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With The Bridge, People’s Trust In Nitish Kumar Government Collapses In Bihar

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Credits: Hindi Asian News

Situated on the Gandak river, a portion of Sattarghat bridge collapsed in Gopalganj district of Bihar after the water flow increased in the river due to heavy rainfall. Ironically, the bridge was inaugurated on June 16 by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and exactly after a month, it came crushing down. This has affected the connectivity of Gopalganj with many districts of North Bihar as the administration has been trying to take stock of the situation in Gopalganj after the findings of a 2017 inter-ministerial committee were totally sidelined and sidestepped.

As the opposition heavily lashed at Nitish Kumar for giving priority to incompetent contractors who by their close proximity to the administrators and bureaucrats scored the opportunity for plundering and looting the resources of the state. A bridge construction project whose work started in 2012 and by all standards was nearing its completion suddenly getting washed away does merit many questions for the Nitish Kumar government. Why has the Bihar government under Nitish Kumar become so lethargic, inept and highly irresponsive towards the woes and worries of a common Bihari, presenting us with a glaring gap in policy action and implementation.

I sincerely believe that being unaccountable and unresponsive to the aspirations and objectives of the people in Bihar has become the hallmark of Nitish Kumar if not for maintaining and managing his alliance partners viz RJD and BJP. This is reflected in his political tone and language of walking the talk with his initiatives like prohibition of alcohol sale and consumption, providing 35% reservation to the women in jobs at all levels in the state, coupled with the provisions for safeguarding the interests of the vulnerable and poor through which he has been able to build and craft himself as a development icon and a mascot of the destitute and the poor.

As the assembly elections are drawing nearer in Bihar, there seems to be a discontent in Lok Janshakti Party, an important NDA ally against the leadership and chief ministership of Nitish Kumar. Ramvilas Paswan has raised some pertinent questions on the perpetual state of law and order along with governance in the state. Although late last year, Amit Shah had made it clear that NDA will contest the assembly election in Bihar under the direction and guidance of Nitish Kumar in the state, so why is there a growing disgruntlement against Nitish now?

Credits: Hindi Asian News

For the BJP, having Nitish on board will sufficiently ensure a palpable chunk of lower SCs and OBCs vote, accordingly enhancing its bargaining and negotiating claims with Nitish Kumar as with a divided opposition—RJD and Congress. The possibility of an electoral fortune seems bleak as for now. Nitish Kumar, who prides himself as ‘a son of the soil’, a people’s worker, earnestly establishing a personal connect with the state people, has been highly dismissive and ignorant of the people’s question.

Known as “Sushasan babu” for his governance and policy track record, Nitish is widely admired and adored by the people of the state as elaborated in his reluctant alliance with the RJD in the October 2015 state assembly elections where many had seconded his political prospects. But the point is how his electoral victories have in any way bettered the lives of the ordinary people who continue to be deprived and discounted on account of their social and economic milieu. Many migrants who returned to Bihar in the lockdown period were greeted with a lack of basic minimum quarantine facilities in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Accomodations were made for these migrants as initially the government kept itself in denial with the exact number of data and figures of these migrants.

Intertwined with a lack of testing and care facilities, the coronavirus has began wrecking havoc on the state with people falling prey to this virus while the state administration looks ill-equipped to tackle the glaring challenge. Simply extending the lockdown till July 31 wouldn’t be beneficial in the absence of strategy to cope up with the coronavirus menace? Secondly when rising floods become the perennial future of our state, then why the government and administration has gone into hiding? Why do they fail in coordinating and commanding their efforts on boosting the physical and civic infrastructure in the state? Why again and again the bridge-building contract is provided to the contractor whose credentials are always to be doubted, and for what reasons?

Shouldn’t the state government be revisiting and reworking on a strategy to overcome this situation? Instead, lessons remain unlearned as in my belief and  understanding, apart from Nitish, no government has ever shown the zeal and enthusiasm to enter into engagements with people when ever it comes to providing an alternative road map and blueprint to the people when it comes to floods.  The low-lying areas of Kosi region in North Bihar are worst affected with many diseases plaguing the people as they end up malnourished, owing to their hierarchical social and economic strata.

But if we look at states like Rajasthan and Kerala, then we will realize the importance of the above articulated statement as people’s support and strength does play its role in overcoming any crisis-like situations. Through ensuring enough testing and contact tracings of the corona-affected people, these states set a prime example in the country for other states to emulate. Thus, Bihar can effect a change in this direction by its ability and action approach proving to be a fundamental in repairing the  people’s trust and belief, which along with the Gopalganj bridge, has also ruptured and collapsed as the onus lies on the Chief Minister in showing us the way forward. At least by being sensitive if not more.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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