Ranjit Manjhi, 20, went to work in Jalandhar two years ago. He has returned for the election. A number of Musahars leave home to earn a better living and escape caste discrimination. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Chotka and Badka don't go to school since there isn't one. They spend their days playing with mud. Musahars have an abysmal literacy rate of 6.88%. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Growth, development, progress? This village provides a reality check. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Most Musahar women and children are malnourished. The child and maternal mortality rates are very high. Photo: Vikas Kumar
The kitchen of a typical Musahar household. Two meals a day is a luxury most families can't afford. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Poverty and unemployment force most Musahar men to migrate, leaving behind women, children and the aged. Photo: Vikas Kumar
She bought this bug-infested rice for Rs 20/kg from a local shop. The subsidised rice from the local PDS store barely lasts a few weeks. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Photo: Vikas Kumar
Photo: Vikas Kumar
Photo: Vikas Kumar
Urmila, 65, has been waiting for old-age pension for years. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Dukhan Manjhi, 30, is among the few men who earn their living locally. He is a labourer at a brick kiln. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Rowati, 15, cooks dinner in the light of a torch. Many families have bought these Chinese-made torches and recharge them in nearby villages. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Boys watch a movie on a smartphone. They pay Rs 100 to download three movies and watch them at night. Charging the phone at a nearby village costs Rs 10. Photo: Vikas Kumar
It gets so dark at night that it is difficult to recognise faces even in the light of earthen lamps. Photo: Vikas Kumar
Cellphones have reached this village before government schemes. Photo: Vikas Kumar
This Musahar village has only contempt for politicians. These photos will show you why
The day is just breaking in Banthu, a Musahar village in Vaishali district, and Urmila is already out weaving a mat from palm leaves.
"Take my photo, if you will," Urmila, 60, says as she sees my camera. "And help me get my old age pension."
Soon, a group of scantily clad children gather around, followed by old men and women. Some confuse me with an official who has come to disburse homes under the Indira Awas Yojna, others think I am here to update the BPL list.
Their enthusiasm wanes when they learn my identity, and start dispersing.
Most people know little about Musahars other than that they are rat-eaters. But having grown up among Musahars, I have seen them toil tirelessly in nearly barren fields.
They are a hardworking lot, long marginalised by an oppressive social and economic system.
As per government data, Bihar has around 22 lakh Musahars. Nearly 90% are landless and have no access to education.
To most of them, the state is synonymous with a local cop or a block officer. A majority of Musahars, according to the data, had never seen the inside of a polling booth until 2005.
The community has barely benefited from the much-touted developmental work of the Nitish Kumar government. Indira Awas Yojna, for example, is an eternal illusion. Most Musahars live in shacks in clusters on the outskirts of villages.
And government apathy has ensured that poverty, illiteracy and illness is rampant among them.
Two years ago, Banthu had an outbreak of kala-azar that claimed many men, women and children. The state sent teams to inquire and sought to mitigate the villagers' suffering with assurances of land and electricity. Of course, the promise was never kept.
The Musahar Tola doesn't have electricity or a school. No surprise, the villagers have nothing but contempt for politicians.
Who will they vote for this election? They are guarded in their responses, lest they fall foul of the choices of more powerful upper castes of neighbouring localities. Jitan Ram Manjhi, though, seems quite popular.
It took me quite some mental preparation to come and shoot in the Tola, aware that the villagers misplaced expectations would be hard to bear.
Now, as I return, I carry not only pictures, but the burden of their hopes. And I don't known whom to address those hopes to.