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Bihar’s woman power, from proxies to politicians

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Picture credit: oneindia.com

New Delhi: Thirty-five-years-ago, Bhagirathi Devi was a sweeper in the block development office in Narkatiyaganj, a town in Bihar’s West Champaran district.

Picture credit: economictimes.com
Picture credit: economictimes.com

Today, she is a third-term member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), representing the Ramnagar (formerly Shikarpur) constituency in northwestern Bihar, one of 34 female MLAs in the 243-member house.

A Mahadalit – as the Bihar government started calling the poorest of low-caste Dalits in 2007 – Bhagirathi Devi joined politics as a reaction to what she saw around her.

“I was angry at the injustice and cruelty meted out to the poor, especially poor women, who came to the block development officer’s office,” said Bhagirathi Devi, 65.

Us din hum soch liye ki rajneeti mein jayenge aur babu logon ko sabak sikhayenge (That was the day I decided to enter politics and teach the officers a lesson),” she said.

Since 1980, when she quit her job as sweeper, Bhagirathi Devi spent the next several years creating mahila sangathans (women’s groups) in Narkatiyaganj block, organizing women and stirring awareness around issues that included domestic violence, violence against dalits and fair wages.

Gradually, she expanded her political activism to other blocks in the district, going to jail in 1991 for organizing demonstrations.

Bhagirathi Devi’s decision to enter politics was not easy for a poor Mahadalit family with six children (her husband is a railway employee). It was particularly challenging to organize her household before she set off every day, traveling to nearby villages.

Such was the strength of her conviction that Bhagirathi Devi separated from her husband for the next five years, taking him back only when he realized that there was no turning back for her.

It took a decade to consolidate her grounds at the grass root level before she entered party politics, and 10 more years before she got a BJP election ticket.

Today, she is seen in the assembly as an MLA who will not be easily silenced.

Bhagirathi Devi’s political journey, while being one of grit and determination, is also a reminder of the difficult choices that women politicians, especially from marginalized groups, have to make and yet be consigned to the margins of political landscape, always spoken of as “proxies” of a male relative.

It is also a reminder of the restricted spaces for women in Bihar’s – and India’s -political parties, unless they are backed by political lineage.

Why Bihar’s women MLAs are not proxies?

Bhagirathi Devi represents, as IndiaSpend reported, a remarkable surge in female MLAs that otherwise backward Bihar has witnessed over the last decade.

Yet, the question that is often asked is: “Are these women MLAs really empowered or are they proxies for powerful male relatives?”

The term ‘proxy’ was largely used for women in panchayats (village councils), put forward by male relatives to contest seats they had to vacate following the 33 percent reservation for women announced in 1992 under the 73rd amendment of the constitution, or when the men became ineligible after criminal convictions.

The term was further made infamous by Lalu Yadav, who installed his wife Rabri Devi as Bihar’s chief minister after his imprisonment in a fodder scam.

If proxies were defined as women put forward to contest elections because their male relatives had to step down, mostly due to criminal convictions, Bihar data now dispels this widely held myth.

Of Bihar’s 34 female MLAs, only six have contested seats vacated by male relatives, usually husbands, according to data published on Myneta.in, a public-interest website run by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an advocacy that tracks political candidates nationwide.

The majority, 82 percent of women MLAs, have won elections of their own merit.

Yet, the term ‘proxy’ is used for women MLAs with its undertones of gender and class bias. Media stories on female political candidates have often furthered this narrative.

The female proxies who shook off their proximity to their men

Leshi Singh,an MLA from Dhamdaha in eastern Bihar and widow of Butan Singh (against whom many criminal cases have been filed), was called his proxy long after his death, while the well-educated, male politicians who stepped in after the death of their fathers are seen as carrying forth their legacy.

Critics also assume that women with poor educational qualifications are almost always akin to puppets, with the real power lying with male relatives.

Like Bhagirathi Devi, a fifth-class pass, Jyothi Devi, the MLA representing Barachatti constituency in Gaya district of Southern Bihar, disproved that assumption.

A battle that has only just been joined

Hum toh zabardasti bolte hain. Hum na Lalu se darte hain na (Chief Minister) Nitish (Kumar) se. Vote janta deta hai. Bus hum sirf usi se darte hain (I insist on speaking. I am neither afraid of Lalu Yadav nor Nitish Kumar. I am only accountable to the electorate that elects me)” said Bhagirathi Devi, when asked about the space for women to speak and intervene in the assembly.

While some female MLAs are indeed fronts for male relatives, they are – as we noted – a minority. Dismissing the rest as “proxies” will not serve the cause of governance.

(By Bhanupriya Rao, IANS)

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Domestic Violence Escalates in Bihar Amid Lockdown

Bihar sees surge in domestic violence

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There is a significant increase in domestic violence cases in Bihar amid the lockdown. Pixabay

The enforcement of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus has put one vulnerable group more at risk in Bihar.

