Bihar is a state caught between floods, crime and a flailing economy. The development indicators here are one of the worst of the country.
Community Correspondent Reena reports from here on the affect all of these have had on 400 students in one school.
On a winter morning in January Reena was out on a field visit when she passed by an area where she saw a number of children playing around, some were sitting under thatched roofs and were being taught. On asking around, she found out that this was the primary school for Harijan Tola village in the Poorbi Bari Nagar Village Council. The classes here run from the first to fourth grade.
"I've seen quite a lot in the few years that I've been working on various issues in and around my village. But this... this just floored me. It was bitterly cold the morning I visited, how were the kids learning anything?" she says.
Reena went back the next day with her flipcam to record evidence of the school's condition.
"I wondered at first if I should do something. Would I be able to get these students a school-building? Would anyone listen? I decided finally that yes, I should do anything and everything I could, to make sure that someone took note of this situation. I had the power to do this. I knew because in the past I had managed to get several anganwadis (child-care centres) running smoothly by making a video on just one that had provided terrible facilities to women and children."
She started interviewing, and getting footage. Everyone, from the students to the woman who cooked mid-day meals, was exhausted with the fact that everything in this school was make-shift and that they just scraped by. As Reena dug further, the situation became increasingly murky.
During an interview with the principal, Arjun Prasad Singh, she found out what exactly it was that stood between the children and a proper school. The funds distributed by the government, were already in the school's bank account. They had been there for a year. After making some initial remarks about his pending retirement, the principal finally told the truth-- he was being pressurised by the local strongman.
To make sure that he got the contract and money to build the school, this man had issued a series of threats to the principal. The latest, at the time of filming, had been the declaration that if the principal didn't part with the money soon, there would be a rape case against him. The local bully would make sure that the principal would pay the price if he was denied his rightful profit.
Don't be too alarmed. There was a time when bus drivers in Bihar drove with a gun tucked in their seats, just in case you know... We hear things are better these days.
Reena immediately took everything she had filmed to the Block Office and asked to see the officer. Reena shares this part of the story sounding extremely pleased with herself:
"On introducing myself and showing the footage to the Block Officer, the woman was speechless. She really wanted to know how and why I knew about this entire mess when it wasn't even my village.
I explained how the camera allowed me to work anywhere I wanted, that if there was a video I could make to improve the life of my community, I would. I then asked her about how she had no idea about funds being released to the school or the current situation there. It didn't take much effort. She agreed to go and investigate and promised me that she'd get things fixed."
The Block Officer kept her word. Reena received a phone call a few days ago to say that the building was being built, they had just finished laying the plinth!
"I've been working on these issues for 3 years. I never knew so much, but now I know about things like job cards, workers rights and pensions, and I know how to get my rights. Sometimes, it takes a lot of patience and sweet talking. At other times, I now have my flipcam, it is so useful! "
The construction is on in full swing and if all goes well, 400 kids will have a school building soon. You can help by calling the Block Officer on 09162815702 and thanking her. Also give her a gentle reminder to make sure the school is constructed.
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