At a Glance

Districts where we work: Siwan, Muzaffarpur, Jahanabad, Munger, Purbi Champaran, Rohtas, Madhubani, Kaimur Blocks Covered: Makhdumpur, Kako, Hulasganj, Modanganj, Jehanabad, Bhabua, Rahika, Bisfi, Sangrampur, Asarganj, Jamalpur, Tetiabambar, Munger Sadar, Bariyarpur,Dharhara, Kharagpur, Tarapur, Motipur, Saraiya, Kanti, Marwan, Raxaul, Sasaram, Dehri, Kargahar, Nawhatta, Lakri Navinagj, Goria Kothi, Basantpur, Bhagwanpur Hat Covering: 358 Gram Panchayats and 2148 Villages Latest news: Women's Leadership in Gram Sabha

Map of Bihar

Research reports: Three studies on the experience of the 2006 elections. Elections were held in May 2006 for all the posts in the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Bihar. Panchayat elections were held in Bihar only for the second time since 1978. Bihar is one of the states which scores among the lowest across all human development indicators in terms of health, below Poverty Line families, literacy, per capita income, etc. It is also a State known for its deeply ingrained caste and gender divisions. Given the above, surprisingly, it was the first Indian State to provide 50% reservation for women in Panchayats. However, they were forced to step very carefully in this highly sensitive and hostile environment. Given the above scenario, it is hoped that the development agenda will positively improve with the advent of these newly elected women leaders. There are now a total number of 1, 35,805 members across all three tiers of the Panchayati Raj institutions of whom 73,204 are women. This critical mass of women leaders of whom 4535 hold the posts of Presidents in Gram Panchayats will definitely impact and change positively the trajectory of Bihar’s development.

Madhubani Women’s Leadership WorkshopsGroup putting hands in the middle of a circle

As this is the second year after elections, the partners in Bihar are concentrating on Women’s Leadership Workshops (WLWs). The newly elected leaders have taken up their posts in a highly charged and hostile environment. Despite the odds, they have proven to be enthusiastic, willing to learn, and keen to fulfill their duties. What these leaders, however, lack are the specific skills and knowledge required for their new roles. This is hardly surprising, given the history of Bihar’s patriarchal social structures and the socio-economic situation of the women leaders. The Women’s Leadership Workshop’s of The Hunger Project are capacity building workshops. The workshop seeks to instill and facilitate:

  • Creating an understanding of their identity as a political leader
  • A shift from a mindset of I cannot to I can
  • Critically analyzing social systems and its effect on their own realities: hierarchies of class, caste, religion, gender and so on.
  • Understanding political and social citizenship
  • Understanding their role in local governance as stated under the 73rd amendment
  • Articulation of a vision for their communities and themselves

WLW group

  • Emphasis on the importance of the participation of women in regular Panchayat meetings and Gram Sabhas (General Body Meetings)
  • Skills to be effective leaders
  • Creation of a sense of solidarity amongst themselves (elected women leaders)

Group photo

So far there have been 62 WLW’s organized in the State and 1,860 elected women leaders have undergone capacity building in the same. Prior to the WLW’s 2 Training of trainers were organized wherein 82 trainers, of whom 5 were elected women leaders participated. It is a great achievement for The Hunger Project to have 5 elected women leaders as trainers.

I am a shy person and was not interested in holding any public office, but the seat in our Panchayat had been reserved for women. My husband persuaded me to stand as he could not contest himself. After I got elected I was still not interested in Panchayat work and so, my husband did all the work. However, my attitude changed once I attended the Women’s leadership Workshop (WLW). It was an eye-opener and since then I have begun to take an active interest in the work of the Panchayat. I started taking a keen interest in the running of the local school and contacted the teachers. I also began to monitor the quality of the food being given to the children. I spoke and encouraged parents to send their children to school. With the improvement of food quality and my monitoring of the teachers, helped to improve child absenteeism dropped and the children began to go to school regularly. I encouraged parents to send their daughters to school – earlier they had not been interested in educating them. Now there are 125 female children and 205 male students in the school.

