‘Bihar Suno Nahi, Dekho’: Two Women On A Journey To Change The Racist Stereotype Of Bihar

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“When you google Rajasthan, gorgeous pictures of castles or desert sunsets flood your screen. Links from travel websites pop up, most of which successfully mesmerise you with stories about ancient kings and lost kingdoms, sumptuous Thaalis and genial people. But, if you google Bihar, articles will pop up with headlines blaring ‘crime’, ‘scam’, ‘corruption’, ‘unsafe’ etc. Disturbing pictures and equally unsettling news rule the charts. As true-blue Biharis, we were shocked to the core when we came across an article on an international travel site, referring to Bihar as a ‘chaotic place, very unsafe for women and children’. Our hearts wanted to tell the world how flawed that notion was and how amazing Bihar actually is,” shares Yashi Malviya, one of the co-founders of Bihar Bytes – the first tourism start-up in the grossly misconstrued Indian state.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Yashi Malviya and her friend Sukriti Roy Yadav, two young journalists started Bihar Bytes in 2018 to take the unknown, the unseen and the unheard of Bihar to the world and dispel the stigma and racism around the quaint eastern state and her people. They are forerunners among women entrepreneurs in Bihar and they wish more youngsters to join their cause.

The misconception about Bihar

In a culturally diverse land like India, stereotypes about provinces and communities do exist. However, the stereotypes about Bihar is more negative than positive. “People in other states will interact with me with due respect and treat me normally. But, the moment they get to know I am from Bihar, they subtly start judging. They consider Bihar as a corrupt state, with peaking crime rates and lawlessness. It really pains us,” Yashi shares.

“Nobody would ever consider visiting Bihar on a trip, except for religious devotees who throng to Varanasi or Gaya,” she reveals the reality.

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Travelling through 32 districts of Bihar

The state, unfortunately, fares quite low on the parameters of education, employment or industries – poverty being a primary reason. The youngsters either opt for government jobs or move out to build their career elsewhere. Entrepreneurship, for most, is still a far-fetched dream.

Yashi and Sukriti were almost on the verge of moving out of their home state in pursuit of better career prospects. But, their one Google search took their lives on an entirely different trajectory. “More than starting an offbeat travel website, we wanted to portray a different face of Bihar to the outsiders. With this in mind, we travelled through 32 districts of Bihar. Little did we know that a whole new world would open before us,” Yashi expresses.

The undiscovered destinations not on Google Maps

The duo visited off the grid places and unearthed heritage sites and panoramic locations which nobody was aware of. Many of these places did not exist on Google Maps until Yashi and Sukriti uploaded photos from there and marked it on the map. “Hardly anybody ever knew about the beautiful Kashish Waterfall in the Kaimur Hills of Bihar. Hidden from the maps, the place has a mysterious aura of its own. We have done an amazing drone shoot of the entire region and explorers from all over the world are pouring in their inquiries ever since,” she narrates. She adds that there are as many as fifty such waterfalls in the state which people are unaware of.

The two co-founders photographed and documented every little detail of their entire journey through unexplored fortresses, deserted townships, mythological locations and aboriginal settlements.

 

An ‘abandoned’ fort as magnificent Chittorgarh

“You know, there is the Rohtasgarh fort near the Son River valley, which we found to be as beautiful as the famous Chittorgarh fort of Rajasthan. Local folklore says that the Rohtasgarh fort was built by Rohitāśva, son of the legendary king Harishchandra. For the past few decades, rumours of the fort being inhabited by Naxalites has made it completely inaccessible to tourists and even local residents. Moreover, a popular media house did a blunder by randomly portraying the fort as ‘haunted’ – just to gain TRP. So, nobody ever comes here now,” Yashi informs.

When Yashi and Sukriti reached the fort after a tiring 4-km trek, they were graciously welcomed by a group of elated locals who were relaxing there. Though unmaintained, the two of them were left spellbound by the sheer magnificence of the fort. They had a similar experience at Raj Darbhanga palace as well.

“The ruins of Madhubani’s Rajnagar Palace resemble that of the Greek city Athens. There is an ancient temple in Dumraon Tehsil near Buxar, which was built identical to Greek Parthenon. Almost nobody knows about the Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve near Nepal border or about Sitamari, the mythical birthplace of Sita,” Yashi enlists a few of the many wonders of Bihar they discovered.

#BiharSunnoNahiDekho

At present, Bihar Bytes work as a travel blog which uses social media to invite travellers from across the globe. The response has been overwhelming till date, as the founders assert. They coined the hashtag #BiharSunnoNahiDekho which has gone viral. “Once a lady strongly expressed her disappointment about Bihar after knowing where we are from. When we asked her to tell us the reason, she said that she had just heard it. That’s when we decided to bust the myths through this hashtag,” explains Yashi.

When they streamed a Facebook Live video from Rohtasgarh Fort, within an hour the number of viewers crossed 55,000. Bihar Bytes has not had to look back ever since. Aside from individual tourists, many private enterprises are taking interest to come, explore and popularise Bihar. Non-residential Biharis are showering praises on Bihar Bytes. However, the founders admit that limited assistance from the government has not been of much help.

Their journey, especially as two women entrepreneurs or women solo travellers, has not been bereft of roadblocks. Being women, they also faced a lot of undue questions. But, Yashi and Sukriti strongly believe that Bihar has a lot of untapped tourism potential. It will open a huge opportunity for employment for the rural population. Bihar Bytes is striving towards achieving this.

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- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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