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  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
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  By Shaheen Chander  
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  Destination Bihar
  By Anuja Sipre  
  BIHAR which until recently was a 'dreaded place' even for the local people has now taken a vast leap to become a preferred place of tourism for people from all over the country and abroad.

So much so that besides the normal facilities, the state now offers cruise tourism and a luxury train to tourists.

A luxury ship, 'Pandava Cruise' which takes tourists on a 14-day voyage from Kolkata to Varanasi includes several places in Bihar in its itinerary. In fact, this is the first-ever river cruise, barring the one on the Brahmaputra in Assam, and this is the first time that a luxury ship is sailing through the Ganga for the promotion of tourism in Bihar.

During its five-day journey in Bihar, the ship stopped at Bhagalpur, Munger, Simaria and Barh.

At Bhagalpur the tourists were taken to the ancient Vikramshila University and they also had a look and feel of the famous Bhagalpuri silk. At Munger they visited the world famous yoga school. Here they met the principal (acharya) of the school and listened to a 'pravachana'.

To provide a 'real feel of the place' the tourists were taken to the yoga school in rickshaws. The Bihar Tourism Development Corporation had arranged 30 rickshaws for this purpose. The tourists also went to see the famous Quila House.

Interestingly, a huge crowd of local people gathered to see not just the luxury ship but also the foreign tourists! The tourists had come from Australia, the UK, the USA, Canada and Russia.

The ship that sailed at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour brought the tourists to Barh the next day. From Barh the tourists drove to places associated with Buddhism -- Nalanda, Rajgir and Bodh Gaya.

The same evening they drove down to Patna to attend a welcome programme organized by the Tourism Department. A cultural programme to showcase the culture of Bihar was also presented by various artistes.

The tourists thoroughly enjoyed the programme and they even danced with the local artistes. From Patna, they drove down to Haldi Chapra Ghat near Maner where they boarded the ship for their onward journey.

The Director, India Tourism, Patna, Sanjay Sreevats, said that the Kolkata-Patna-Varanasi Ganga cruise has evoked an encouraging response and plans are being made to run this cruise at regular intervals.

Besides cruise tourism, Bihar can also boast of a special train to Bodh Gaya. The 'Mahaparinirvan Special' takes tourists to places in the Buddhist circuit covering Bihar and UP.

In Bihar, it goes to Bodh Gaya. The train which provides facilities similar to those given in the Palace on Wheels starts from New Delhi and goes on an eight-day tour visiting Bodh Gaya en route to UP.

According to Regional Manager of IRCTC Rajesh Rana, about Rs 8 crore have been spent on this special monthly train which is attracting tourists in large numbers.
Photo caption: The Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya
  Arun Bala of Tarashiv
  By Shuriah Niazi  
  ARUN BALA, 48, of village Tarashiv, looks like any other ordinary village woman. But, this former 'sarpanch' (village council head) has an extraordinary list of achievements to her credit. A recipient of the President's Award in 2003, Arun Bala has been able to enforce prohibition in her village, ensure that every child goes to school, and now she also renders services as a community health volunteer, or 'mitanin', to 13,000 people in seven villages of the region.

The population of Tarashiv, 45 kilometres from the Chhattisgarh's state capital Raipur, is over 2,000, which includes some 400 children. But not one of them was educated nor were the parents interested in sending their children to school. That is until Arun Bala decided to go from door to door motivating people to educate their young ones.

Arun Bala, a mother of six and grandmother of three, has herself only studied till class eight -- she was married when she was only 14. Yet she knew instinctively that it was only an education for the girls and women in the village that could help usher in prosperity in their community. "Mahila manla ghar ke bahaar kadam nikalo, yehi mor sangharsh rahi aur yehi mor udyaesh rahebo (My continuous effort has been to help women to cross the threshold of their homes and come forward, get an education and become empowered. This has been my goal in life)," she says.

So, she came up with the slogan 'Hum padhenge aur aage badhenge' (We shall study and move forward) and undertook the responsibility of sending the children to school. In the beginning, she had to face opposition from the men folk of her village, but Arun Bala's family members always stood by her. "I was fortunate to be brought up by parents who instilled in me faith and moral values, protected me from emotional harm, and were a positive role model for me. That kind of upbringing is a treasure money can't buy," she says.

Slowly, the villagers came around. "I went to people's homes and told them that only education can make a person perfect. An uneducated person is considered worthless and not worthy of respect. I said that they should educate their children so that they may succeed in life."

Today, there are two 'anganwadi' (community work) centres besides a primary and a middle school in the village and all the 400 children there attend school regularly.

Seeing that Arun Bala had the capability to become an agent of change, the people decided to go a step further and demonstrate their support by backing her when she stood for the post of 'sarpanch' in the local elections. Bala ended up winning by a record margin. She served as the 'sarpanch' for five years, from 2000 to 2005.

When elected she simply said, "I contested the election and won. Now my aim is to solve people's problems and ensure that they get justice."

She did not disappoint. Her biggest achievement as 'sarpanch' was to successfully enforce prohibition in the village. Recalls Arun Bala, "People of a particular community, Kochiya, used to sell liquor in the village. Even the children had started drinking. I thought that this problem had to be dealt with once and for all and for this purpose I motivated the women to take a stand. We started ransacking the hearths where liquor used to be brewed. We thrashed the men who were caught drinking. Soon they were so afraid that they stopped drinking!"

Liquor had ruined families and robbed the people of their happiness. Men used to drown all their earnings in liquor without caring for the family's well being or security. Savita Bai, 39, puts it this way, "My husband used to drink ever day. He spent all the money on liquor. It was only Arun Bala's drive that reformed him."

Jathuram Verma, a teacher at the primary school, agrees, "Arun Bala has shown an undying devotion for the community and her village. As a 'sarpanch' she displayed true leadership qualities."

Although she is no longer the 'sarpanch', Arun Bala's zeal for her people has not dimmed. She now serves them - and many more villagers in the region - as a community health volunteer, or 'mitanin'.

Arun Bala attends to the health needs of over 13,000 people in the villages of Sarora, Beradi, Oatjan, Parsada, Gursada and Gujra. Trained in three rounds by CARE, an NGO - she was initiated in community processes for strengthening technical interventions like ante natal care, new born care, breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding and immunisation - she actively attends to the health problems of the women and children.

(The Mitanin programme, which began in 2000, is a government-civil society initiative in Chhattisgarh. There are around 60,000 'mitanins' or friends in the state, who have helped bring down the Infant Mortality Rate to 65 per 1,000 live births from 85 per 1,000 live births. The mitanin programme is run by an autonomous state health resource centre parallel to the health department. CARE India has been providing support to the state government for this programme.)

"People even contact me in the middle of the night asking for help during a delivery. I don't mind it at all. I feel happy when I get a chance to help people," she says.

Arun Bala was conferred with the President's Award in 2003 by former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. But Arun Bala is not resting on her laurels and has set many goals for herself.

One such goal was fulfilled in 2002 with the formation of the Mahila Vikas Samiti, a group comprising 50 to 60 women who speak out against atrocities on women. They fight against corruption in the village and also raise their voices against crimes committed against women. Usually, they work in their village but as and when the need arises also go out to other villages to help out.

Arun Bala today has become an inspiration for many women living around Tarashiv. They want to work with her and be like her. (Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)
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