Sangita Devi, Upmukhiya, (Vice-President) Panchayat: Devthu, District: Madhubani

Advocacy, Campaigns and Alliances

The building up of alliances with partners and the local media to campaign against issues such as the Two Child Norm ordinance and the women’s conference APARAJITA 2007 has been one of the highlights of The Hunger Project’s work in Bihar. Earlier The Hunger Project has successfully facilitated and spearheaded a campaign by the elected women representatives to reserve the post of chairperson in all three tiers of the Panchayati Raj Institutions in favor of women. Towards this, The Hunger Project commissioned a study to critically evaluate the ground level reality of how women fared as leaders in the absence of reservation. The study also sought to investigate the motivations behind women candidates who contested from general seats. 122 women Chairpersons were identified for the study. The results of the research clearly showed that women from disadvantaged sections of society who were socially, economically and politically marginalized were unable to access or were forcibly kept from accessing leadership positions. In 2006, with the new State Government taking office the Bihar 1993 PRI act was amended and replaced with an ordinance for 50% reservation for women in all three tiers of local government institutions. There were approximately 100 Public Interest Litigations filed in the High Court opposing this ordinance. This was countered with petitions from women leaders in support of the ordinance. The State team was instrumental in facilitating several women leaders to file counter petitions to protect the new law.

The Two Child Norm

 Protest March against the Two Child Norm

Protest March against the Two Child Norm

On the 27th of January 2007 an Ordinance on the Municipal Act 2007 was signed by the Governor. The ordinance was to come into effect from the 1st of February 2007. Clause 18 of this Ordinance stated that it did not restrict persons having more than two living children prior to Feb. 1, 2008 from holding the post of an elected representative, but disqualifies those who will have more than two children post Feb. 1, 2008. It is however, important to note that though this ordinance was specifically for the municipal elections. It was the fear that it would be extended to the Panchayati Raj Institutions in the State that led The Hunger Project team along with its partners to actively campaign against this ordinance. The state team believed that this ordinance was a violation of women’s reproductive and sexual rights. This ordinance was seen by the women leaders and representatives as a covert move to circumvent the reservation for women. This ordinance actively sought to restrict women from different social backgrounds from entering the political arena. Therefore The Hunger Project team in Bihar decided to advocate against the Two Child Norm. It was decided to plan a month long advocacy strategy which would include:

  • Organizing open discussions among political parties, MLAs and NGOs
  • Meeting leaders of different political parties to convince them to vote against the Act in the assembly
  • Convincing the media (print and TV) to ensure regular coverage of the debate
  • Organizing a signature campaign with the public writing letters to the Chief Minister requesting him to withdraw the norm

The Hunger Project in collaboration with other partners educated the media on the Two Child Norm and its repercussions on society citing research and other studies of various organizations in other States. A network of 17 organisations ‘Jan Adhikar Manch’ was created as a platform to protest against this norm. The Manch under took political and media advocacy and individually met leaders of different political parties and journalists on this issue. In an interview with the Manch, Smt. Asha Devi, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) openly rejected this norm saying that this will hinder the rural and Dalit women and it will stop them from participating in politics since in rural areas there are hardly any women with only two children. In a country where child mortality rate is high in rural areas, it is customary to have more than two children, as families fear that some children may not survive and reach adulthood. Open discussions amongst NGOs, Media and Members of the legislature were also organized. The Hunger Project organized a media workshop to advocate against the Two Child Norm on the same day the ordinance was supposed to be passed as a bill. Fifty reporters and journalists from leading newspapers of Patna and 8 other districts participated. The press gave unstinting support and helped in building public opinion against the norm. On the 29th of March the Jan Adhikar Manch decided to hold a peaceful protest march with a prior invitation to the press and electronics media. Three hundred people marched to the Secretariat and handed over 5,000 letters requesting the withdrawal of this norm. The print and electronic media covered the event. Due to this pressure the bill was not passed in the assembly as 101 votes were cast against the amendment. There has been a recent report in the newspaper Hindustan, Patna City Edition dated the 8th of Nov 2007 that a recommendation has been sent to the Government by the State Election Commission to amend the Panchayati Raj Act to implement the Two Child Norm. It is expected that this bill will be passed in the on-going assembly session. The Hunger Project has along with its partners has reformed the Jan Adhikar Manch. A press conference was organized on the 4th of Dec 2007 to start the campaign to advocate against this norm. It has been decided that campaigns to both garner support against as well as agitate against this norm have to be have now to be formulated. The Jan Adhikar Manch has decided to re-start its peaceful campaign to pressurize the State Government to withdraw this recommendation by the end of this on-going assembly session.

