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Nitish’s new social reform gambit: crusade against dowry, child marriage from Oct 2

The campaign against the twin social evils is significant as Bihar has recorded the second highest number of dowry deaths and torture incidents in the country and still has the highest child marriage rate.

patna Updated: Oct 01, 2017 18:49 IST
Arun Kumar
Arun Kumar
Hindustan Times, Patna
Nitish new gambit,Social reform,Anti-dowry stir
Incidence of child marriage in Bihar was 39.17% in 2015-16, versus national average of 26.8 (Reuters representative image )

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar will launch his government’s campaign against the social scourges of dowry and child marriage at the newly built Samrat Ashok Convention Centre in Patna on Monday, to coincide with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

This event will take place exactly a year after the Bihar government, headed by Kumar, reimposed total ban on liquor, just two days after the Patna High Court declared the state’s liquor ban law as illegal. The government also notified a new prohibition law in the state on the Gandhi Jayanti day, last year.

The proposed campaigns against social evils is significant as Bihar records the second highest number of dowry deaths and torture incidents in the country and still has the highest child marriage rate despite substantial improvement in the last one decade.

As in prohibition, the two campaigns have women in focus, which is being viewed in political circles as an attempt to nurture an entirely new and caste-neutral constituency. Kumar has admitted he got inspiration for the two campaigns from women who came to meet him at his ‘Lok Samvad’ programme.

“The child marriage prevalence in Bihar was over 60% in 2005-06. Due to sustained efforts through a multi-pronged strategy, including education, it has been brought down, but it was still uncomfortably high at 39.17% in 2015-16, as against the national average is 26.8 (National family health survey).

“Such campaigns have not happened on such a large scale anywhere and so the challenge is big, as is the opportunity to make a difference,” said N Vijaya Lakshmi, managing director of the women’s development corporation (WDC), Bihar.

She said statistics show a high drop out rate of girls after class 9 because of pressure of marriage. Early marriage resulted in poor maternal health, stunted growth of newborns and instances of female foeticide.

“Bihar accounted for 15% of the total dowry deaths, as per 2015-16 national crime record bureau (NCRB) data and nearly 19% of the total dowry torture incidents. In dowry torture cases, Bihar stands second after UP,” she added.

At his public meetings, Kumar, while laying emphasis on girls’ education, has often said how in Bihar the fertility rate drops significantly with increase in education level of girls from 3.7% to 1.6% if a mother is plus two pass. The national average is 1.7. UNESCO’s latest global education monitoring (GEM) also corroborated this, establishing education can reduce population growth.

WDC, which is under the social welfare department, and the directorate of mass education are jointly organizing Monday’s programme. Chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh has been monitoring its progress leading to the big day.

It will be a mega show on Monday, involving 1,500 artiste groups and around 5,000 participants, including Jeevika volunteers and Vikas mitras. Besides, nearly 4-crore people, including students, teachers, parents, officials and elected representatives, will take oath across the state to fight the social evils.

“The CM’s objective is to make it a people’s campaign. Nine songs and two plays have been prepared in in local dialects on the themes of dowry and child marriage with powerful messaging. The state-level training is over and now three-day district-level training will take place for performance at the panchayat level to build the atmosphere. Panchayat representatives will be involved to take the message far on a sustained basis,” said director of mass education, Vinodanand Jha.

Since 2006, Kumar has assiduously worked on women’s issues, starting with the bicycle scheme for girls that increased transition from primary to secondary schools manifold to virtually close the gender gap and strengthening self-help groups (SHGs), which now number 6.5 lakh.

First Published: Oct 01, 2017 18:49 IST