Contextualizing Bihar: What’s Going on in the Neighborhood?

A lot of the work that CKS does is focused in India’s eastern state of Bihar, which is the third largest state in the country, with a population of over 100 million. Our work there covers a range of sectors, such as healthcare, telecommunications, and microfinance. We also plan to open an innovation lab in Bihar in the early part of next year, in order to better meet the state’s many needs. All this work has only been possible, in a large part, due to the changes in government policy that came about since the appointment of Nitish Kumar as the state’s Chief Minister in 2005. Prior to this, Laloo Prasad Yadav held the office for about 15 years, during which the state was notorious for its corruption and backwardness. Under Kumar’s governance, many of these negative trends are being targeted, and several programs and schemes have been implemented that are designed to robustly drive development in the state.

A very interesting development resulting from these policy changes is the trend of migrant workers returning to state. Previously, a large percentage of the unskilled and semi-skilled labour force of India came from Bihar, but this is no longer the case. As a result, a running joke of sorts is that ever since Nitish Kumar came into power, all the carpenters have disappeared. This is because Bihar is now being viewed as a growing economy with great potential, where fortunes can be harvested.

One of the projects currently in progress at CKS is focused on identifying and proposing useful mobile services for rural economies. The project will involve extensive ethnographic research in two different emerging economies: India and Ghana. In India, we chose two different locations for our fieldwork, one of which is Bihar and the other, Tamil Nadu. The reason that we chose two separate states in India is because component states here are as large as sovereign nations, with vastly different socio-cultural, economic, and even linguistic compositions.

This is clearly visible in the image above, where Bihar is juxtaposed with not only neighboring states but also with the country of Nepal. The data in the accompanying table shows similarities and differences across these different states and countries regarding several macro-economic indicators (population density, literacy, etc.). It can be seen that Bihar is most similar to West Bengal, while it is substantially different from the state of Jharkhand, which until the year 2000 was part of Bihar. This is interesting to note, and indicates the existence of substantial differences in socio-economic and cultural factors across both states. For instance, Bihar is one of the most densely populated states in the country with a density of 1102, while Jharkhand has a much lower population density of only 414, due to its heavily forested areas and its high tribal population. Nepal on the other hand, has a low population density (208) due to its mountainous terrain.

Similarly, if one also considers Bihar’s neighbor to the east, Bangladesh (data not shown above), it shares many similarities with Bihar. For example, the population density is 988 people per square kilometer, its rural population is 72%, and roughly 55% of the population is literate. Here, it can be seen that Bangladesh and Bihar are more similar in many respects than Bihar and some of its neighboring states.

This method of viewing our locations within a larger context yields some extremely interesting insights, and also helps us understand the situation in that location in much greater depth. We will be conducting a similar analysis in both the other areas of this project, i.e. Tamil Nadu and Ghana. In Tamil Nadu, we will be comparing these statistics with those of Karnataka, Kerela, Andhra Pradesh as well as Sri Lanka; in Ghana, we will be mapping similarities with the neighboring countries of Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso. More to come on our learnings there!

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2 Responses to Contextualizing Bihar: What’s Going on in the Neighborhood?

  1. CSR says:

    I’d like to know more about what CKS is doing — you mention innovations in the healthcare, telecommunications and microfinance sectors but I’d like more details please. I’ve been working on communications training for some development projects in Bihar — CSR

  2. Pingback: Reflections on our visit to Ghana |

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