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Why Is Bihar’s Muslim-Dominated District of Kishanganj In Tears?

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Kishanganj is a Muslim-majority district of Bihar. On January 14, 2021, the district will mark 32 years of its inception as the 38th district of Bihar. The district will accomplish a journey full of waxing and waning, as it will also mark 32 years of injustice, ignorance and bad governance.

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Nothing seems more fit than to begin with the opening line of Charles Dicken’s novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” The same is Bihar’s Kishanganj’s plight.

Kishanganj is a Muslim-majority district of Bihar. On January 14, 2021, the district will mark 32 years of its inception as the 38th district of Bihar. The district will accomplish a journey full of waxing and waning, as it will also mark 32 years of injustice, ignorance and bad governance.

 

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A recent report by the NITI Aayog has identified Kishanganj district as the poorest district in Bihar. The district witnessed 64.75% of people living BPL (Below the Poverty Line) against 51.91% of the state’s population.

The key issues of Kishanganj include illiteracy, unemployment, malnutrition, heavy dependency on agriculture. Lack of political leadership is a cardinal reason.

Parachute MPs Can’t Fix Poverty

On the basis of data collected in the 2001 Census, Kishanganj was included in the category of “90 minority-concentrated, backward districts” using eight indicators of socio-economic development.

The motive behind this identification was to improve all the eight indicators through a MSDP (multi-sector development plan), now known as the “Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram”. Unfortunately, the NITI Aayog report shows how the motive faded.

The subject matter of the lack of political leadership, acted as a deterrent to the progression of Kishanganj. Since 1990, the district has been served by six MPs (members of parliament).

Four out of six were parachute MPs (an election candidate who does not live in, and has little connection to, the area they represent), which includes, MJ Akbar, Syed Sahabuddin, Taslimuddin and Syed Shahnawaz Hussain.

Instead of understanding the pressing issues pertaining to Kishanganj and serving people’s interests, they serve their own and their party’s interests. Akbar was an outspoken journalist and the people of Kishanganj thought he would be their voice.

Of The AMU-Kishanganj Centre

But, Akbar disappointed heavily and remained seated silently in the parliament. Rays of hope then shifted towards Syed Sahabuddin, but he was in it more for himself, decorating himself as the sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi of India.

A Muslim’s heart bleeds for another Muslim. So, with this dramatic dialogue, the other two parachute MPs managed to take a seat in the parliament. The people of Kishanganj chose Maulana Asrarul Haque as their first Surjapuri MP.

He was an Islamic theologian and he established a girls school in Kishanganj in 2002. I would like to label him as the “right man in the wrong place”. He could do much more for Kishanganj without dipping his feet in the ocean of Indian politics.

 

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As a political chair holder, he contributed very little to the AMU (Aligarh Mslim University) Kishanganj Centre. To put it bluntly, zero contribution. The sitting MP, Dr Md Jawaid, seems to be active and raising issues pertaining to Kishanganj in the parliament.

Floods Caused By Mahananda And Its Tributaries

The majority of Kishanganj’s population depends heavily on agriculture. Other options to earn a livelihood are scant. The Kishanganj district experiences floods every year due to the river Mahananda and its tributaries: a disregarded matter of concern.

The floods ruin agricultural crops enormously. The erosion due to flood stretches upto 3 km. The 2017 flood proved disastrous for Kishanganj as it affected all seven blocks (100%) and 78 gram panchayats severely affected.

The recorded rainfall was 1.75 feet. The farmers were worried about loans. It was observed by the Ganga Flood Control Commission (GFCC) that about 340 km of embankments are required in upper reaches of Mahananda and its tributaries.

These embankments, on completion will provide relief to 2.79 lakh hectares. But, the project is yet to be implemented.

Lagging Behind In Health And Literacy

It has been 75 years since independence and still, Kishanganj district has no district-level hospital. A proposal of ₹6.14 crore was made for upgradation to a district-level hospital, but it is yet to be sanctioned.

A 30-bedded sub-divisional hospital is located in the midst of a city crowd, for 1 lakh people. Kishanganj has only two CHCs (community health centres) and the other six blocks persist without a CHC. There are no female toilet facilities and no retiring room, where doctors may stay till the evening.

 

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The provision of 24 hours services in hospitals is virtually non-existent because of the unavailability of residential accommodation for doctors and paramedical staff.

In the third decade of the 21st century, if someone has to address the topic of illiteracy, it exposes nothing but bad governance. The literacy rate of Kishanganj was 31.02% (2001 Census), and it increased to 55.46 % (2011 Census).

Kishanganj Doesn’t Have Enough Schools And Colleges

The central reason behind illiteracy is outright ignorance of the government. According to a survey, 42% of the children who are 10 and above, don’t even complete six years of schooling in Kishanganj.

The national norm of having primary schools within a 1 km range and upper primary schools within 3 km, is a textbook line. Kishanganj is going through a huge elementary education crisis, with thousands still out of primary school.

 

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According to reports published in 2011, Kishanganj only had 17 high schools for a population of around 17 lakh. In comparison, Munger district had 88 high schools for a population of around 14 lakh.

aFor education, the people of Kishanganj stepped out of their comfort zones and protested for an AMU centre. In 2013, the Bihar government allocated 224 acres to the centre.

In 2013, it was the UPA (united progressive alliance, led by the Congress) government who sanctioned ₹136 crore to the AMU Kishanganj Centre. Nine years have passed and the remaining amount of ₹122.82 crore is yet to be received.

Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas?

The slogan “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (everyone’s support, everyone’s development) seems bogus. The granted land (224 acres) is stuck under a legal battle as the NGT (National Green Tribunal) raised a red flag over the allocated land.

The Surjapuri community of Kishanganj district is a SEBC (socio-economically backward class) community, which is recognised under the BC-2 (backward classes) category.

For the social and cconomic upliftment of Kishanganj, the Surjapuri community should be placed in the central OBC (other backward classes) list recognised by the central government.

The district should be given a special grant under Article 371 of the Indian constitution. With the implementation of these two, the district will be on it’s way to coming out of impoverishment.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Flickr.
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