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COVID-19: Poorest of Poor Roaming on Streets for Food and Fuel in Bihar

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s assurance of free food grains during lockdown is yet to reach a majority of the poor, especially the Musahar community.
Poorest of Poor Roaming

Bunia Devi

Patna: Jagunanda Manjhi, an elderly poor man, who lives hardly 5 km from the official residence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is yet to get free rations,  as announced by the CM two weeks ago.

Since the sudden announcement of the 21-day lockdown on March 24,Jagunanda, a resident of Kurkuri Musahari under Phulwari Sharif block (police station) on the outskirts of fast expanding Patna,has had no source of livelihood.

“Koi free ration nah imila hai,kuchh bhi madadnahimilaabhitak”(we have not yet got any free ration or any help), said Jagunanda, who used to work as a daily wage labourer before the lockdown took away his work and income.

Jagunanda,who belongs to Mushahar [or Musahar] community, stays not far from Nitish Kumar’s 1 Anne Marg residence, which is a high-security posh locality,surrounded by dense green cover,smooth and clean roads. But, his Musaha rToli (a small exclusive hamlet) of the Musahar community lives without basic amenities and filth all around in poverty-stricken ghettos. This socially and economically most deprived ‘rat catcher’ community, derided for being ‘rat eaters, mainly lives on the outskirts of the village.


Jagunanda Manjhi. PC: Mohd Imran Khan

Fear of hunger and an uncertainty  ahead has forced Jagunanda, along with a group of nearly a dozen Musaharis, comprising his family members and close relatives, to roam on the streets in neighbouring residential localities since early morning to noon to seek help from people as well to collect dry bamboo, tree branches and waste woods for use as cooking fuel. “There is no other way left for us but to fight hunger first,” Jagunanda adds.

The community is aware of the risk posed by the coronavirus or COVID-19 , but has no option.  “We are on the roads ignoring the risk of coronavirus due to hunger. If food grains were available, why should we get out of our homes? We will continue to go around seeking help until the government provides us free food grains”,  Jagunanda told NewsClick.

The old man claimed that neither he nor any of his family members had eaten anything. “There was nothing to eat,no cooked food or dry grains.We decided to go around on the streets looking for rice,flour or money.We are also collecting dry bamboo and wood to cook food, as we have no money to purchase fuel”, he said.

When asked about the much-hyped free LPG scheme for the poor,Jagunanda said he never got anything like Gas kaChulha, adding that “for poor people like us, LPG is still a dream”.

Jagunanda’s relatives Bunia Devi and Gunia Devi ,both frail looking women in their 30s,blamed the state government for their plight during the lockdown. “Pet ka aag shant karne ka majboori hai,jab sab log gharon mein h ai,hum apne bachcho ke saath road peg humrahe hai.Kya karein?”they said. (When everyone else is sitting at home, we are roaming the streets with our children, What do we do?)


Bunia said it was the government's responsibility to help the poorest of the poor during the lockdown. “We are eating one meal because there is uncertainty about next day's meal,” she told Newsclick.

Gunia, too, questioned the promises and assurances by the government to help the poor during lockdown. “More than half of the lockdown is over but no one has taken care to provide us food grains to ensure that we remain indoors, like others.”

Jagudanand,Bunia and Gunia said for them the main concern was hunger and food grains, than protection and safety from coronavirus. “Our primary fight is to keep alive”, Bunia added.

They said social distancing,hand washing,hygiene and cleanliness were possible when there is no challenge to fill an empty stomach.

With thousands of poor yet to get free rations in Bihar even after Nitish Kumar announced it for all ration card holders. The likely beneficiaries of the relief package announced by the government are already facing hardship, as they have no source of livelihood as everything is shut for nearly two weeks now. The Bihar government had imposed lockdown from March 22 midnight.

As per the government’s announcement,all ration card holders would be provided free food grains, including 5 kg rice,1 kg pulses for the next three months in view of lockdown.

However,till date some ration card holders have got free food grains but a majority of them are yet to receive it.There are about 1.68 crore ration card holders in Bihar.

After the sudden lockdown,nearly 1.8 lakh migrant workers, as per official estimates,returned to the state.Unofficial figures doing the rounds say more than 2 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after March 22.Most of them have to search for work to earn a livelihood.

Till Tuesday, there were 32 COVID-19 positive cases in Bihar, with one person dead.So far, the state had tested 3,037 samples, a number far less when compared to its huge population. There was only one COVID-19 test facility in Bihar till last week.

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