Practically every second person in Bihar is a child. It’s amazing that no political party in Bihar seriously addresses the concerns of 48 percent of the population. Why is it that children’s issues are never central to the civic and political discourse in Bihar? That was a question that popped into my mind during a media workshop on data organized by the Unicef Bihar field office yesterday. The workshop was aimed at getting journalists and media persons to use data, and to recognize the human faces behind the numbers.
The way one looks at the data put out by various government sources is based on his ability to interpret it. A look at the latest available NSSO figures will tell you that some 67 percent of households are without access to sanitation facilities. So what does it really mean? That practically seven out of ten Biharis don’t use toilets but go out in the open somewhere. And this is in the 21st century! It’s no wonder that public facilities and even toilets in certain colleges and hostels are filthy. Over 60 percent of Bihar doesn’t know how to use them!
When the data tells me that 7 out of 10 of my fellow citizens don’t have access to dignity, the privacy, and the safety of a loo, and I reflect that as a single urban male, I live in a flat that has two bathrooms, does it make me feel thankful? Or guilty? But what I now want to find out is whether people in towns have greater access to sanitation than those in villages. I think they do, but if I wanted to get a better idea, I would need to look at desegregated data. I may also find out that ene within cities, those with higher incomes have better access to toilets, while the poor are forced to defecate in the open.
And the very fact that there is so much of open defecation going on means that people, especially kids (which are almost half of Bihar’s population) are vulnerable to a whole lot of infections that are carried by bacteria and viruses found in exposed faecal matter!
Aren’t issues that touch children political issues as well? Not just child labour or pulse polio, but issues like crimes against children, proper education and employment opportunities for young people and so on. They sure are. One hopes that the journalists and the media students present at the workshop would use the insights provided to raise relevant issues. We need to use the government’s own statistics to ensure that children are an essential part of the planning process in Bihar.