The Musahar community of Bihar live at the bottom of India’s caste system, and the name given to them translates to “rat eaters”.
A study by Patna’s AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies notes that education among the members of the community is almost non-existent, and that the literacy rate is only 6%.
Dr Shankar Nath Jha, who has been treating several members of the community over the years, notes, “Their children are malnourished. Even if [they] die, [their parents] would not shed tears [because the death rate was high and they were often emotionally drained].”
“I would see skinny young girls with children in their arms. It would be very heart-wrenching to see that. I thought if they graduate or at least learn to read and write, their lives could get better,” he adds.
Dr Jha, who has been in the medical service for the past 40 years, started using his own income to hire teachers to engage the children in sports, dance, and debate programmes.
“We started getting donations from individuals and my peers to distribute food materials, clothes, and books. These were all small steps, but the result was big,” says Dr Jha.
Today, nearly 5,000 children are associated with 85 centres [called Community Culture Education Centre] where 82 volunteers teach the children basic education.
For the past two decades, the 70-year-old has also helped 407 children from the Musahar community in Jamui district break the shackles of child marriage and labour.
“Once they are educated, they will be empowered to come out of the life of drudgery. Padha dogey to sab bimariyan door ho jayengi (Once you teach children, they will get rid of all adversities of poverty),” he adds.
For his work, Dr Jha was awarded the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Shiksha Puruskar, Bihar’s highest award in the field of education, by the Chief Minister in 2021.
You can volunteer to teach these children in Jamui and also contribute Rs 3,500/month to sponsor one of their centres, which will lead to the education of at least 35 children.