Aparajita -The Victorious 2007

On the 24th of April 2007, a Mahila Sammelan (women’s conference) was organized at Patna where 3,500 elected women representatives from all three tiers of Panchayati Raj Institutions from 35 districts of Bihar. This conference named Aparajita 2007 (The Victorious) was organized in collaboration with The Hunger Project and 15 partner organizations. Elected women arriving, happy

Photo: Elected women arriving for Aparajita 2007

The outcome of the conference was the drafting of a memorandum which was later presented to Mr. Narendra Narayan Yadav, State Minister for Panchayati Raj on the 24th April 2007. The memorandum consisted of sixteen points. Some of the highlights are given below:

  • To release the rules and regulations of the Panchayati Raj Institutions Act to allow for smooth functioning of the Gram Panchayats.
  • To help with the capacity building of the Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) on the technical aspects of the Gram Panchayat functions and to update them with the new government schemes and projects.
  • That there should be provision for an allowance or honorarium for the EWRs
  • State Minister for Panchayati Raj agrees to the following demands of EWRs:
  • He agreed to give the Mukhiya (Sarpanch/President) the power to grant leave for the Panchayat Secretary.
  • Mr. Yadav also agreed to construct 30-40 sheds equipped with tables and chairs for EWRs at block and district levels to enable them to sit in the shade for their official work.
  • The minister to integrate The Hunger Project’s WLW module in the government training programme for PRI members at the Panchayat level.
  • He also agreed to the demand made by EWRs that every Mukhiya should be invited for the training programme.
  • Mr. Yadav also promised to take up the following issues in order to bring changes in the PRI Act.
  • 10 year tenure for women PRI members instead of 5 years.
  • Mandatory presence of 50% women in Gram Sabha to complete the quorum.
  • Mandatory that a presence of the marginalized castes and tribes population is present at the Gram Sabha in order to complete the quorum.
  • Gram Sabha and Nigrani Samiti (Monitoring Committee

Conference table

The Bihar PRI act has stated that the coverage area of a Gram Sabha is a revenue village. There was a move to convert the Gram Sabha constituency to include a whole Panchayat. This would lead to a decrease of the decentralization process. Therefore, The Hunger Project decided to lobby along with the partner organisations in order to stop the amendment. A protest letter along with a memorandum was handed to the Panchayati Raj Minister. As a result a notification was issued from the Ministry to stop this amendment. At the same time a notice was issued from the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to all District Magistrates to constitute Nigrani Samitis (monitoring committee) and standing committee in each Panchayat within a month. The advocacy campaigns of The Hunger Project and its partners have triggered the Government Orders to constitute these committees.

Media Advocacy

Newspaper clippings

Journalists and reporters who had previously participated in media workshops organized by The Hunger Project were sent a brochure in March detailing the forthcoming Sarojini Naidu Prize 2007 (SNP 2007). Three hundred district level and Patna level reporters from the following districts were invited to write and submit entries for the prize. SNP 2007 was also promoted brochures in Doordarsan, the All India Radio, commercial TV channels, newspaper offices, the Media Union, and mass communication colleges of Patna University and Zakir Hussain College.

Hunger Mapping

Group sitting on the groundThere is chronic hunger which persists in many parts of the country in spite of the various government schemes and programmes designed to eradicate this. In 2006, the hunger mapping study was launched. This study was to identify the causes and location of hunger, its magnitude and extent, the impact of government schemes, coping mechanisms adopted by the people to fight hunger and to document the experience of people living with hunger. Bihar was one of the States where this exercise was done in 3 panchayat’s of Jehanabad District. The main findings on the causes of hunger were:

  • Landlessness,
  • Agriculture,
  • Crop failure,
  • Unemployment,
  • Alcoholism, and
  • Dowry.

