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First impressions of Bihar
Friday August 21, 2009

What am I doing in Bihar? I was born in the North-eastern state of Mizoram, studied in Delhi and Pune, worked in Bombay and Delhi for five years before I came to Patna. In short, I have nothing to do with Bihar.... my only memories of the state are when I passed by on a train to Guwahati and got angry at so many people getting into reserved compartments, and making life hell for long distance passengers like me.

Cut to November 2008- I'm tired of Delhi. Three of my good friends have moved on over the past year or so. I'm looking for a change on the work front too, after three years of reporting in this city. Life on the personal front is not very rosy and I want to move out for a few years.

So I write to my Boss...transfer me to Bangalore, there is a vacancy there. Boss says, I can send you to Patna. I say ok, send me to Patna.  Boss says ok.

I tell my parents first- my father is not particularly happy, to say the least. Then I tell my friends, some of them are excited, many are aghast.... arre, what a "good career move" , they say..Koi goli maar dega to kya karega tu ?!!! I say, I'll go there with an open mind...koi goli maarega to kha loonga !

I've been reading about Nitish Kumar's development agenda in newspapers and magazines. Bihar is changing, its becoming better , they say. I want to see for myself.

January 6, 2009, is when I arrive in Patna. By first impressions, it doesn't seem too bad. The roads are wide, there are footpaths, the areas I go through on the way to office seem to be clean....definitely not the third world city I had imagined. Then, a moment of truth from my driver Mustkim. Sir, ye jo road dekh rahe hain aap, ye teen saal pehle tak two lane thi ..... Nitish ne saari illegal dukaanon ko tod diya , aur road ko 6 lane banaya. I can't even imagine, how this road in the heart of the city, could have been two lanes !!!

January 19, 2009 is my first outstation assignment. I have to travel to Supaul, on the Nepal Border, to do a story on the rehabilitation of the Kosi flood victims. I've been told the road is 'good'. I'm prepared for a disaster...the place is 250 kilometres away. Through the journey, I keep on looking out for that ' disaster road' , but I'm disappointed ! The road is not excellent, but is smooth for a larger part of the journey, and the ride is comfortable.

At a Dhaba 80 kms away from Patna , this is what a truck driver tells me " sir, ye jo aap road dekh rahe hain. Ispe chalne main mere to aankh se aansu nikal jaate the !!! main 10 minute truck chalata tha, phir 15 minute rota tha ki kyon Bihar aaya main ! "

Ten days later, I'm sitting in the office of this senior police official who I cannot name. He is rattling off figures about how law and order has improved over the past few years. My face betrays the fact that I'm highly skeptical. He says, "Ok , you don't believe me...come home, speak to my wife. In 1999, I was posted as the IG in xxx ( cant reveal where, sorry !) ..... you know how many times my wife's chain was snatched during my one-year tenure....5 times !!!! Ask my wife !!! One evening, I was going out for a walk ..... my wife simply refused to let me go ! I said, arre, I'm the bloody IG ! She said so what ! I'm the IG's wife, and you could not stop my chain from being snatched ..... I said I'll go out with a bodyguard. She said I have a gut feeling you might come to harm today. So, the IG of the place is stopped from taking a walk because his wife feels it is unsafe for him."

Things have changed now, says the officer, you can go home even at 11 in the night, alone !

I decide to test this. The very next day, I leave office at 11 in the night. I find a lone cycle rickshaw and start chatting with the rickshaw puller. I ask him, have things changed. He says...sir, sach bataun..... I say yes. He says, even four years ago, if you met me at this time of the night, I would have refused to take you anywhere. In fact, you look like a good man, I would have advised you to sleep in your office...someone could have shot you, stabbed you !

I'm not scared. I decide to walk the last kilometer, there are three major intersections , all three are lit, and there is a police gypsy at all three intersections.

The other thing that people say has improved immensely is the state of education. One day in July 2009 , 30,000 primary teachers descend on Patna. They want to storm the Vidhan Sabha, they are angry that they haven't been given permanent posts, they are on contract ...bring us on par with full time teachers, they say. They were recruited by Nitish two years ago .... the police stop them a kilometre away from the Vidhan Sabha. At 2 pm, all hell breaks loose. The teachers break through the barricade, the police break into a lathicharge. I run for dear life !!! When the chaos dies down, my cameraperson offers this pearl of wisdom - arre, the teachers are protesting because they have jobs and are not satisfied...five years ago, there were no jobs, so no protests ! I'm amazed at the logic, but later, when I introspect, it seems to make sense !

Now the disclaimer...

23 July 2009, a woman is stripped in full public view in Patna.  Hundred people look on as she is stripped, no one does a thing. There is no cop in sight .... finally after a good 30 minutes of this humiliation , someone intervenes, and the crowd then beats up the boy, and the girl.

16 Aug 2009, a five-year-old girl is "sacrificed" by her uncle, to appease some God.

18 August 2009, a group of students torch four coaches of the Sharamjeevi Express, as the railway cops look on ... the students are angry ..... the cops tried to stop them from entering a air conditioned coach. The students were not authorised to enter that compartment but clearly, the law meant nothing for these students.

I could go on and on, about a girl being dragged out of a train in Chapra, and raped, about another train set on fire by miscreants, about an engineer in Sitamadhi allegedly beaten to death in the premises of the collectorate.

Not very healthy signs for a "changing state". And the perspective that I have offered, is a limited urban one. I haven't touched the issue of the once famous massacres, the caste inequalities in the state etc, the Lalu Yadav factor, how he lost, the once famous criminal politicians of Bihar, most of whom are now in jail. But then perhaps, 6 months is too short a time to get a perspective on these things.

More on this will follow later. So has Bihar changed? I'm yet to make up my mind. 

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About Me
Alok Pandey is a Principal Correspondent with NDTV from Patna.
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