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“A Bihari Must Leave Bihar To Make It”: Will Things Ever Change In This ‘Land Of Hope’?

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Artwork credit: Satish Acharya

The Indian political landscape saw yet another extraordinary cliffhanger as the elections were down to the wire in an episodic battle. The whole country had their eyes on the Bihar election because of its predictable repercussions in the upcoming swathe of elections. The ECI must be lauded for pulling off this gigantic exercise. Though the counting was overstretched because of the pandemic, the situation still resulted in a global election slowdown.

There was public anger against the incumbent, but many were apprehensive about the opposition coming to power, lest they want a return to the Gunda raj“.

However, many envisaged transmutation and were less bothered about what happened fifteen years ago, as they were more concerned about their precarious present and their grim employment situation after the reverse migration. Due to the treatment meted out to them in the metropolitans, they were looking forward to opportunities being created in their home state.

Employment

Unfortunately, debates on youth employment didn’t gain much traction either among the politicians or the electoral population. The cataclysm of unemployment which has the potential of turning India’s demographic dividend into a demographic disaster is a crisis which gained public attention to the required extent only after COVID-19 resulted in the migrant crisis.

The situation was similar to the NPA mess that was on the cards for long, but the public was appalled only when big names started coming out of the jar. Demonetisation, faulty implementation of GST and the banking system crisis had sent the economy into a downward spiral much before the COVID-19 disruption. 

Bihar has failed to create jobs due to its ineptitude to attract private investment. However, Bihar, like most states, can provide jobs in the public health and education sector, in the police and judiciary. It’s an irony that the courts and the police, which are endowed with the task of maintaining law and order, lack appropriate staff. Education is a source of human capital and investment, and it creates durable assets by increasing productivity, and hence better salaries.

But what if there is no or marginal growth in jobs? The number of unemployed educated youth is surging as they are less likely to accept low-quality employment now. Fertile alluvial soil and abundant water from a multitude of rivers can make Bihar a perfect destination for India’s second green revolution and also be the fountainhead of prosperity as many in Bihar are still involved in the agricultural sector.

Criminalisation Of politics

As per an ADR report, in Bihar, 89% Assembly constituencies have three or more candidates who have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits for the ongoing elections. Well, the situation is reprehensible at the union level also. So how can one expect law and order to be maintained when those who are entitled to make laws are lawbreakers? There is no point lamenting about abysmal law and order situation unless this criminal-politician nexus, whose corollary is often the criminal-politician-police nexus, comes to an end.

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representative of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.” -Lenin

Given these facts, it is difficult to believe that anybody who merely has a burning desire to serve the public can ever aspire to become an MP or an MLA unless parties sponsor candidates on their merits rather than their financial status or their charisma.

“India is still a procedural democracy, rule of money and muscle power supersedes the rule of law in India.” -Christophe Jafferlot

Ends And Means

It is an unfortunate paradox that in a country where Gandhi’s ideas dawned, who believed in the continuity of ends (Ram Rajya) and means (Ahimsa), many politicians have espoused Machiavellianism and that too in the most draconian modus operandi possible. Having a “utilitarian” view towards religion, they deceive people rather than adopting religion as a source of ethics, which Gandhi had desired. More directly, the intertwining of religion and government is also considered as an early sign of fascism.

“He who distinguishes on religion miss-educates the members of his own and opens the way for discord and irreligion.” -Gandhi

It will take a while for India to become a substantive democracy, as here, many still choose to vote on caste, religious and ethnic lines or keeping the charisma of the central leader in their minds. Taking a cue from the status of education, the electorate of BIMARU states are more vulnerable to such voting-styles.

“‘Bhakti’ in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, ‘Bhakti’ or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship.” -B.R. Ambedkar

Opposition

The leader of the opposition party had put up a high total score for the incumbent to chase in Bihar, which was conspicuous from the nip and tuck competition. He has indeed emerged from the shadow of his father (darkest age in the history of Bihar) and made a mark. Consistent in his focus on local issues and his promises of jobs to the youth, he has maintained a dignified silence on the personal barbs. Albeit, one can argue that the opposition at the union level has been debilitated due to its inability to confront the government whenever it gets sidetracked. 

However, expressing exultation due to the demolition of opposition represents the sad state of affairs. TINA (there is no alternative option) and democracy are oxymorons. Even elitist (procedural) democrats like Robert Michels who believe in the “iron law of oligarchy” propound their multi-party tenet in response to the socialist critique of western democracy.

Vesting power in a single party and being a campaigner of a single-party State (for example, the CCP) often translates into authoritarian trends in the long run. Invoking TINA in a democracy is like embracing totalitarianism with open arms. 

Every government has its flaws; after all, they consist of humans who might be wise or foolish, benevolent or selfish, virtuous or vicious – but, in no case, divine and infallible. Otherwise, what is the difference between God and government? Hegel, who was hired by the Prussian State to convince that State deserves unquestionable obedience, said, “State is the march of God on earth.”

So taking the government’s word as “gospel truth” or “in the interest of the nation” without fact-checking would implicitly encourage fascism through unbridled authority. Even Plato’s theory of philosopher-king, who he made absolute, when criticised by his pupil Aristotle (the theory of laws), made him renege on his approach. Start taking things with a pinch of salt!