The Hunger Project during the state level sharing workshop held in February 2007 has further worked out a strategy on the issue of Right to food. Some of the work done so far is highlighted below: In the Panchayats of Badhona, Nonhi, Khalispur, Maniama, EWRs have been familiarized with the Right to Information Act in order for them to monitor the government schemes and programmes such as Public Distribution Scheme (PDS), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), National Rural Employment Generation Act/scheme (NREGA) in their villages. In the village Jaharbigha, after The Hunger Project and its partners shared the report of hunger mapping in a village meeting, the Mukhiya felt empowered to cancel the licence of PDS dealer and gave the license to Self help groups (SHGs). In Kajisaray village (of Maniawa Panchayat) Ward Member Rita Devi has been monitoring the ICDS centre. When the Gram Sevika (helper) refused to give necessary information to Rita, she filed a complaint against the Sevika to the Block Development Officer (BDO) and the Child Development Programme Officer (CDPO). This led to the Sevika’s suspensionand a new helper was appointed. She has encouraged children from marginalized communities to attend the Anganwadi centre. Since the intervention of Ms. Rita Devi, the centre has been regularized and the children are being provided nutritious food. Similarly in Daulatpur, Saidabadand, Barwat of Kako Panchayat due to efforts of the EWRs Nurjahan, Sushila Devi, Sunita Devi – the Anganwadi centres have improved and as a direct result the drop out rate has also significantly decreased. In Ghatkan village, Ward Member Rajmani Devi contacted the Education Committee member Lalita Devi and the primary school headmaster to ask them to improve the quality of the mid day meal and to constitute a Mata Samiti (mother’s committee) in order to monitor the mid day meal programme. Good quality food is now being hygenicallyt prepared in requiste amounts. This has also had a positive effect on the caste groupings in the school as now all the children from different castes sit and eat together. In three Panchayats (Kako, Maniama, Khalispur) a survey worked out the adequate number of the ICDS centres needed in the area. On the basis of this data an application for 8 new ICDS centres was given to the District Magistrate. The EWRs are regularly following up on this.

Flood Relief and Disaster Management

Bihar suffers from severe flooding every monsoon. The Hunger Project initiated a dialogue with the Government and other civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, community and grassroot level bodies and to put into place a disaster management programme. This initiative will ensure that in future relief and rehabilitation is done both rapidly as well as equitably. A one day workshop with organizations based and working in flood affected areas was organized on the 2nd of October to train them to plan both short term and long term measures to combat the yearly natural disaster.

In addition, The Hunger Project with the help of the Partner organizations distributed relief materials like clothes, food packets, and medicines to the Madhubani flood affected area. Ms. Maya Dev, Ward Member, Bhachhi Gram Panchayat, Rahika Block has been associated with The Hunger Project programme implemented by Bihar Seva Samiti and has played a remarkable role in ensuring that the people of her constituency were included in the flood relief measures. She convened a meeting in her Panchayat and the lack of response from the government. After the discussion it was decided to stage a Dharna (sit in) before the Block Office, District Magistrate’s office and the Collectorate in Madhubani with their demands. For two days – the 1st and 2nd of August 200, around 250 people demonstrated with slogans on issues related to the flood, and the relief measures put into place by the government authorities. Maya Devi led the crowd and addressed the people. Finally a group of demonstrators was invited by the District Magistrate (DM) for a meeting where the DM agreed to declare Rahika Block as fully affected by floods. Because of Maya Devi’s effort, all the flood-affected families of the entire block were then entitled to the food and monetary relief measures of the government.

Building up to the 2006 Panchayat Elections - Strengthening Women’s Empowerment in Electoral Processes (SWEEP)

The Bihar pre-election campaign built upon learnings of previous pre-election campaigns in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Bihar has similar caste, gender, socio-economic and socio-political structures. Their plan took into account women's electoral participation in the context of caste and power politics, and gender bias; something which is so starkly visible in Bihar. The campaign sought to redefine the role of women’s leadership and provide them with an enabling environment both within their family and in the community so as to ensure that there was:

  • Increased participation of women as ‘aware’ voters and
  • Increased participation of women as ‘aware’ candidates

In order to further their own understanding of the complexities of the ground level realities in Bihar it was decided to partner with ‘Gender at Work’ a knowledge and capacity building organization. ‘Gender at Work’ focuses specifically on issues concerning gender and institutional change. Thirty one three day workshops on the election process and leadership building were held and 654 prospective candidates attended the same. Fifteen meetings conducted for adolescent girls. Three hundred and eighty girls who attended were imparted technical information on Panchayat Elections. This was done so that they would be able to support their prospective women candidates in their election campaign. The pre-election campaign was organized with 5 old and 5 new partners and carried out in 407 Panchayats in 8 districts of Bihar. In order to further develop organizational skills, build capacity of the partner organization’s staff and to orient them with the pre election campaign, a ‘Training of Trainers’ (TOT) was organized by The Hunger Project spanning two phases.

