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Journalists show solidarity to fight corruption, call attention of public representatives to the poor development of Seemanchal
Bihar's Seemanchal region figures among India's poorest regions on almost all parameters of development. While rest of India has shown great amount of improvement, this region still remains poorly addressed by both the state and Central government as well as public representatives.

This was the overriding theme discussed by most speakers at the Seemanchal Media Manch, a newly formed forum of journalists belonging to the Seemanchal region of Bihar and working and residing in Delhi and NCR that convened its first meeting in the city's Jamia Nagar area on Sunday, 19 March, 2017.

The lone elected public representative to participate in the programme was Rajesh Ranjan popularly known as Pappu Yadav. Yadav, a fifth time Member of Parliament, presently representing Madhepura Constituency of Bihar, spoke at length about the work he had done and issues he had raised in the Parliament about his constituency and also about the Seemanchal region, largely escaping direct answers to the questions raised. The MP, however, promised to "extend support for any development programme in the region".

Dr Tasleem Ahmed Rehmani, President of Muslim Political Council of India said, "People of Seemanchal are victims of perpetual exploitation and most public representatives have used Seemanchal especially Kishanganj as a platform to further their own political careers without doing any meaningful work for it whereas the whole region had great potential for agricultural and industrial development."

Rehmani paid glowing tributes to Syed Shahabuddin, the former Indian Foreign Services officer who was elected to the Parliament twice from Kishanganj, and had passed away recently. He called Shahabuddin a sincere leader who worked for Muslims tirelessly and raised their voices unapologetically.

Tasneem Kausar Sayeed, a senior journalist and one of the important persons behind formation of the Manch, regretted the poor role of journalists for failing to raise the real issues. "The journalism in us is dying", she said. She was however hopeful of the role each one could play.

Tasneem said that the World Bank had pledged a good amount of money since 2008 to address the issue of hunger of the Kosi, Seemanchal region but most of these money were going everywhere except reaching to the intended beneficiaries. She said that leaders had lost their trust and there was nothing more dangerous in a democracy than loosing trust.

The first thing needed to do before starting any work in Seemanchal is to create awareness, said Abid Anwar of UNI. "There is complete lack of will about carrying out any development work as the leadership is not ready for raising the literacy rate of Seemanchal," he said. A social activist rued people's apathy to social responsibilities stating that they approached leaders only when they needed personal assistance.

Dr Noman Qaisar said that problems were galore, and what was needed was to "find ways to resolve them". Mahboob Ilahi maintained that previous efforts had shown some progress and that there was need for continued effort and more initiatives to address the issues.

Author Kabiruddin Fauzan argued that Seemanchal was deliberately kept underdeveloped and that even the Muslim organizations which held their annual functions in the Muslim-dominated Purena, Kishanganj and Araria districts, had neglected the area.

Research scholar Manzar Imam raised the issue of public health especially of the diseases that women and children suffered due to non-availability of safe drinking water and lack of good health facilities in the whole region that were responsible for poor health and had even resulted in deaths of patients. He also talked about the general lackadaisical attitude of the educated youth towards social issues.

Abdul Qadir Shams of daily Rashtriya Sahara called flood the biggest challenge of Seemanchal affecting the lives of people. Zulaikha Jabeen said that the voices of people must be heard. While China had controlled a less furious Huang He or the Yellow River, Jabeen lamented the fact that crores of rupees given to channelizing the water of the Kosi River were not being used effectively.

Absar Siddiqui, managing editor of Urdu daily Taasir coordinated the programme. Afsar Alam of ETV, Mohammad Ahmad, Shah Jahan Shad, Mohd Anwarul Haque, Rashidul Islam and others also shared their views.

(Manzar Imam is a Delhi-based Ph.D student and freelance journalist. He can be reached at manzarkhalil@gmail.com)

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