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Floods Are Over, But Destruction Isn’t. Is Bihar Ready For Elections 2020?

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Bihar is the most flood-prone state of India. The floods have inundated 18 of the state’s 38 districts, killing 27 people and displacing over 7 million. Around 76% of its population in the northern region lives under the constant threat of floods. Bihar is host to the annual flooding of the river causing it to make up 16.5% of India’s flood-affected area and 22.1% of India’s flood-affected population.

These floods are caused by the flooding of these rivers –  Mahananda River, Koshi River, Burhi River, Gandak River, and Ganak. These rivers coupled with the heavy rains in the monsoons have added to the plight of the Biharis. Crops were damaged and millions displaced from their homes. The elections are due to be held in three phases i.e. on October 28 and the 3rd and 7th of November at a time when Bihar still recovers from the devastating consequences of the recent flash floods. This article aims to analyse how prepared Bihar is to go into elections at this time. 

Year After Year, Why Does Bihar Fail To Minimise Flood Damage?

Floods in Bihar is an annual phenomenon. Then the question arises, that being aware of the upcoming disaster, why does Bihar fail to address it and minimise the damages? The Kosi Deluge: The Worst Is Still To Come report provides the answer. The careless construction of embankments to protect the land from floods has actually increased the intensity of the rivers and led to greater floods. The greater collection of silt in the river bed has increased the level of the river and caused some regions to be water-logged. Bihar needs a long term plan to address the floods, temporary short-term political gimmicks are only going to add to the problem and make it worse. 

The Kharif crop that was due to be harvested has been damaged by the floods. The floods have inundated the fields which would affect the next crop season as well. The Rabi season which comes next sees the sowing of maize and wheat crops, essential food crops. Bihar primarily depends on agriculture for its economy as it provides employment to thousands in the region. The inundated fields might force the farmers to sow the seeds halfway into the season which might result in a lower yield. 

Lakhs of Biharis are being served food at community kitchens even as people gather their limited belongings and move to higher regions to escape the flood. The only 6 functional relief centres in the state host over 5000 displaced citizens.

The Bagmati river as well as the Ganga river have been flowing above the danger level at several places in the state. There was no change in the figures for the fifth consecutive day.

The highest number of deaths (11) have been reported from the Darbhanga district of Bihar accounting to a total fatality tally of 19.

The flood has gradually receded in most parts of the state. But while the floods have disappeared, the destruction hasn’t. The destruction of infrastructure has taken the most dreadful toll on the rural lower class. In a state where the National Disaster Response Force, as well as the State Disaster Response Force, has been deployed to battle a deadly flood, how feasible is it for its population to vote? The government would be wise to roll out facilities and measures that make the transportation of such citizens easier who are still dealing with the aftermath of the floods.

The EIC has been firm on its decision to hold the elections on the scheduled dates and has effectively solved all the issues arising in the lead up to the election. Representational image.

The Aam Aadmi Party in a surprising move recently announced its decision to boycott the Bihar elections. The Bihar chief for AAP, Sushil Kumar Singh after consultation with AAP leader, Arvind Kejriwal stated, “When people are struggling for two square meals and cattle are not getting fodder, schools are closed, there are restrictions on puja celebration and there is still very little economic activity, holding elections and employing six-lakh government employees for it appears dangerous. Does the government guarantee the safety of its six-lakh employees? said Singh, adding the polls could leave the entire state population vulnerable.”

Bihar is facing its worst crisis with the flood season in the middle of a raging pandemic. At this time, Bihar hopes for a stable leader who can guide them through the crisis through strong policy action plans.

While the political parties engage in public political sparring, Bihar resurfaces from drowning floods.

The EIC has been firm on its decision to hold the elections on the scheduled dates and has effectively solved all the issues arising in the lead up to the election. However, provisions must be made for better transportation and easy accessibility of polling booths, as no fair election can occur if half the public is simply unable to vote. As we assume new normalcy in all aspects, including the voting process, we must remember to bring everyone together and strive for equality starting with our election process.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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