon on the way from Begusarai to Banduaar. This is the only address where Mahesh and family have.
Banduaar is village by itself and Mahesh’s own atlas ends up here. Though there must be a world beyond, as the roads do not end up at Banduaar and many trucks pass through. Daily labourer Mahesh, runs his family on nominal livelihood earned through diverse works. His brother migrated to somewhere in Bengal, to earn his means, “where there is rice mill on the other side of a river” (may be somewhere in South 24 parganas).

Mahesh lives with his wife and with a son and a daughter. He has no land; therefore he is not 'privileged' to avail any provisions of Indira Awaaj Yojana. The only provision he has is, an endangered refuge, with chances of being hit and run by the passing trucks. No BPL card, not even a job card under NREGA.

Two goats were the only possessions of Mahesh. One day, on a regular morning, Mahesh sets them free as usual by untying the knots, before he had to get fresh. All of a sudden, the overhead electric wires got cut and both of the goats died of electrocution. An unique disaster, the Sarpanch of the village came and the Mukkhiya too, delegation from electricity board came and took photos of his dead goats and were all gone. Neither the goats nor a single paisa of compensation reached Mahesh until now. Asking for compensation or else is of no use as still it is not fixed as to who was responsible – the electric wires, the goats or Mahesh himself.

Mahesh Paswan has no qualms about his democratic or constitutional rights, therefore no headache on the issue of being left unregistered with the Planning commission. Neither he is unnecessarily bothered as to why he looks bit older than he actually is. The only query he has is that who’s going to return the goats?

We have entered Begusarai, the land of dusts passing through the shore of the Ganges at Mokama. This area follows the irrevocable routine of nature – six months the land would submerge under the water of river and the next six months the same field would yield crops. Fights with bullets and billets would continue to take place as a natural order on the issue of possession. In Begusarai, crops are harvested twice a year, yet the greenery is fading over here, it’s hazy and gray. As are many unresolved cases along with the course of time.

Now, let us discuss the availability of work for Bijo Mahato and Ramdeo Jadav who are agricultural workers in the village of Naokothi, 12 kilometres from the district town. They distinctly declare their identity as agricultural workers, but where is the work? Peasants themselves are facing great trouble harvesting wheat and maize twice yearly, so how would they be able to provide jobs to others?

Bijo Mahato is aged and now with a sightless eye. There is no other way for him, but to work, to earn a livelihood. But none would allot him work that involves heavy loads. Ramdeo is a bit lucky as he had managed to earn some amount of work for himself, i.e., nearly 8 to 10 days a month, and that is like “Bahot ho gaya” (the number seems to be too high).

The simple arithmetic of BPL calculation of per day 100 rupees wage is unreal as he does not have the BPL card. And as he does not have the card, he is declared not to be under BPL, meaning that he is not poor. He is APL. He is destined to buy rice at 22 rupees a kilo and wheat at 20 rupees a kilo from the market. Even if the government decides to provide him with food grains, there is very little chance for them to reach those at Naokothi. What will be the use of dealers then? Resources should vanish midway, so that the same would thereafter be made available in the open market.

NREGA stands for a mile wide smile. Job cards are in the 'safest custody' of the Mukkhiya. He is getting profits. Works are done on paper, labourers failing to get even a single paisa from that account. The BDO regularly comes and signs the accomplishment documents. And the money? Its vanished! It is announced that 100 days of job project would now be increased to 200 days. Ramdeo says, sarcastically, “make it 400 days, may be that would suffice to further add to the skin glow of the Mukkhiyas, BDOs and the officers concerned”. Then he showing his card he says, “Want to see my card? Look there is not even a single scratch.”
Ten years old Sunit wants to get rid of these riddles – issues of the aged. His father works in a brick field. In a small piece of land, tiny hands of Sunit, clears dust and arranges crop residues. The buffalos had to be taken to the field, so Sunit had to stop attending the school. His mother died two months earlier. There was some ‘bimari’ (disease), Sunit does not know what exactly it was. Nor the neighbors. But they are sure that it was some sort of insignificant disease. She was not taken to the hospital due to a more 'insignificant' reason. The nearest health centre was 15 kilometers away from their home.

It is not a fact that Sunit is always memorising the glimpses of his mother. Besides the NH 31 the sense of loss does not last even 2 months. He feels the absence only when he feels the agony of hunger and no one under the sky scolds him to have a fistful of food. May be in those afternoons Sunit thinks that his mother would have been alive if taken to the hospital. ‘May be yes’, his three year older brother has told him only this much.

(Debasish Chakraborty, Begusarai, Bihar)