By Soroor Ahmed,
No amount of parade and celebration on July 14, the 1789 French Revolution day, can perhaps remove the expression ‘French leave’ from the English dictionary (or filer à l’anglaise, that is, ‘English leave’ from the French vocabulary). No doubt France is a developed country yet the phrase indicates that its citizens lack politeness and are shirkers. In fact it is the outcome of war-of-words between the British and French cultures and has an amount of jest and ridicule in it.
Similarly no grand function and musical programmes on the occasion of Bihar Diwas on March 22 can perhaps prevent senior students in the campuses outside the state from poking fun at their juniors from Bihar. They may still be addressed as Harries in their hostels in Delhi and West Uttar Pradesh. Fed up with this harassment students hailing from western Bihar districts of Buxar, Siwan or Rohtas would introduce themselves as one from east UP districts of Ballia, Ghazipur Benaras etc. The word Bihari still evokes a mischievous smile on the face of many outside the state. It is not for nothing that while interviewing young boys and girls from Bihar the board members of a prestigious law institute of Pune asked some very absurd questions leading to hue and cry when they were back in Patna. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s intervention was also sought in this regard. The incident took place as late as in June 2009 and one of the questions asked from a girl student was: “Do you agree that Bihar is the crime capital of India?”
It was in 2010 that the Nitish Kumar government celebrated this occasion for the first time. Many people would argue that it took 98 years for the state to realize that this is something to observe. They would attribute this to the lack of Bihari sub-nationalism, which has kept the state backward.
However, the truth is that nobody was interested in the pre-independence era in observing such dates as the country’s independence was more important a goal for the founding fathers. The states which came up after India became a sovereign country commemorate their birth anniversaries with much pomp and show. The issue of statehood should not be mixed up with pride of any state as sometimes political leaders do indulge in it. Nor should one think that Biharis are often ridiculed because they are backward. After all Oriyas are not ragged outside on the ground that Orissa is equally poor state. In the same way Sikhs are hard-working people and Punjab a developed state yet these facts do not stop anyone from cutting jokes on Sardarji.
One thing should be kept in mind that the carving out of modern Bihar from Bengal on March 22, 1912––in fact the actual administrative division took place on April 1, 1912–– almost coincided with the shifting of capital from Calcutta to Delhi a year before. So in between the two states Bengal and United Province––Delhi was culturally, if not geographically, considered as its part––emerged Bihar, whose people were not too familiar with the culture of power, and were simple and less educated, therefore, dubbed as uncivilized and rustic. The new state was largely ruralized––except the tribal-dominated deep south where industries started coming up––and people had much less exposure. This prompted the people of UP and Bengal to look down upon them. Students from Bihar, who went to study in educational institutions in Calcutta, Delhi and Aligarh were derided because of their life-style even though academically they were not inferior to anyone. This phenomenon continued after independence till 1990s and even in 21st century when Biharis started forming about one-fifth to one-fourth of the Civil Service posts and a sizeable number of them got their way into professions like media, engineering, medicine, management etc.
The slur ‘Bihari’ started causing discomfort to many educated Biharis, both Hindus and Muslims. The problem was more with the UP, where the issue of speaking better Hindi or Urdu also acquired a new dimension. This was not the case with Bengal, where the language was different. What is interesting is that most of the eastern UP districts culturally and language-wise resemble Bihar more than west UP yet they escape the insulting Bihari tag because they are part of that state.
The cultural tussle gradually travelled to other parts of the Indian sub-continent. After the creation of Pakistan the Punjabis, the Sindhis and Bengalis (of the then East Pakistan) started calling all Muslims, who migrated from Hindustani-speaking region (that is Hindi-Urdu belt of north and central India) as Biharis since it was difficult to call them UP-wallah, MP-wallah (or Central Povince as it was then) etc. At most they could be called Bhopalis, Lakhnavis, Delhiwals etc.
But the expression Bihari was unacceptable for any non-Bihari wherever they are. So the Urdu-speaker elite in that country coined another term, Muhajir, which means migrant. Unlike the general impression in the Indian media the word Muhajir is highly respected term in Islamic calendar and has its origin in history when Prophet Mohammad migrated from Mecca to Medina to establish the first state in 622-23 AD. The Islamic Hijrah calendar is based on that very migration. Muhajir can never be confused with the word refugee for which the correct word is panahgazeen.
Thus the Urdu-speaking political elite, who used to abhor the use of word Bihari for them, established Muhajir Students’ Organization in 1978 and several years later Muhajir Quami Movement came into being.
Another effort to silently bury the Bihari identity was made during the high time of Jharkhand movement of 1990s. Those affluent and upper caste population, who came from north Bihar, east UP and even West Bengal and gradually dominated the business in the upcoming industrialized tribal part of the state, started supporting the movement for separate Jharkhand. This notwithstanding the fact that the tribals always considered them as dikkus (outsiders) and exploiters.
Though there were political and economic reasons for this class to join hands with those demanding separate state one aspect could never be discussed. A sizeable section of this class thought that the creation of Jharkhand would help remove the tag of Bihari from them.
In 1990s Bihari elite evolved another way to get rid of their Bihari label. In the post-Mandal years they would eagerly join outsiders in mocking the rusticity of the backward lot and in Lalu Yadav they got a good stuff to make fun of. What they failed to understand is that Biharis were butt for jokes even during the early 1950s when it was considered as a better governed state or even during the British time.
Even if Bihar gets developed the slur Bihari would not lose its meaning. Shiv Sainiks may now be more brutal on them on the plea that why are you in Maharashtra when your state has progressed so much. Similar may be the fate of the Bihari students in the campuses elsewhere in the country. After all if respected and educated professors can embarrass Bihari boys and girls in Pune who can prevent others from doing so.
The best way to tackle the situation is to take everything in stride and behave more responsibly. Over the years, one hopes, the attitude of the people outside the state would change. After all be it in Maharashtra or North-East both Biharis and people from UP are facing a similar situation forcing them to close their ranks.