Friday, 4 December 2015

Time Travelling in Bihar:

A village in Madhubani district
(all conversations took place in Hindi)

Case 1: (Kishanganj)
Me: Will you work after you are married?
Girl: In Rajput families, women are not allowed to work. Except as a teacher.
Me: So what happens to all the education that you have had?
Girl: Doesn’t matter. My dad will still have to pay that much dowry. 

Case 2: (Patna)
Me: How many children do you have?
Domestic Help: Six, four sons and two daughters
Me: How old are they? Are they studying?
DH: The oldest two are working. They are old enough to earn.
Me: Did they finish their education?
DH: No
Me: Who goes to school?
DH: Silence
Me: Are you planning to send them to school?
DH: No
(A six or seven years old daughter helps her with jhadu-pocha twice a day in five homes)

Case 3: (Kishanganj)
Young guy: That uncle of mine is very good. He makes a profit of minimum Rs.20 lakhs whenever he gets a project.
Me: How?
YG: He gets tender from the government for maintenance of all health centres and hospitals in Bihar. He has to give a bribe of Rs.10-20 lakhs to government officials, then increases the tender amount. So, when he gets the tender, he finishes his work within the original tender amount and rest is his as ‘profit’.

It felt surreal. Things had changed visibly, physically yet nothing had changed. The part which had not changed – mostly attitude, socio-cultural norms, social structures and values – infact seemed so deeply ingrained that I felt truly hopeless. I had returned to the state of my Alma Mater after a gap of two decades, and I came back with a sense of great agitation which I have not been able to shake off even now. Physically I could recognize nothing, except my much loved school and the space where my childhood home once stood. Building, apartments, malls, hotels, flyovers, millions of SUVs (mostly given as dowry or political favour), girls in jeans (wearing jeans then often led to eve-teasing), roads which had no potholes, smooth highways, electricity in far-flung areas – one would feel that Bihar definitely was progressing.

Just beneath that surface however, lies a story which is perhaps as old or even older than me. Caste hierarchies, institutionalized dowry system (an informal rate list existed then and new vocations have been added now such as drivers who get a minimum of Rs.6 lakhs), violence against women especially dowry related deaths, not much interest in education, underhand or shady ways of working, financial manipulations (I was charged Rs.472 for a courier which actually costed Rs.272), patriarchy, poverty – all seem to have taken much deep roots. One of the activists/NGO founder and last of the revolutionaries I met there, said that the situation of women has infact worsened. During my school days there was no sex-selective abortion, now it’s prevalent in many areas.

One might argue that all these are present everywhere in India in varying degree. But what bothers me is its on-the-face presence here. A college student who is working now, readily accepts that she will not work after marriage, a domestic help in the capital city is not interested in providing education to her children even though there are many opportunities, a young guy does not understand that a corrupt way of doing business is not the ‘right’ way of working.

It hurts. Because when we were young, we understood that most of the problems, social and economic, existed because the state was extremely poor and people extremely orthodox. We had hope then that thing would improve in future, with education and livelihood opportunities. Twenty years ago, there was a genuine excuse for similar cases as above.

Now, with the rest of India galloping ahead, there simply are no excuses.


  1. I remember a brief exchange I had with a female coworker a couple of years ago. She said she was proud of earning for herself, and that she's so capable that she's not a burden on her parents. How? 'Because I've saved up enough to pay for my own dowry'.

    1. I have no words abhiroop. I have heard of guys from social sector who proudly proclaims having got audis or other stuff as dowry!