As the voice on the other side of the phone said “pass”, Rekha burst into tears of joy. She has achieved what no member of her 2.5 lakh-strong community — the Musahar (rat-catchers) — in the area could do so far. She has cleared her Class X exam from the UP board, results of which were announced today. “I’m very happy,” said Rekha, a resident of the Musahar Basti under Aayar gram panchayat in Harhua block of Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I was really worried about my result. I even cried in tension yesterday thinking about the result,” she said. Nursing a dream to study further, at least obtaining a graduation degree in arts, the girl said she wanted to become a teacher. “Although the idea of working for my community and the locals is good, I feel more like becoming a teacher,” she said. Rekha’s father, Angal, wore a confused smile, not sure as to how big his daughter’s achievement was.
“Yes, I am happy. Everybody around looks happy, so I am also happy,” he said. The girl scored a little over 63 per cent marks. “My writing is poor. I think I lost some marks because of that,” said 16-year-old Rekha, still trying to absorb her overwhelming achievement. As Rekha showed her marks to his father, who does not know how to read or write as his wife, the man’s eyes filled with tears and a joyous embarrassment. “What do I have to see in this,” he asked his daughter, who told him that was her ticket to sit in Class XI. Angal, a daily wage labourer and father to five children, was now worried about future education expenses of her eldest daughter but certain that he wanted her to study. “There would be more expenses now I hear. New books and stationery need to be bought. My eldest child, a son, dropped out of school after Class V…But it’s okay if Rekha wants to study, I’ll manage it anyhow,” he told PTI. While local community folks were happy over her breaking the ceiling, Rekha’s mother was out to collect wood. “I had asked her that today my result will be out, stay at home. She said ‘khana bhi to banana hai'(food needs to be arranged too),” Rekha said, instructing her younger brother to go out and bring their mother back.
Shobhnath, a human rights activist working for the uplift of the community, said it’s a path breaking achievement. “I know what difficulties Rekha faced to see this day. At a place where you have never seen people around you, people from your community study, it was natural that she opted out. But she sustained and has gained distinction no one in her community in the block, which has around 14 villages, has,” said Shobhnath, associated with Jan Mitra Nyas. The Musahar community is listed as Scheduled Caste in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and West Bengal. As per Census 2011, the community’s population in UP stood over 2.5 lakh, 1.23 lakh of them females. The total literates in the community stood at 49,287, while illiterates at 2,07,848, as per the Census. A backward and socially marginalised community, the Musahar find work as industrial labourers, while a majority still works as daily wagers and farm workers. The women of the Musahar community in this area make disposable plates ‘dona’ out of ‘mahua’ leaves. “But the business is dwindling and nearing end since the plastic and fibre cups and plates came. Also, at Rs 2 for 80 ‘dona’, it’s economically not viable anymore,” said a local.