NEW DELHI, India — In northeastern India against the border of Nepal exists Bihar, a state with extensive links to India’s religious history and its current culture. Many ancient Hindu tales take place in Bihar, and it is home to the author of the Ramayana, a Hindu epic. The founder of Jainism, Lord Mahavira, was born in the state, and Prince Gautam found enlightenment and became the Buddha in Bihar.
Later, Mahatma Gandhi began his campaign of resistance against the British regime, leading to India’s independence from colonialism. As a result, Bihar became a major point of leadership in the struggle for freedom.
Today, the population of Bihar is largely rural, as is most of the 92,000 square kilometer region. Comparatively, only about 1,000 square kilometers is considered urban. Existing next to major rivers, the region is divided into many small farms, though their agricultural output is much lower to other regions in Africa due to heavy rainfall. Overall, about 90 percent of the population lives in rural regions.
Bihar is the third most populated state in India. In 2011, the population was 3 million, and with a high fertility rate and 25 percent population growth from 2001 to 2011, the state can only grow larger. The people speak four major dialects of Hindi: Anga, Bhojpur, Magadh and Maithili. The region is mostly Hindu (82 percent of the population) followed by Islam and Christianity.
The state, however, faces significant challenges to its success. As of 2009, over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which is much higher than the national average. Nationally, 37.2 percent of the population is impoverished. The problem is even more acute in rural areas, where the poverty rate is 55.7 percent, compared to 43.7 percent.
According to the U.N. Development Program, “Low human endowment and poor infrastructure compound the problem.” In terms of infrastructure, the per capita consumption of power is 76 units, not even a sixth of the national average, only adding to the staggering rates of poverty in the region. However, the economy of Bihar is growing by about 10 percent a year.
Access to education in Bihar is limited. The state holds the highest illiteracy rate in India at 36.18 percent. Half of the population over 15 is illiterate. In 2009, India introduced the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, which grants each child the right of access to quality education. However, this does not necessarily mean that each child receives this quality education from the state.
Consequently, the Tiwari family created two schools in Bihar to supplement state education and continues to monitor its growth and progress from the United States. According to Salil Tiwari, the primary donor to one of the schools, the state schools in India are “dilapidated.” On some occasions, the teachers do not even come to classes. Children, then, must rely on an outside institution to ensure they progress into high school and, optimally, to college.
In reaction to the lack of education in the region, Rajanikant Tiwari, grandfather of Salil Tiwari, began a school in Dokuli, a village in Bihar, after inheriting a significant amount of land through marriage. This land was donated to the city, contingent upon it being used to create a school. Originally, the school was meant only for girls. Since its creation, the school has incorporated male students. Currently, a committee from the village runs and funds the school.
Later, Rajanikant Tiwari’s nephew, Satish Tripati, and his family built another school, Bal Vikas Kendra, after having been the superintendent and teacher at another school. Currently, Tripati heads the day-to-day functions of the school. Primarily, Salil Tiwari, through the Rajanikant Foundation, funds this school and organizes its expansion from the United States.
These schools are meant to instill value in education amongst the youth in Bihar and combat the high levels of poverty in the region. More details, specifically regarding Bal Vikas Kendra, will be investigated in Part 2 of this series.
– Tara Wilson