On a scorching April afternoon, there’s a big traffic jam in Bangali Tola. This is fairly common, say residents of the town. Darbhanga has just three major roads that run parallel to one another and the smaller lanes connecting them are choc-o-bloc with small shops, restaurants and traffic. Bangali Tola is one of the posher areas of the town but its lanes can only accommodate one vehicle at a time. Add to that the absence of traffic lights and an abysmal garbage disposal system. There seems to be hardly any awareness about the centre’s Swachh Bharat Mission, resulting in heaps of garbage spilling on to the roads.
Of late, the town in northern Bihar has seen the arrival of several high-profile brands like Van Heusen, BlackBerrys, Reliance Trends and a Shahnaz Husain franchise salon, offering novelty to local consumers. However, a conversation with youngsters in the town shows that fancy retail brands or entertainment options (the only theatre in the city is showing a Bhojpuri film called Crack Fighter) are not high on their priority list.
At the Nagendra Jha Mahila College, students divide the city’s problems into two distinct categories—daaru and dahej (alcohol and dowry). In the ongoing elections, they want a leader who will focus on eradicating these.
“Even after the ban on liquor in the state, you can see people buying and drinking it freely," said Shalini Bharti, a second-year student of Hindi. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had banned the consumption, purchase and sale of alcohol in 2015. While residents say the lower class has benefited from the stringent law, with most men unable to splurge their meagre savings, there is a thriving black market for liquor.
A lot of people in Darbhanga feel the government cannot be blamed for everything.
Bharti’s friends Ritu Kumari and Sapna Kumari are also concerned about dowry and caste prejudices.
Students across the town says they are looking for a government that will allow reservations in jobs and education, only on the basis of economic status, and not caste.
To be sure, education is a pressing concern in Darbhanga and job opportunities are negligible, leading to massive migration to bigger cities. The spurt in restaurants and shopping marts, besides delivery services like Zomato, has created opportunities for sure, but these barely cater to the more complex skills students are learning through courses as diverse as commerce and fisheries.
Darbhanga’s youth cite the benefits of schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and PM Ujjwala Yojana. “Schemes like these, along with the liquor ban, will ensure an important role for low-caste Bihari women in these elections," Ruma Kumari, a student, said.
“India has acquired a new identity and position globally in these past five years. The kind of progress we’ve seen now didn’t happen earlier and it’s the kind of model that youth wants," said Suraj Chaudhary, a third-year student at a local college. “Un pe belief aur hope dono hai (we believe in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and expect a lot from him too)," he added.