In April 2017, Scroll.in’s Ear to the Ground project reached Gujarat. Each of the other states covered by the project thus far – Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Bihar – showed one democratic malfunction or another. What about Gujarat?
Gujarat is unique in our subset of six states in having been under the rule of one party – the Bharatiya Janata Party – for 22 years. Particularly under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi, which lasted 12 and a half years, Gujarat saw extraordinary centralisation of power. As the human rights lawyer and activist Girish Patel said, one man’s word was final. As for the Assembly, Patel said, it was called only when constitutionally required. Between 2007 and 2012, the Assembly convened for just 31 days every year.
As Gujarat’s people vote for a crucial Assembly election, the first after Modi moved to New Delhi as the country’s prime minister, five trends characterise the state’s political economy…
And that, drumroll, is the wrap of all our Gujarat reporting. We are now done with all states reporting for ‘Ear To The Ground’. What remains is the all India wrap. Which I will pick up after some time.
One last thing, though. These articles have popped up at sporadic intervals. And so, there is a real possibility that Scroll.in readers will have missed some of them. And so, links to places where you can see them all — clumped together like scummy algae, so to speak — Scroll’s Ear To The Ground page; this twitter thread which contains links to all stories plus a small introduction to each (Twitter has this habit of not showing all tweets. It shows some and then bunches the rest as “xx more replies”. You will need to click on each of those to get the whole list of articles); this page with links to all my Scroll.in stories — including non-ETTG stuff like the DeMonetisation reportage.
Do see sometime. Thanks so much. And have a good end to the year.
Update: Since that post, I have exited Twitter. A long overdue decision. A version of that twitter thread I mention, here.
The district hospital of Muzaffarpur, 100 km north of Patna, Bihar’s capital, is struggling with a shortage of doctors.
With 160 beds and an estimated inflow of 500-600 new patients each day, the hospital should have 48 full-time doctors and 52 nurses, said one of its administrators. What it has, instead, is 12 full-time doctors, 24 part-time doctors and 28 nurses. The Intensive Care Unit should have four doctors but has just one. The unit for newborn babies, which should have four pediatricians, is managing with just one.
Given such understaffing, the hospital doesn’t meet the district’s healthcare needs.
When Madina Begum, a resident of Ratnauli village, took a neighbour with a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit to the hospital, she said, “All the doctors did was give her a bottle of saline. Nothing else. No medicine.” The woman’s companions had to put wet clothes on her all night to cool the fever down.
That is the story across Bihar. Seventy years after Independence, the state’s healthcare infrastructure continues to be grossly inadequate. Seventeen of the 38 districts in the state have no more than three government doctors for every 100,000 people. One district, Siwan, has just one doctor for 100,000 people. The highest, Sheikhpura, has eight doctors per 100,000 – or one for every 12,500 people. To put that in perspective, the WHO-prescribed level is 1:1,000.
In the same way, while the Right To Education law mandates student-teacher ratios at 30:1 in primary schools and 35:1 in upper primary, the ratio in Bihar districts hovers between 43:1 and 96:1. As a result, learning outcomes are poor in the state.
All of which echoes what we saw — in relatively greater detail — in the state’s remarkably inadequate response to both arsenic contamination of groundwater and the rising incidence of dengue. Embedded in all this is a paradox. In the last 12 years under chief minister Nitish Kumar, as the article says, Bihar has notched up large improvements in law and order, road connectivity and electricity supply. But its performance on issues crucial for the poor – like health, education and land redistribution – remains weak.
Which is odd. In the last 27 years, the state has been ruled by backward caste leaders, who rose to power by appealing to the poor. Given that, why is Bihar’s track record on crucial issues that most affect the poor so underwhelming?
Out today is the first of a three-part answer to that question.
Village markets are changing in Bihar — as they are in the other states #ETTG reported from. This piece looks at some of those changes — and advances hypotheses to explain these changes.
Two statues stood on a road between Pondicherry and Villupuram.
On the right was CN Annadurai, the first Dravidian chief minister of Tamil Nadu. On the left, Bhimrao Ambedkar. Together, they made an arresting tableau. Annadurai’s statue stood on an open cement plinth, with a red and black flag of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam jammed into its left hand. Ambedkar’s statue, no more than ten metres away, also stood on a cement platform, but inside an iron cage.
Statues in cages aren’t an uncommon sight in Tamil Nadu. Sometimes, it is Ambedkar, sometimes, Annadurai, and occasionally, others like the reformist leader Pasumpom Muthuramalinga Thevar. A relatively recent phenomenon, they started coming up about ten years ago, when the followers of the leaders felt the need to protect their statues from vandalism by other caste groups. In other places, the police, wanting to minimise riotous assembly, got the ironwork done.
The cages are instructive – they suggests caste tensions in Tamil Nadu are running high. A slew of other changes in the state point in the same direction as well.
Do read. A fundamental undercurrent here — using caste to bolster a sense of self — is what we saw in Punjab as well. There, as writer Desraj Kali had said, “Log jaat ka ghamand liye ghoom rahein hain.” Something similar here. Unity amidst diversity, huh.