A quest for a dignified life in Bihar

It’s the last lap in Bihar and tensions are running high. The stakes have been upped a great degree by both the BJP and the MGB (the mahagathbandhan or grand alliance). The BJP is anxious to bust the “Nitish myth” as they call it, and the MGB sees Bihar as just one step in a country-wide ‘jan andolan’ (people’s movement) to oust the BJP state by state. The BJP, comfortable with the Congress as the main opposition with Rahul at the helm, does not want any leader in the country to emerge as a potential competitor to Narendra Modi in 2019. The MGB and its outside supporters (Kejriwal, Mamata) are hunting for a person with political and administrative experience who can be a rallying point for an anti-BJP alliance in 2019. So, it isn’t really just about Bihar.

Women in Muzaffarpur wait in queue to cast their votes during the fourth phase of the Bihar elections yesterday. Pic/PTI
Women in Muzaffarpur wait in queue to cast their votes during the fourth phase of the Bihar elections yesterday. Pic/PTI

And at this stage the only predictable element in Bihar is that results will be declared on the 8th of November. People of Patna are flabbergasted and mildly flattered with the intense national media scrutiny this state Assembly election has brought in. But there is also a cynicism that post election, the choppers will fly away from Patna’s Loknayak Jaiprakash airport — not to return, the dozens of OB vans of 24-hour news television crews will drive back to Delhi for five years, the posh anchors will dust off the grime and sweat of Bihar and head back to the studios to spout their wisdom. Left behind will be the die-hard hacks of Patna, doing post election news stories, which not many will care to read. Unless it’s a hung assembly.

The hoardings are the biggest and snazziest ever. TV transmits rallies by leaders in different corners of the state. The airport sees about 20 sorties a day of choppers flying out to different locations. A press conference every six hours. Street corner canvassing by candidates and top leaders. All promising the moon, when all that people of Bihar want is a life of dignity.

30.6 per cent of the state’s population lives below the poverty line. Nothing quite prepares you for the depressing poverty of Bihar’s countryside. With tears rolling down her eyes Binda of the Dom caste tells me that she has just one request of politicians: don’t segregate us, treat us as humans. “They need us to make baskets for their pooja, they need us to carry their dead bodies to the funeral pyre, but they won’t give us a glass when we want to drink water, they won’t give us a plate because we are Dalits. You tell them, don’t give my son a job, don’t give us electricity, give me a life of dignity.”

Two huts away, chopping at a bamboo stick is young Pavan, a graduate without a job because, he says, his caste goes against him. Potential employers tell him to make baskets, which have been the occupation of the Doms for hundreds of years. He says the Nitish government has done nothing for him, nor will others. A group of Yadav men come menacingly towards us when they hear him speak against the MGB. But they retreat when the camera turns towards them. Pavan is not intimidated but his brother, who is in the ninth grade, says he wants to become a clerk because only a government job can rid his family of utter poverty. It is as if Bihar refuses to change.

Bihar’s famous poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar wrote “maano janta hi phool jise ahsaas nahi, jab chaho tabhi utaar saja lo dono mey” (Imagine the public to be like flowers that feel nothing, just to be plucked and used for decorating vessels).

Talk of development seems a cruel joke when you see kids without a scrap of cloth on their bodies, running dangerously close to the highway or near unsecured wells. Men and women walking without footwear. And then all of a sudden you spot a schoolgirl on a cycle. Your heart leaps in hope. Some things are changing in Bihar. Very, very slowly.

I go back to the same poem of Dinkar in which he says, “lekin hota bhoodol bhavandar uththey hain, janta jab kopakul ho bhrkuti chadati hai, do rah samay kay rath ka ghrghar naad suno, sinhasan khali karo janta aati hai” (But earthquakes happen and tornadoes rise when the public’s eyebrows are raised in anger, vacate the path for the chariot of the people, vacate the throne, the public is here).

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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