Empowering women: India’s poorest state reserves one-third of places for girls in universities
The Janata Dal (U) party managed to secure a majority in an alliance alongside the BJP in Bihar last year. Although the result showed a significant erosion in the popularity of Head of State Nitish Kumar among voters, he has won the support of the majority of female voters in the state due to his women-focused projects since taking over. function.
Cabinet Nitish Kumar approved two bills, the Bihar Engineering Universities Bill and the Bihar Medical Education Bill, to increase girls’ participation in higher education. The government will seek legislative approval at the next session of the state assembly. Once these two proposals come into force in the form of laws, Bihar will become the first state in the country where a third of the total medical and engineering seats in colleges are reserved for girls.
Bihar, India’s third most populous state, is facing a serious health crisis due to the spread of the coronavirus. A strict lockdown imposed by Nitish Kumar’s government has also exacerbated already high youth unemployment. Opposition parties criticized the state government for its apparent inability to deal with the COVID crisis and the employment rate. Amid these anti-government sentiments, the state government has pledged to reserve a third of the seats in the 38 engineering schools and 11 medical schools it runs for girls.
“It will be a one-off initiative. Engineering schools are opened in every district, and the government is also working to open more medical schools in the state. The idea is to make sure that students of the Bihar do not have to leave the state for technical education “. said Head of State Nitish Kumar at a review meeting.
Kumar, 70, who has been head of state since 2005 except 2014-15, introduced a series of changes during his tenure to empower girls. Many activists hailed Kumar’s decision and called it a historic milestone.
When Nitish Kumar was elected head of state in 2005, the literacy rate for girls was only 33.12%.
“At that time, the dropout rate for girls after primary school in some districts was as high as 60 percent. Building a school would have taken years. Therefore, we started a program in which we provided bicycles for the girls and then school uniforms. Rahul Kumar, a senior member of the ruling Janata Dal (U) party in Bihar, told Sputnik.
In 2006, the Kumar government reserved 50 percent of places for girls in primary schools and 35 percent in village secondary schools. Nitish Kumar’s government also announced a scholarship of $ 342.5 (INR 25,000) for each girl after completing elementary school (class XII).
The state has also pledged to reserve 50 percent of jobs for women in state rural governance bodies to encourage them to join politics. In 2016, the state reserved 35% of jobs for women in the police force and 33% for other government jobs. In February 2021, the state launched a program where the state government will offer a cash incentive of $ 685 (INR 50,000) to girls after graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
According to the 2011 census, the state’s female literacy rate fell from 37% in 2001 to 50% a decade later, following government intervention. However, it remains below the national average of 68.4%.
“Despite the fact that so much has been said and done about empowerment, the concept of women going to work is still not there in Bihar. But when the state grants them a 50 percent reserve in local bodies , they are breaking the patriarchy. In some villages, people have never heard of or seen women running the company, ”said Soni Rani, teacher at a public school in Patna, the capital of Bihar, while qualifying “social security for women” initiatives.
Bihar is a poor state where most people make a living from agriculture, forestry and fishing. Half of the state’s population earn less than $ 2 a day.
Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights activist, said reserving places for girls in technical and medical education would revolutionize society.
“Until now, parents have not allowed their daughters to complete primary or higher education in non-technical subjects due to competition, but now that the government is reserving seats for girls, more can be expected. of women engineers or doctors in the State “.
According to government data, girls hold 30 percent of total seats in state medical schools and only about 15 percent in engineering schools.
Soni Rani believes that this step will also help the economically disadvantaged class of society.
“People in rural India are taking loans for boys’ education. But that never happens for the girl. It is only a marriage when the girl’s family takes out a loan to pay the dowry to the boy’s family. Booking places in technical education can encourage people to take out student loans for girls ”.
Bihar has the worst female participation rate of any state, 4.1%, compared to a national average of 23.3%, according to the 2017 National Sample Survey.
In addition to a series of measures focused on women, the decision of Nitish Kumar’s government to ban alcohol sales in the state has increased the electoral chances of the ruling party. In the 2020 state election, participation of women (59.7%) was higher than that of men (54.6%) – the third consecutive state election (since 2010).
According to Ranjana Kumari, “This is also one of the main reasons why the Nitish government faces no opposition to power from the people despite having reigned uninterrupted for 15 years in the state.” .
In the 2020 legislative elections, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U) won 125 of 243 seats, while the opposition alliance won 110.