Kishanganj district is located in the north-eastern part of Bihar. It shares its borders with West-Bengal on one side and Nepal on the other. It is often described as the corridor between northeast and rest of the country.
The population of district according to 2001 census is 12.94 lakhs witnessing tremendous growth rate of 30% in last decade with little development to support the bourgeoning population. About 90% of the population lives in rural areas. The sex-ratio is 940 females per thousand males.
Most of the villages are scattered over the vast area with distance between two intervention areas being 60-75 kms.Some of the villages are densely populated while others are sparsely populated comprising mainly OBC-Surjapuri Hindus and Muslims. There are few Santhal pockets in between.These villages are relatively peaceful and co-exist together with little evidence of violence based either on religion or on caste. Most of the households are very poor and lead simple life. However being a predominantly Muslim society the people are conservative in their beliefs and ideas.
Most of the villages do not have pucca roads, as they are located in the interior part of the district. They become inaccessible during monsoons and floods cutting them from rest of the district. The villages do not have primary health services as most of the PHCs are conspicuously absent or dysfunctional. Incase of an emergency people go either to Kishanganj or to Islampur that is 40-50 kms from the state. The literacy rate is lowest with female rate at 18% and 2% in Muslim dominated rural areas. There are primary schools lacking even basic facilities. The girl dropout level is also high here as they are married off at an early age. Most of the high schools are located in Kishanganj and Thakurganj towns. The huge distance from the villages makes it difficult for the girls to continue with their education.
Agriculture is the main occupation and main source of livelihood in the villages. There are hardly any industries that can provide employment to the people. This area has witnessed large scale migration to cities like Delhi, Punjab and Mumbai. There has been growth of large scale tea cultivation. However it is confined to the marginal and big farmers. The poor landless families work as daily wage workers. Many girls who come to study at NFE centres also work at the tea-gardens. The emergence of brick-klins has also seen people working there during lean period. Many farmers have sold their land-holdings to businessmen from Siliguri etc.
Political orientation along different political parties is present and it has come out in the open during recent elections. All the villages have prominent local leaders and Maulanas/Maulavis who are respected in the community. We have seen during course of our work that without their support it is not possible to work on sexual and reproductive health issues. Women are not politically much aware and dependent on their husbands and families for decision-making.
Status of Women
The known problems such as prevalence of dowry system, early marriage, polygamy, gender inequality and ignorance among women plague the district. The early age for the females is 15-18 years in rural and urban areas. There is high dependence on husbands for information, knowledge and decisions. The socio-cultural inhibitions have led to low mobility of women. The RCH 98-99 have revealed poor nutrition and health status. About 95.4% children were reported underweight. There is high prevalence of STI/ RTI symptoms among females (35.7% RCH Survey 1998-99).Kishanganj district is ranked 588 out of 590 districts in the country on RCH composite index 1998-99.There is ignorance and indifferent attitude of women towards their own health. The lowest literacy rate among women is also responsible for various myths and misconceptions prevalent about health among them.