Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Apr 21, 2006
Industry & Economy - Gender
`Domestic violence is taken for granted in Bihar'
Recently in Patna
While the massive task of developing Bihar is on, civil society too will have to play a role in that task, "as we are not under British rule," says Ms Renu Ranjan, Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology, Magadh Mahila College, Patna, talking to Business Line.
Excerpts from the interview:
How is the mood in Bihar?
Very upbeat, particularly among the teaching community; we are not only getting our salaries on time, but also arrears.
And where does this leave Mr Lalu Prasad?
Mr Lalu Prasad is fine. Now, the political situation is balanced and that is good for us. The opposition is also strong; there will be checks on the government and it will have to deliver. Had Laluji had a strong opposition, he would have become a strong leader. Fortunately, Mr Nitish Kumar has a strong opposition.
What about the social justice plank; will Mr Nitish deliver on that front?
There is some doubt on that score as the BJP is associated with the upper-caste and upper-class. But one thing is certain: Mr Nitish Kumar has not played casteism and promoted his caste the Kurmis. That way he is different from Mr Lalu Prasad, which is a positive change.
What about the bureaucracy?
For long, the bureaucracy was humiliated, but Mr Nitish Kumar has been telling them that he would give them autonomy in exchange for a report card. The bureaucrats I talk to say work is going on systematically and files are moving rapidly. On the gender front, we women feel much safer to be on the streets even late in the evenings. And we can see women constables on the roads; we did not even know there were women constables in Bihar! When we did a survey on sexual harassment, we found they (women policemen) were there, but never wore their uniform; now they do! The media too are playing a very important role, as during Mr Lalu Prasad's time.
Apart from education, what are the areas that need to be tackled?
Health is a big issue in Bihar. There is a dearth of doctors, medical and para-medical staff. People find an alternative and send their children out of Bihar, but health needs are immediate. We recently did a survey along with Care International on routine immunisation where the role of ANMs is very important. But, in Bihar, each ANM has such a huge population to attend to that she doesn't know where to begin. Their numbers have to be increased, for immunisation they have to go to the interiors, sometimes walking long distances on sandy tracks.
Also, anganwadi workers are neglected, and not paid their salaries. Mr Nitish Kumar is trying to make a difference but the problem is so huge.
Does the noon meal scheme work here?
Hardly; in most schemes, there is a huge gap between intent and implementation. The government has a mountain before it; so even if there is a little progress, it goes unnoticed. First of all, the system of administration has to be restored, and that will be a huge struggle by itself. And tackling the rural areas will be a bigger challenge.
The HRD ministry has a programme called chalo gaon ki aur. Colleges should be given the responsibility of conducting these programmes. In many subjects, there is fieldwork, and students can get involved. The Government cannot do everything and it is time civil society, including the educational institutions, pitched in. Civil society cannot remain indifferent to the plight of the rural people and the poor.
In Orissa, an academician had told me that the intelligentsia there is not involved in planning. What about Bihar?
It is the same here; when there is a problem, the government listens to the intelligentsia but does not involve them. But the problem with the academicians is that when they do get involved, they talk about idealistic conditions whereas people in the Government encounter practical problems. That gap has to be bridged.
Take, for instance, the sexual harassment Bill. There is no committee in co-ed institutions. And if we talk about the domestic violence Bill to hum pagal kehlatey hei (we are considered insane). That is the state of affairs on the gender front in Bihar. If nothing else, at least if the government sends a mere circular to educational institutions asking them to start a dialogue on such issues, that will be a big step.
Is there a lot of domestic violence here?
Yes; actually, domestic violence is taken for granted in Bihar.
So gender rights are dismal here?
Where are the gender rights? Where there is so much discrimination against women, where is the question of rights? When we talk of reproductive health, if a professor of sociology asks: ``What is this reproductive health and why have you asked somebody to do a Ph.D. on the subject,'' what do you say? Their brains are so closed that they cannot understand such issues. So where is the question of rights; bus survival key liye ek struggle chal rahi hei, and even on that score, women `adjust' kyonki ghar ko to akhada nahi banana hei (they don't want to convert the house into a wrestling arena).
A student of mine, who is 26 and single, stays with her father and brothers. The father has huge landed property but no brother is willing to give her any of it. She works for an NGO; the father is very sick, so the pressure on her is to give up her job and take care of him.
The son and daughter-in-law do not tend to him; he accepts that but is angry with the daughter and expects her to take care of him. But I have told her that come what may do not give up your job; spend Rs 500 and get a person to do that. If you are working, then you have the strength of your organisation with you. Also, you have some economic support.
But why has not the father willed any property in her name?
He is scared that in his old age, the sons will throw him out. She too does not want to file a case while her father is alive.
Coming to the Naxalite movement, does it have support from women?
In places where poverty is rampant, there is support from the local people, including women. In some areas of Jehanabad, girls are involved; there is so much poverty in this region that people even sell their children.
But in the violence that results from these movements, which is often politically-driven, women suffer the most when two groups fight. But the way this is going on... when you can stop a train (in Jharkhand) and hold passengers hostile for a whole night, what does it signal? That they do have a lot of local support.
When the Jehanabad jailbreak happened during the President's rule, they were getting all the details of the Government's response in Patna on their mobile phones! That is the level of their infiltration in the government.
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