‘Bi­har Sud­har Raha Hai’

The state of Bi­har in In­dia, once in­fa­mous for crime and corruption, is un­der­go­ing tremen­dous change. The new im­age makeover is sur­pris­ing skep­tics and in­hab­i­tants who had given up hope. More re­fresh­ingly, women are at the fore­front of this trans­for­ma­tio

Southasia - - Gender empowerment - By Amna E. Khaishgi

Bi­har is mak­ing waves all over again. A once pros­per­ous state that had re­cently be­come syn­ony­mous with corruption and law­less­ness is now mak­ing a new be­gin­ning. In the process, it is writ­ing a new chap­ter of grad­ual progress and self be­lief. And guess who is driv­ing this change and get­ting ben­e­fited in re­turn? Be­lieve it or not, women em­pow­er­ment lies at the root of this new resur­gence.

Dur­ing my visit to Nazra Mo­hammed Abad, a vil­lage in Darb­hanga district of Bi­har, the most fas­ci­nat­ing sys­tem I came across was Aan­gan Baari (gov­ern­ment spon­sored child-care and mother-care cen­ter). The cen­ters are spread across thou­sands of vil­lages with one Aan­gan Baari for ev­ery 1000 house­hold. There is a lady, or a group of ladies, re­spon­si­ble for day­care of in­fants born in her des­ig­nated area. Be­sides care, she im­parts ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion (such as Hindi, English and Urdu) and a mid-day meal to chil­dren en­rolled at the cen­ter. The gov­ern­ment al­lo­cates ex­tra money to feed chil­dren.

Here is how the sys­tem op­er­ates. As soon as a woman in the vil­lage gets preg­nant, she be­comes the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Aan­gan Baari cen­ter and its team. The cen­ter not only pro­vides food but also or­ga­nizes med­i­cal care till the child is born. Then they en­sure that the new-born is reg­is­tered and gets vac­ci­na­tion and other medicines. At the age of 3 the child is ad­mit­ted at the day care Montes­sori for ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion. At the age of 6 the child is ad­mit­ted at a gov­ern­ment school in the vil­lage. In a place like Nazra (with a pop­u­la­tion of over 5,000) I found three Aan­gan Baaris, all work­ing at full ca­pac­ity. One can imag­ine how many Aan­gan Baaris would be work­ing across Bi­har with over 5 crore pop­u­la­tion, mostly in ru­ral ar­eas.

This unique and suc­cess­ful con­cept is ben­e­fit­ing so­ci­ety in two ways – the mother and child get proper health­care, thereby con­trol­ling the mor­tal­ity rate and women get em­pow­ered, both fi­nan­cially and health-wise. The gov­ern­ment se­lects women for Aan­gan Baaris from the grass root level and pro­vides train­ing. These women start earn­ing from the stage of train­ing. They first get a stipend and, once con­firmed, get a de­cent salary. They also get a yearly bonus and in­cre­ment as per gov­ern­ment rules and reg­u­la­tions. For pro­vid­ing food to chil­dren, each Aan­gan Baari cen­ter gets Rs. 11000 ev­ery month.

There are other in­cen­tives as well. Each birth in the vil­lage gets Asha girl (sup­port staff) a sum of Rs. 600 per child. Par­ents too get help with the birth of each child – Rs. 1000 for a baby boy and Rs. 1600 for a baby girl. More­over, the gov­ern­ment de­posits Rs. 16000 for the birth of each girl in Bi­har. Against this de­posit, the girl is en­ti­tled to get a sum of Rs. 45000 when she turns 16. As a re­sult of such schemes, women em­pow­er­ment is

now vis­i­ble in Bi­har.

While driv­ing from the vil­lage to Patna (the state cap­i­tal), I saw many young girls rid­ing bi­cy­cles. I was told that the gov­ern­ment gives bi­cy­cles to girls who pass their 10th grade (Ma­tric­u­la­tion) ex­am­i­na­tion in first divi­sion (more than 50 per­cent marks). This is to fa­cil­i­tate them to go to col­lege. With a new and pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment in power, the state is be­gin­ning to look bet­ter. High­ways are be­ing land­scaped and the gov­ern­ment has en­gaged women to take care of plants. One woman is re­spon­si­ble for one tree and is paid Rs. 140 ev­ery day to wa­ter and take care of the tree for three months.

Bi­har is chang­ing in a small yet sig­nif­i­cant way. Pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion for girls has been made free and gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vide in­ter­est-free loans to en­cour­age women to open gro­cery shops and be­come fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent. Po­lit­i­cal aware­ness among women is in­flu­enc­ing the cor­ri­dors of power in the state. In the last state elec­tions, the voter turnout among women was stu­pen­dous. They out­num­bered men with 54.85 per­cent women as com­pared to 50.70 per­cent men vot­ing in these elec­tions. Of the to­tal 260,000 rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Pan­chay­ats (vil­lage gov­ern­ment), 120,000 are women.

“Bi­har is not the same any­more,” says Talat Aafrin – an Asha worker. “Gov­ern­ment has trained all of us to im­prove the lives of ru­ral women in Bi­har. The gov­ern­ment is do­ing so much work that we are run­ning short of man­power.” And then with a proud grin, Aafrin says, “Bi­har suh­dar raha hai”. The writer is a Dubai-based jour­nal­ist. She started her ca­reer as a print jour­nal­ist and is now mak­ing doc­u­men­taries. With about a decade’s ex­pe­ri­ence in di­verse spheres of jour­nal­ism, her core in­ter­est is in is­sues re­lated to South Asian mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties.

Women at the fore­front of so­cial up­lift.

One of Aan­gan Baari schools in Bi­har.

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