Domestic violence has escalated in the state as women confined to their homes during the lockdown have no escape from their abusers.

Former Bihar Youth Congress leader Lalan Kumar on Tuesday said, “The cases of domestic violence against women have seen a dramatic rise in all the police stations records in the state since the imposition of lockdown. This shows police inaction while the state has a shortage of women staff in all the stations.”

“Recently the National Commission for Women (NCW) released a figure which says that in March alone, the commission registered 587 complaints in connection with domestic violence”, Kumar said.

Domestic Abuse
Women are confined to their homes during the lockdown and hence have no escape from their abusers. Pixabay

He demanded from the state government that women police personnel should be appointed in each police station as soon as possible.

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Kumar said, “A spate of rape cases has also been reported in the state during the lockdown. A minor girl was gang raped by five youths in Darbhanga on May 8. On the same day, another gang rape of a minor girl in Kishanganj also came to light. On May 1, a minor girl in the state capital was raped.”

Though arrests were made in some cases, but in the maximum number of such incidents the criminals were still at large, he alleged. (IANS)

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NGOs and Private Institutions Offer a Helping Hand to Bihar

NGOs and Private Institutions come forward to help the needy and the poor in the state of Bihar

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NGOs coming forth to provide help to the needy and poor in Bihar. Pixabay

With the nationwide lockdown adding to the problems faced by the poor, many private institutions and NGOs are extending a helping hand to the needy in Bihar.

Anukriti Art founder Anukriti said she along with other benefactors has so far helped 50 families in the Shahkund area of Bhagalpur by providing them ration and other essentials.

An awardee for Madhubani and Manjusha paintings, Anukriti pointed out that such little help from individuals across the country could make a huge difference.

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NGOs have helped 50 families in the Shahkund area. Pixabay

An NGO, Ang Madad Foundation, which has earlier helped many women get trained in tailoring, has provided ration and other help to the needy in the Champanagar area in Nathnagar block.

Its head Vandana Jha said that whenever they come to know about the needy or someone calls them for help, they reach out to such persons. She said her organization has so far helped around 200 people.

Ram Jansewa Samiti and area villagers came to the rescue of 50 to 60 persons belonging to a nomadic community left stranded in the Hasanganj block of Katihar district. These needy persons, which included women and children, were provided ration and other essential items.

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The needy were provided with ration and essentials. Pixabay

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A private club led by social activist Mahesh Sav has distributed ration and other items to many needy families in the Shumar Harkhand panchayat area.

Similar reports of help extended by villagers to daily-wagers were received from Naxal-affected areas in Jamui. (IANS)

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People Have Faith in Modi Government to Handle COVID-19 Crisis

Over 83% trust Modi govt will handle COVID-19 crisis well

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Modi government
The Narendra Modi-led central government is leaving no stone unturned in fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic. Wikimedia Commons

As the Narendra Modi-led central government is leaving no stone unturned in fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, 83.5 per cent people from various states “trust in government” in handling the crisis.

The findings came out in the IANS-CVoter exclusive tracker on COVID-19 Wave 2 survey conducted during last seven days among 18 plus adults nationwide. The findings and projections are based on Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI).

Replying to a question “I think Indian government is handling the coronavirus well”, 83.5 per cent people agreed that they trust in government’s steps being taken in fight against the deadly disease, and 9.4 per cent expressed their disagreement. The survey was conducted on March 26 and 27. Of the 83.5 per cent who showed their trust in government, 66.4 per cent strongly agree with the opinion and 17.1 agree with the view.

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A similar survey on the same question done on March 17 and 18 showed that 83.6 per cent people expressed their trust in government in fight against the pandemic which so far has claimed 29 lives and over 1,000 conformed cases. A total of 13.7 per cent people expressed their disagreement.

Modi government
83.5 per cent people from various states trust the Modi government in handling the COVID-19 crisis. Wikimedia Commons

As per the tracker, the data is weighted to the known demographic profile of the states. Sometimes the table figures do not sum to 100 due to the effects of rounding, it says. “Our final data file has socio-economic profile within plus 1 per cent of the demographic profile of the state. We believe this will give the closest possible trends.”

The Tracking Pol fieldwork covers random probability samples during the last seven days from the release date and that the sample spread is across all assembly segments across all states. This survey covers all states in India and was conducted in 10 languages as part of our routine OmniBus, it says.

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“This is a thorough random probability sample; and we are ensuring a proper representative analysis by statistical weighing of the data to make it representative of the local population as per the latest census and or other available demographic benchmarks.”

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The data clarified that it strictly follows the WAPOR code of conduct (World Association of Public Opinion Research) for our ethical and transparent scientific practices and have incorporated the PCI (Press Council of India ) guidelines as our SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). (IANS)