Village Dharhara. Many know it as the ‘village of the mango girls.’ Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has often used its example to promote his “good governance.”
On June 6, 2010, the chief minister visited the village for the first time. He declared Dharhara’s practice of planting 10 trees — mangoes and litchis — on the birth of every girl child, wouldn’t be limited to the village borders, but be replicated beyond it. The first visit led to the second — in total, he visited the village four times. On each occasion, he planted a sapling for a girl child.
In 2010, he planted a sapling for Lavi Kumari; in 2011, for Rimu Raj; in 2012, for Anjali Kumari and in 2013 for Rani Kumari — reads the plaque mounted on concrete, to mark every visit. On his last visit, a Telegraph article recounts how Nitish Kumar took the six-month-old Rani Kumari from her mother Munni Devi’s lap and commented that she was very pretty. This month, Rani, a little more than a year, died of diarrhoea, due to the lack of basic medical help in Dharhara.
Village school teacher Raj Kishore Singh complains that the health centre is in shambles and is often locked. “When the CM and his health minister first visited in 2010, we were promised a six-bed hospital but it hasn’t been constructed yet,” he says. Rani’s father Pramod Singh believes his daughter would have been alive if the health centre had been a functioning one. “Last year, the chief minister took Rani in his lap. Now she is gone,” he says.
Dharhara is a 1,200-acre village; 400 acres are covered by fruit-bearing trees. It has around 500 homes and a total of 2,771 voters. Around 75% of the land is owned by upper-caste Rajputs, and the rest, by the Kushwahas. More than half of the population is landless. The village’s mango plantation is mainly owned by a handful of families, most of them Rajputs.
In his four trips to Dharhara, Nitish Kumar has planted two trees for girl children from Rajput families and one each for a girl born in a Kushwaha and a Mahaldar family. The dalits and mahadalits in the village were promised land, which hasn’t been fulfilled. “When the government cannot provide Dalits and Mahadalits with enough land to set up our houses, how do they expect us to plant trees for our girls,” says Radha Devi, a Mahadalit from the village. “Forget giving us land, when the chief minister visited the village, he didn’t even ask about us Mahadalits,” says Vindeshwari Rajak, another woman from the same community.
The Mahadalits are not the only ones feeling the pinch. Wahid Ali, another resident of the village, owns no land except the portion where his ancestral home stands. He hasn’t been able to plant trees for his two daughters, Ruchi and Shabana Khatoon. “When parents like us can’t afford land or plant trees, what is this ideal village everyone’s talking about? Do my daughters get the same respect as given to others here?” he asks.
Dharhara’s problems are not just limited to landless parents. After four visits from the state’s CM and several promises later, the residents expected some development. But the situation hasn’t improved. Apart from the non-functional health centre, a crumbling structure has replaced the village veterinary hospital. Only half of the village gets electric supply. Three government-installed tube wells have gone dry and a water tank project lies abandoned.
In a state where payment of dowry by the bride’s family is common, the practice of planting trees at the birth of a girl child, is, without doubt, a noble tradition. It also helps the environment. The story of Dharhara has been splashed all over the newspapers. A documentary, ‘Mango Girls,’ has even been made on the village. During the Republic Day parade in 2012, a tableau on Dharhara ki Beti (Dharhara’s daughters) occupied pride of place. But for all the government’s claims, the tag of a ‘model village,’ has brought this village in Bihar, little cause for cheer.
(The author is a documentary filmmaker. Translated from the Hindi original by Furquan Siddiqui)