‘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
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.