Patna, Apr 5 (ANI): Bihar certainly seems to be shaking off its yoke of extreme backwardness and poor developmental indices, which have defined the state, indeed, the region, for decades. The second term of the JDU government under Nitish Kumar has been widely perceived as a vote for development as opposed to the caste-equations and patterns of voting that this BIMARU state regularly showed up.
With massive efforts at building infrastructure like roads, cracking down on the anti-social, infact downright criminal elements which had the run of the land to softer areas of expanding the education system and addressing the special needs of the 'Mahadalits' are indeed laudable steps.
Behind this euphoria, this, the visionary leadership to create an environment to 'make every Bihari proud' lies the quiet support of a group which has no doubt been recognised but perhaps its criticality in the scheme of things been missed. This is the participation and support of women in the electoral process.
The turnout of women was in one word, stupendous. They broke all social barriers and norms to participate and we witnessed scenes of women voters queuing up in the six phase Assembly elections in Bihar. nterestingly in a state where the gender ratio is skewed in favour of men, it is the women who outnumbered men in the election process, with 54.85 per cent women as compared to 50.70 per cent men voting. This was the first time women of Bihar played such crucial role in forming a government in the state.
So what are the women saying, what are their aspirations, what is this collective consciousness at work which has been instrumental for returning the government to power? What would be a fascinating study not only to the psephologist but those connected to the politics of development is to understand the factors that made this happen. It was like a collective consciousness at work.
This is the time the state government returned to power is unfolding its agenda of 'consolidation' of development processes initiated in the first term. This is also the opportune time to address the issues, which made these women come out in large numbers to vote almost en masse.
This would lead not only 'more development' but also 'more nuanced and responsive development' which women as a participatory force could help define. Yes the women have voted as a reiteration of the positive developments that have taken place in the state but it goes beyond that. Now they are seeking a better deal in every sphere of political, social and economic activity. A new order is called for which will not only put Bihar securely on the map of development but also ensure a more enabling environment for women to participate in the development trajectory.
The scenario, notwithstanding the outpouring of support by women continues to be challenging. Age-old social practices and patriarchal patterns still prevail which keep women sidelined, notches below their male counterparts in all areas of life, be it access to education, health, participation in governance.
Early marriage is the bane of society still with girls being seen as ' burden' on their parents to be thrown off at the earliest. According to the 2001 Census the total number of married girls less than 15 years old is 154899 while those between the ages 15-19 is also staggering, 1251950. This prevents girls from growing into mature adults who could carry out not only family responsibilities with aplomb but contribute to society more fully.
Consider this. The fertility rate in Bihar is high which directly impact the population figures, higher than the national rate. Child marriage can be seen as a major reason for this, a practice spawned by retrograde social norms.For a state on the move, under a dynamic leadership, an increasing population and limited resources is not a perfect formula for growth. Nor is it befitting to have girl children married and producing children rather than being in school and getting an education.
The level of education in Bihar is way behind the National level with female literacy at 33.1 per cent as against all-India figure of 53.7 per cent. This is the time then for the policy makers to take a good hard look at what they have inherited not only in terms of a thumping mandate but the plethora of problems they need to find solutions to.
Another prime area for concern is the lack of healthcare facilities. Remote areas of Bihar are still deprived basic healthcare facilities. The number of Primary Health Centres (PHC) is 1641 as against the required number of 2489, a shortfall of 848. In Sub Centres the shortfall is a stupendous 6101. The women in such areas can be equated with the most backward parts of Africa.
All of this does not make for a comforting situation for the government to be in. Rather it will now need to drastically cut through all the euphoria and praise and roll back its sleeves to get the work done. There is no other way for a society to move forward unless its entire people across caste-gender-regional lines are partners in progress.
It has to battle with the very real scenario of high mortality rates, of the mother and the infant. It has to face the specter of malnutrition, a huge challenge with Bihar's 58 per cent children malnourished. All these require hard-nosed policies and programmes and allocation of resources.
There is no denying of the fact that the Nitish Kumar government, has enabled women to participate in governance more significantly than in the past. This has led to their empowerment. Reservation at the Panchayat level has had an impact on their increased role.
Of the 2, 60,000 representatives in Panchayats, a whopping 1, 20,000 are women. The Mukhyamantri Akshar Aanchal Yojna, aiming to make 40 lakh women literate in a year and providing bicycles to girls are populist moves, which have not only paid off but led to this sense of empowerment. In a way Nitish Kumar has loosened the constricting patterns that kept the state backward.
In the process, the Charkha Development Network feels, he has unleashed a wave of not only energy and participation but of aspirations and expectations of a better quality of life for those who have been marginalised. Now he and the government he leads has to learn to ride this tiger. By Rajiv Kumar (ANI)