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Opinion: “The Political Culture In Bihar Is No Less Than A Circus”

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While travelling in trains to Bihar, the debate and discussion related to the state is endless. Be it the bad infrastructure, poor quality of education, the crowded buses or women walking on roads barefoot for miles to fetch basic necessities such as water and collect wood logs to cook food in the time of pipeline gas system and technology; it amazes everyone. 

Every individual has a different opinion on political culture. Questions come pouring when there’s a discussion on whether Bihar is known for the goons shown in movies and the vulgar songs it makes. And how can one forget the very popular incident of Ruby Rai the topper of Bihar Board who failed to answer the subjects she had studied. The blame game didn’t stop and accurately exposed the poor education system and dear to every authority- corruption. Political parties in India lack clear ideology and have their own conflict.

Parties are known by their leaders rather than their manifesto.

a group of college students sitting together
It is always said that in developing countries with large youth populations focus should be given on education, health and their rights/ Representational image.

Education In Bihar

The so-called ideological parties are guided by only one consideration- power culture. Therefore, in order to bring a change, the way people perceive their leaders need to change. The National Statistical Office (NSO) Survey 2020 showed India’s overall literacy rate stands at 77.7% in which Bihar is the third-worst performing state with a literacy rate at 70.9%.

As per India’s Census 2011, Youth (15-24 years) in India constitutes one-fifth (19.1%) of India’s total population. India is expected to have 34.33% share of youth in total population by this year. It is always said that in developing countries with large youth populations focus should be given on education, health and their rights. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar’s populations have the lowest median ages or youngest populations in India according to the census.

When we talk about youth, let’s consider the situation of schools of Bihar that are run by the government, 90% of them. The expenditure by the government on per student’s elementary education is very little. The balance amongst spending on teacher’s salaries, training, mid-day meal, books and uniforms is meagre and doesn’t prove to be decent at all.

No more than 38% of students enrolled in Class 1 complete their secondary education (Class 10) in Bihar, according to The Bihar Economic Survey 2015-16. Bihar should have 746,479 teachers in elementary school, according to the pupil-teacher ratio criterion of 1 teacher for every 30 students in primary school and one teacher for every 35 students in upper primary. Imagine a scenario where students are willing to learn and do something meaningful in life but don’t have adequate resources.

Representational image.

“The Political Culture In Bihar Is No Less Than A Circus”

The problem of proper allocation of resources makes it tough for people to survive and hence, they take matters in their own hands. During monsoons, Bihar gets drowned almost every year but people do not get enough relief from the government. In order to survive the shift to areas much higher away from water, some sell their cattle while others just sit hopelessly because they are aware of the insensitive politicians.

The political culture is no less than a circus. Lust for power, material considerations, factionalism, defections, splits, mergers, fragmentation, polarisation have been important aspects of the functioning of political parties. Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan opposed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on secularism- communism debate over the 2002 Gujarat riots. And today both are dear to him now.

Nitish Kumar has gained enough resources by staying in power for nearly 15 years. So, it’s very easy to understand the game of politics that is going to start for the authorities’ own benefit. In the last few months, political parties such as the BJP as we could see conducted virtual rallies maybe because of the fear and defeat it faced previously; from 8th November 2015 to 11th February 2020 State Legislative Assembly elections were held in 18 states and the party lost in 16 states!

“The desperation in the prime minister’s action is evident today. The way they are hanging with Nitish, praising him repeatedly shows that even after so many years BJP has no leadership of its own. They are constantly losing state elections and their confidence level has come down significantly”, said DM Diwakar, Former Director of Anugrah Narayan Sinha Samaj Adhyayan Sanstha, Patna.

The 2020 Bihar elections is a digital war. According to a report by The Quint, BJP has made more than 1 Lakh WhatsApp groups, RJD’s youth wing alone is soon going to reach 25 lakh people in Bihar and RJD is working hard on topics keeping in mind the content, research work, design and technical stuff and also tells about creating verified twitter pages for 38 districts in Bihar so that besides WhatsApp they can reach voters on Twitter as well.

RJD slogans are now revolving around Tejashwi Yadav rather than Lalu Yadav such as ‘Tej Raftar, Tejashwi Sarkar’ or ‘Badlav ki Chhavi Tejashwi’.

JD(U) is focusing more on high-tech campaigning rather than digital campaigning. At least 150 high-tech camping raths have been created which have two big LED screens along with sound systems. Whereas Congress is going to hold ‘Bihar Kranti Virtual Mahasammelan’ live on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

In the lust for power and war amongst themselves, the parties must have forgotten how many people actually know how to use a smartphone or if everyone has the money to even buy it or not. The people residing in village areas do not have access to the Internet and they don’t even have the basic knowledge of what the election is about or what the parties manifesto has to offer to the people. An individual who dreams of having basic means of livelihood and a dignified life considers it a luxury and not their soulful right in today’s time.

With power comes great responsibility and the people of Bihar need a regime that can look after their basic rights such as no discrimination on whatsoever basis, right to adequate means of livelihood and the most important one being able to study and have access to proper education.

Bihar needs to focus on the proper functioning of colleges, quality of education, infrastructure, menstrual hygiene management, job opportunities and stringent laws on any kind of discrimination and cases against minorities. It’s about saving Bihar from getting worse and demanding with full authority what rightfully belongs to the people.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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