Caste Calculus: How the BJP is expanding its footprint in Bihar

In a hamlet between Badlapura and Chirandgaon villages near Chhapra, Bihar, a small temple is packed with about 40 women. Unmindful of the summer afternoon heat, they are absorbed in worshipping the Hindu god Shiva. It is a Shiv Charcha, Ajay Pandey, the priest of a nearby temple, explained. The women live in five villages […]

Fear and loathing in Chhapra: How a peaceful Bihar town became a communal tinderbox

Over the past four years, religious tension has steadily increased in Chhapra, Bihar. For evidence, see how this once peaceful town in Saran district now celebrates Ram Navmi or Maha Shivaratri: the high point of the festivities is large processions of young men wearing saffron headbands brandishing swords and shouting “Jai Shri Ram” to a […]

What’s common between coaching classes in Bihar and its bahubali leaders?

Career Plan Coaching Centre is not much to look at. It is a tiny room, tightly packed with benches and desks, housed in an unplastered brick structure, one half of which is a garage. A board advertises the services offered by the centre, located in Geetwas, a small village near Araria in northeastern Bihar: tuitions […]

Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has been in power for 12 years. Why has he failed to change its fortunes?

Kanwar jheel is a freshwater lake spread over 6,311 hectares in Bihar’s Begusarai district. Till the 1970s, the lake used to attract as many as 100,000 freshwater birds each year. But, in recent decades, it has been under attack. Landowners from the Bhumihar caste have been draining Kanwar jheel to farm on its lakebed. This […]

Bihar is struggling to improve the lives of the poor even after 27 years of backward caste rule

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, […]

Bihar can’t even count how many dengue cases it has had, let alone fight the disease

In Bhagalpur, the historic Bihar city on the southern banks of the river Ganga, doctors disagree about the threat of dengue in the area. Vijay Kumar, the civil surgeon for Bhagalpur, says dengue is under control. His statement has been flatly contradicted by doctors at Bhagalpur’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital. The hospital identified […]

Lessons from Bihar’s 2016 dengue outbreak : Migration, poverty, garbage are spreading new diseases

In 2016, dengue hammered Krah. As many as 100 people living in this densely-packed, predominantly Muslim ghetto of about 1,000 families near Biharsharif contracted the disease, say residents. The scale of the outbreak was unprecedented. As Mohammad Ilyas, a young tailor who works and lives in Krah, said: “We never had such an outbreak earlier.” […]

Cancer has exploded in Bihar as lakhs of people drink water poisoned with arsenic

It is a day like any other at Mahavir Cancer Sansthan. The driveway is lined with people who have travelled a long way to get to this charitable hospital in Patna. Families sit huddled, holding their bags close. The lobby is even more crowded, rather like the ticket buying hall of a train station.  The […]

An update from Patna’s Maroofganj mandi

ten days into #notebandi, patna’s Maroofganj mandi had frozen. As demonetisation enters its second week, traders in Patna’s Maroofganj mandi are seeing something unprecedented. In the last seven days, the supply of new stocks in this wholesale market, which supplies cooking oil, spices, rice, wheat and pulses to shopkeepers across Patna, has plummeted. The supply […]

Ground report: In Bihar, murmurs of protest break the sullen silence against demonetisation

Banka was the last stop before returning to Patna in this reporter’s travels from North Bihar to South Bihar, to get a sense of how notebandi was impacting the structures of everyday life. The journey had started with Raxaul, on the India-Nepal border, on November 18, exactly 10 days after notebandi was announced. Heading south, […]

Money is trickling into the banks of Bihar – but is not being distributed evenly

A month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8, cash availability is starkly uneven across Bihar. In relatively affluent parts of the capital city of Patna, the long queues outside ATMs seen in the first week of notebandi, when the government invalidated 86% of […]

Demonetisation: In a hamlet in Bihar, income and expenditure is down, but hopes are up

The last 30 days have not been easy for the people of Bhindu Paimar. The standard demonetisation narrative has played out in this tola (hamlet) in Karjara panchayat in Gaya, Bihar, about 20 km from Gaya city, on the road that leads to the ancient Buddhist university of Nalanda. Earnings have fallen. Most people in […]

The demonetisation effect on border town Raxaul: Income loss, dependence on Nepalese currency

My second field trip in Bihar took me from Patna to Raxaul in the far north. A couple of days there, and then I began trickling southwards. Bettiah. Gopalganj and then Darbhanga. And then Patna again. I will head further south tomorrow — towards Gaya — before turning northeast towards Nalanda and then straight east […]

Cauliflower sells for Rs one a kilo in Bihar as demonetisation depresses demand

At first glance, it looks like any other day at the mandi in Bettiah. Trucks stand next to the concrete arch that leads into the fruit and vegetable market in this small town in northern Bihar. Inside the mandi samiti, as the precinct is called, hawkers sit with baskets bursting with vegetables. The shops seem […]

As MNREGA work dries up, even the elderly in Bihar are migrating to brick-kilns

In a year when large swathes of rural India reeled under drought, the Centre used WhatsApp messages to ask states to go slow on generating employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This startling revelation emerged in the public domain in the last week of October through the reports of the Business […]

And now for something completely different

Some photos from my first field trip in Bihar. Patna-Muzaffarpur-Araria-Bhagalpur-Patna. A tea seller on the banks of the Kosi. A village market. A villager who, seeking sustenance, set up an x ray clinic in his village. Field trip number two. Patna-Raxaul-Bettiah-Gopalganj-Darbhanga-Patna. A smoggy sunrise in Gopalganj. Hazarimal’s Dharamshala in Bettiah (This is where Gandhi had […]