Bihar to uplift Musahar community by commercialising rat meat

August 11th, 2008 - 10:44 am ICT by IANS  

By Imran Khan
Patna, Aug 11 (IANS) Rat meat may soon be available in hotels as a delicacy. Rat farming, akin to rearing poultry, would be given to the poor Musahar community of Bihar as a means for their socio-economic upliftment as well as promote a new kind of food item in urban pockets. The Musahars, known as the traditional rat eating community and still regarded as ‘untouchables’, usually hunt rats in the paddy fields.

“The government has decided to engage the Musahars in commercialisation of rat meat for their overall development,” Vijay Prakash, principal secretary in the social welfare department, told IANS.

“We will encourage and help the Musahars to organize rat farms in order to commercialise rat meat” he said.

The Musahars, estimated to number 2.3 million, are among the most deprived and marginalised section of the society in Bihar. They are yet to taste the fruits of development. They are widely known as rat eaters either out of choice or as compulsion to fight hunger.

Engaging Musahars in commercialisation of rat meat would help create a regular source of income for them. “It will help empower them and change their poor living conditions if the venture is properly designed and clicks,” said Prakash.

Prakash maintains rat meat has the “potential” to become a popular food. According to dieticians, rat meat is rich in protein and tastier than chicken.

Prakash said when Musahars rear rats in farms, on the lines of chicken and fish farming, the age-old image of catching rats being a wild activity will change.

Eating rat meat is considered a stigma in urban pockets and confined to the poorer sections of society, said Prakash. “However, I discovered during a fact-finding mission about rat meat that it is a popular food item in the Mokama riverine areas and roadside hotels in Danapur in Patna district. It is called ‘patal-bageri’ and its demand is high,” he said.

Many people at toddy shops demand rat meat for its rare taste with spices.

The state government plans to set up stalls in rural fairs across the state, followed by rat meat centres in urban areas.

Prakash hinted that his department would approach government and private agencies in and outside the country to speed up commercialisation of rat meat.

“We’d like to have a network with other experts to boost the rat meat business,” he said.

Dalits constitute nearly 15 percent of Bihar’s population of 83 million. The poorest Dalits were declared Maha Dalits in Bihar. A government commission has identified 18 of the 22 Dalit sub castes, including Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom, and Nat as Maha Dalits. They constitute 31 percent of the Dalit population in the state.

The commission has not included four Dalit castes - Paswan, Pasi, Dhobi and Chamar - in the Maha Dalit category. These four constitute 69 percent of the Dalit population in the state.

A few months ago Nitish Kumar announced a special package of Rs.3 billion ($76 million) for the socio-economic development of the poorest among Dalits.

He set up a commission in August last year for the welfare of certain Dalit castes that are socially and educationally more backward than others.

Bihar is the first state to constitute a commission to study the status of the neglected sub-castes among Dalits and suggest ways to uplift them.

The commission in its first interim report to the government a few months ago painted a bleak picture of the Dalit sub-castes. The report said there were no high school teachers or senior officials from these castes in the state despite reservations in government jobs for them.

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