Bihar’s current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, of the Janata Dal (United) party, may have multiple contenders and challenges to his seat in the 2020 Bihar Legislative Assembly election. But, as experts have pointed out, not many have been able to match up to the reform Kumar has attempted to bring for the women of the state. Which is why it is being projected that his female vote bank during this election season is rather strong. Read more here.
“If Bihar has progressed today, the biggest reason is women’s participation. Promoting women is our commitment,” he recently said at an election rally. The popularity that Kumar enjoys among the women of Bihar warrants a look at the reforms he has brought in during his tenure to earn such a status. As the second phase of polling begins today, November 3, here are 6 changes aimed at women that may impact Kumar’s retention of his CM chair in 2020:
1. An Expanding Female Voter Base
It is also reported that there has been a steady rise in the number of women voters ever since Kumar came to power in Bihar in 2000. According to Indian Express, between the span of 2005, 2010, and 2015 of the Bihar Assembly elections, the female voter base has seen a jump from 42.51 percent to over 60 percent, surpassing even the male voter base. This can be seen as a positive sign of women recognising their rights in an environment that encourages them to vote in large numbers.
Does Nitish Kumar enjoy a strong female voter base due to reforms he has brought for women’s empowerment in Bihar?
“Education, a life free from the fear of crime, a decision making role…all these are factors that have contributed to the emergence of the woman voter in Bihar,” Shashi Sharma, Head of Political Science at Patna University, tells Livemint.
2. Financially Independent Women, Business Opportunities
Quoting the Bihar Economic Survey 2018-19, TNIE reports that Kumar’s rule has increased the opportunity for women in the state to become financially independent. Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, women labourers have increased from 35 percent in 2013-14 to 46.6 percent in 2017-18. With a loan from the World Bank, a livelihood project known as JEEVIKA, was also implemented for women. Other schemes, include, “grants to start businesses… doubling of the government’s grant for unmarried Class 12 students.”
Overall, the share of employed women has seen a rise from 40.8 percent in 2015-16 to 46.6 percent in 2017-18: a rise of almost 6 percent in a period of two years.
“Several steps have also been taken to increase the confidence of women in the state. As many as 10 lakh self-help groups have already been formed in the state, involving more than 1.2 crore women,” Kumar has said.
3. Liquor Ban In Bihar
One of the most significant clinches of the female voter base came with Kumar’s declaration of Bihar as a dry state in 2016. Calls for a liquor ban were a primary concern for the women in the state, and Kumar, on several occasions, has reiterated the claim that his decision for prohibition was on the basis of these women’s demands. Women who lauded the move apparently saw an increase in savings and in household income, while the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) noted a fall in “domestic abuse usually fuelled by alcohol consumption.”
The Bihar government also emphasised that following the ban, there were decreased crimes against women. A report by the Gender Resource Centre stated, “99 per cent women are exuberant and are supportive of the liquor ban…. Only five per cent women report any continued physical violence, only six per cent women report any continued economic deprivation…”
4. Reservations For Women
Kumar has been a strong advocate for gender equality in administrative positions, something he consolidated in his own state with a 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats in 2006, and then in urban local bodies in 2007. This is in contrast to other states where reservations are limited to only 33 percent for women, Scroll reports. Moreover, Bihar has reserved 35 per cent seats for women in all state government jobs.
Kumar has pushed for an equal distribution of seats for women even in the Parliament, stating that it is an important step towards women’s empowerment. In 2018, he was quoted saying during a conference, “Until a law for the reservation for women is passed in the Parliament and legislature and a provision for the same are made in the constitution, till then we cannot have a solid step towards Women Empowerment.”
5. Focus On Girl Child Education
Through a focus on reforms in the education sector, Kumar has given a push to the youth of the state. The Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana introduced in 2006, where school going girls were entitled to free bicycles for commuting to school, was one such change that has continued to reap results over the years. As per Kumar’s blog, Nitish Speaks, this is one scheme that is “very close to my heart. It has changed the face of Bihar with lakhs of schoolgirls riding bicycles to their schools every day with a purpose.” This reform, he claims, has increased the number of girls enrolled in schools from 1.7 lakh to 8.15 lakh.
Linking low levels of education to increased levels of the fertility rate in Bihar, Kumar believes, “If all girls are educated at least up to intermediate (Class 12) level, it will not only reduce Bihar’s fertility rate but also boost the morale of the girls and make them self dependent.”
Views expressed are the author’s own.