Development

BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) states are often held culpable of exacerbating India’s backward situation. These states have the highest population, which can be deduced due to their high fertility rates (Bihar has a fertility rate of 3.4) and the deploration situation of their public health system (one allopathic doctor serves 43,788 people in Bihar, against the WHO prescribed standards of one doctor/ 1000 persons). Due to the inflated population and abominable economic performance, these states play an enormous role in bringing down India’s per capita GDP. 

India is developed but only in pockets. We can see engineering masterpieces like Bandra-Worli sea link in Mumbai and also bridges getting extirpated in Bihar. Rather than voting on religious lines, one must vote vis-à-vis issues like employment, health, education, which indeed will bolster India’s path to development. The Hathras rape case reminds me of Marx’s “Base and Superstructure model.”

No matter how much a state prospers in terms of superstructures (if there are any), the change has to be in basic structure – gender vulnerability, casteism and economic status.

A state’s demeanour will alter only then. Bihar must identify impeccable models within the country, comprehend them, appreciate them, replicate them and scale up the good work.

Corruption And The Component Of Accountability

It is despondent to know that the poorest states in India are the most corrupt. Citizen’s vigilance is inversely proportional to corruption. The more subservient you are to your government, the more you invite corruption at your doorsteps.

“The man who asks questions is a fool for a minute; the man who does not ask is a fool for life.” -Confucious

Being on the lookout is a prerequisite to keep a check on corruption. Amartya Sen, in his work on famines, argues that no famine has ever taken place in a democracy. But he also argues that it would be a mistake to believe that democracy is a panacea for hunger, illiteracy or poverty. Here, an essential component of good governance comes into the picture: accountability. 

If we put labels on dissenters (or intellectuals or experts) by believing in narratives, then we are doomed to be subjected to the mammoth of corruption. Rampant corruption is also considered as an early warning sign of fascism. One must see the government’s performance on accountability and transparency parameters while voting rather than being impressed by a brand of rhetoric or charisma of a leader.

Hannah Arendt propounds that power is people acting in concert with each other. Therefore, we must work in a cohort rather than being fragmented, to put our democracy to fair use.

Representational image.

Why Do Indian Journalists Act Like They’re Bound By Party’s Whip Too?

A lot of people, considering news which is a facade in our “Republic,” were able to delude themselves as they chose to seek “justice” in the name of “murder mysteries.” Making someone’s suicide as a tool for election campaign and many citizens joining that lot paints a very gloomy picture about the source of news for many in the state.

It’s arduous for a politician to express dissent within their party because they are bound by their party’s whip (under the anti-defection law, they will be disqualified if they abstain or vote in contrary to the direction issues by party). But why has this been the mundane job of a plethora of journalists too?

“The Hathras rape happened because we forgot “Nirbhaya” in the din of cacophony masquerading as news in our “Republic” that made us believe that nation-wants-to-know only what was being dished out in the idiot box. My problem is not with a few that spit venom and vitiate social harmony. There have always been such deranged men and women in any society. The real concern is about a growing number of those that unabashedly support and promote such hate-mongers and the silence of the saner elements.” ~Anil Swarup

Weaponising media is an existential threat. There are many today whose diet is propaganda-based narratives and fake news. How do you get out of the matrix when you aren’t aware of being in it?

Controlled mass media is also an early sign of fascism.

Bihar floods.

Same Story Every Year, But No Ending: Bihar’s Floods

Every monsoon when Bihar comes to a halt due to its dreadful drainage system, unplanned cities and its geography, we mourn it, but we need to act all around the year not to let Bihar get subdued by deluges. The citizenry has to be more concerned about their state. Bihar is in an immense need of an intellectual revolution which must precede a political or economic revolution.

It is not as if nothing has been done. But still, Bihar continues to be the “Gangotri” supplying unskilled labour to the rest of India. It is a sad refrain that still rings true: “a Bihari must leave Bihar to make it.”

I say this because we must have confidence in the government’s doings and hold them accountable when they are lackadaisical or go off-track. Suppose Bihar has not been able to achieve its desired potential hitherto. In that case, the credit goes to its feeble civil society, and those who incessantly say that “nothing can happen in Bihar.” I can guarantee them that yes, nothing can happen. 

Any government works on a “feedback mechanism,” as per David Easton’s “General System Theory.” Therefore, if any government is not able to bring efficacy, more or less always, and is still able to attain popular mandate, it shows that the majority of the people are content with whatever the government has achieved. An ideal government is what people make of it, but a government “in practice” is generally what the “majority” of the population make of it. Any developed society has robust interest groups which sought to influence public policy by articulating their interests exhaustively.

People denigrate politicians on account of their “vote bank politics.” But if we ruminate, then aren’t all humans working on incentives/kicks? So, if politicians seek votes by doing something in the interest of the public, then how come they are exhibited as “monsters?” So if your impulse demands a change in the politics, aren’t you supposed to focus on “issues” while voting rather than ridiculing a politician’s image?

Our constitutional makers championed the cause for parliamentary democracy because they felt the nation would deliberate and hold the government accountable, for India to burgeon in the decades to come. 

Let us deploy our democracy in a way which will make their vision turn into reality. Bihar needs to cash in on the reverse exodus of millions and light “diyas” this Diwali to decimate darkness in their life. It is time that Bihar comes out of its ages of tenebrosity and enlighten our country and the world, which it did by being the incubator for the ideas of Ashoka and Buddha. This election, many voted on issues of unemployment, law and order, and public infrastructure, which makes Bihar’s inception of development promising. India can achieve Atma Nirbharta only if development is democratised.

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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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