Documentation of the Pre-Election Process

The Hunger Project also organized a workshop on documentation for the partners in order to process document the entire pre-election process and campaign. It focused on the journey of selected women candidates in three distinct phases:

  • Prior to filing of nomination papers
  • After filing the nomination papers
  • After the declaration of the election results.

This was done in order to evaluate the impact of the campaign as well as to gain insights into the various factors that influence women’s political participation and performance. Sixty-one women candidates from our partner areas were selected. The selection process included women candidates from a wide cross-section of society so that a holistic picture could emerge. Some of the selection points are given below:

  • Winners from previous election who had undergone WLW’s
  • Winners from previous election who had not undergone WLWs
  • Unsuccessful candidates from the previous election
  • Women candidates with no previous experience
  • Women candidates belonging to Self help Groups
  • Single women
  • Women candidates with political affiliations
  • Women candidates with affiliations with civil society or non government organizations

This has yielded a high quality study on 20 of the 61 selected women. The study entitled ‘A Giant Leap Forward Towards Women's Power - Exhilarating Experiences of Women Candidates of the Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006’ systematically documents for the first time the journeys undertaken by women candidates. The study is a pioneering one as this is the first time that such a performance tracking exercise has been carried out during the election period with women candidates in Panchayat elections in any state. The some of the learnings from study are that it is advantageous if the women candidates are systematically trained so that they are equipped with the skills necessary to take advantage of the opportunities for emancipation and empowerment provided by reservation of seats in Panchayats.

Panchayat Prahari – The Fact Finding Team

A team of activists, media persons and civil society members was constituted to be on call during the elections period and the post election period of one month. The idea was to provide support to potential women leaders who faced violence, assault, intimidation and harassment. The task of the team was to prepare a report highlighting the realities on the ground which would then be sent to State and National Women's Commissions, the Police, concerned District Officials, Election Commission, the Media, Home Ministry, Chief Minister to garner support to protect their political rights and pave the way of their leadership. A total of 25 field visits were made. The results of the reports filed by these teams have been analysed and compiled into a study ‘Shackling the Surge of Women's Power: Gender Based Violence during Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006'. Conclusions that emerged from this study are that fourteen of the eighteen cases of murder recorded overall during the Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006 took place against women candidates or their relatives in the cases investigated by Panchayat Prahari. Thus there was a clear preponderance of serious gender based violence during the elections. Given the alarming gender situation in the state as brought out by some of the more important indicators of gender oppression like total fertility rate, maternal mortality rate and reported domestic violence this was perhaps inevitable. There has been an attempt on the part of the men to use violence to shackle this upsurge of women's power that has resulted from the reservation of seats for the latter. Matters were compounded by the fact that in many cases the women were pushed into the electoral fray by their men who could not contest because of the reservation of seats for women. Thus the women became victims of the masculine sabre rattling of men. In addition, the individual case histories of the violence have been complied into another report ‘Case Studies of Gender Based Violence during Bihar Panchayat Elections 2006’. This report has detailed the individual histories of the violence suffered by the women candidates and their families.

Partners in Bihar

  • Sakthivardhini
  • Nirdesh
  • Sakhiree
  • HAMS
  • Abhiyan
  • Parivartan Vikas
  • Bihar Seva Samiti

The Team that makes it happen

Bimal Kant

Bimal joined The Hunger Project in June 2001 in the Bihar state office. At present he is a Programme Associate, looking after Accounts and Administration. "I attended a few workshops on women and child development which motivated me to work for women and children especially. I wanted to contribute to the empowerment of women and this lead me to work in The Hunger Project", says Bimal.

Sujeet Kumar Verma

Sujeet joined The Hunger Project in June 2008 as a Programme Associate. This is his first job. At present, he is looking after the Programmes and Administration of Bihar State Office. He has been an actively working on women's issues throughout his student life. He has also worked on the other issues such as the status of Education among Girls, Street Children and Child Labourers. He has also been a volunteer with the National Service Scheme (NSS). Sujeet has a MA in Social Work (MSW) from the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai. He did a one-year internship with a NGO working on the empowerment of women in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.