The Battle for Bihar

Jitan Ram Manjhi and the politics of caste

01 July 2015

| ONE |

OUTSIDE 1 ANNE MARG, on a foggy morning last December, employees of the Patna Municipal Corporation swept away dry leaves knocked loose by a mild winter storm the night before. I sat inside the official residence of Bihar’s chief minister, in a waiting area with freshly mopped floors that reeked of phenyl, walls decorated with Madhubhani paintings, and posters of the Buddha. The chief public relations officer to Jitan Ram Manjhi, who was then the chief minister, chattered at me about how “the media misinterprets Mr Manjhi’s statements.” I was the day’s first visitor, but in half an hour a handful of political and social callers had joined the queue.

Suddenly, a small mouse scurried through the hall. A few men laughed, others suppressed giggles—and everyone present immediately knew why. As the chuckles subsided, the joke was whispered around: when Manjhi—who comes from the Musahar Dalit sub-caste, traditionally associated with rat-catching—took his seat in the state capital, “he must have brought the rats from his village.”

Priyanka Dubey is a correspondent at BBC. She was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: The perversions of caste