Tuesday, February 8, 2011

about "Biharis" and other such 'abused' people

(Note: Some part of this post can be socially offensive to certain communities. I apologize for the same. The specific names of communities have been used only to provide examples and I do not approve of their usage as abuses, neither do I condone their practice as such.)

In some of my earlier posts, I have expressed my dismay and agony at 'bihari' being used as an 'abuse' (i.e., to swear at people) in some parts of India, especially Delhi. The agony had more to do with me being a bihari who has lived in Delhi/Gurgaon for about three years now. Recently, however, I have begun to think about the issue more impersonally.

It has left me wondering why is it that only particular communities get such pejorative connotations attached to them. Moreover, does the entire community feel 'equally' humiliated when sworn at or is it only some members of the community who feel that humiliation? To answer several such queries, I have been interacting with several biharis who have lived in Delhi, Mumbai or other places and asked them how do they feel about it. The obvious choice of such interactions is friends and family. They, obviously, echoed my feelings of disgust and wanted 'something concrete' to be done about it. As for what are the reasons for such abuses, most people blamed politicians for it while some blamed the chauvinistic attitude of the Delhiites or the Mumbaikars. I was quick to conclude that 'biharis' are being unnecessarily abused and looked down in the metropolitans of the country.

My conclusions were contested when I interacted with some 'other' biharis. These were mostly the rickshaw-pullers, the chai-wallahs, the gurads outside the ATM's, the paper-wallahs etc. Most of these had stayed in places like Delhi (or Mumbai) for more than a decade and some also for more than a generation. When I ask them about "bihari" or "bhaiyaa" being used as an abuse, they don't seem to be as enraged as me or my friends. They mostly resign to the fate of being abused, by whatsoever name, responding that earning their bread is more critical to them than making an issue out of such 'redundant' matters.

Trying to analyze the two varied set of responses, I am tempted to look at their social background as a source of their responses. The first set of people who are quite enraged at being sworn at are mostly Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars, Kayasthas and Banias. Only very few belonged to a lower caste. The second group (rickshaw-wallahs et al) were mostly the Scheduled Castes, or 'Harijans' as they mostly referred themselves and  Muslims (who are mostly low caste converts in Bihar). Educationally, the first group was quite well to do and were mostly in these metropolitans for either higher education or jobs that resulted from them. The second group, instead, mostly migrated as manual labourers and constituted of illiterate or lowly educated people. This tempted me to ask a question - "Do the affluent feel more humiliated? And if so, why?"

To understand further, I look at other examples. I am reminded of my hometown Bokaro, presently in Jharkhand. It is mostly inhabited by Bihari migrants, who came down to work in India's largest steel plant. The local tribals of Jharkhand also share the space with them. Biharis, however, do not find themselves as abused as they do in Delhi, for instance. Rather, it is the local tribals who get abused by the biharis. As a result of the setting up of the steel plant, the tribals were displaced from their original forest dwellings and resettled in the outskirts of the Steel City. They were also promised jobs in the plant as compensation. They are, therefore, technically referred as 'Locally Displaced' people. Over time, though, the term and mostly its abbreviation LD has become synonymous with tribals and is one of the most common abuses one would hear in Bokaro. A dress which is out of place or a persons with very dark skin colour are generally ridiculed as LD, as they resemble the local tribals.

When I reach my parents' native place, Bhagalpur, which lies in present Bihar, I observe other abuses. 'Chamar' and 'Dom' are commonly used abuses for unlcean or untidy people. These are actually caste names for cobblers and basket-makers, respectively. Chuhar and Junglee are also similar abuses. Chuhar is a tribe of Santhal pargana (close to Bhagalpur region) and junglee is a general term used for forest dwelling tribals. 

When I meet some of my friends who have stayed in the UK or the USA, they tell me how 'Paki' is an abuse there, referring to Pakistanis, in particular and South Asians, in general. Niggers (or Negros), similarly was an abuse in USA for the African Americans. In most of north India, similarly, people from North eastern states who have Mongoloid origins are ridiculed by the name 'Chinki', probably referring to their similarity in appearance with Chinese, with whom Indians share a strange kind of hostility. In much of UP and Bihar, even 'Kattu' is used as an abuse, which has its origin as a ridicule to Muslims of the region, for their circumcision of the foreskin in males. Mohemedan or Miyan in itself is also used as an abuse in parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, there are swearing in the name of Sikhs, mostly aimed  at their attire and their typical turban. In Mumbai, similarly, 'Ghati' is an abuse, connoting low status, taking its origin from the people who lived in the Western Ghats, who old time Mumbai residents found non-urbane.

Not all abuses are rooted in specific communities. Some of them are also general. Junglee, as already pointed out, is an abuse to all forest dwellers. 'Ganwaar' similary is an abuse meaning someone who comes from a village (and hence, unclean, uncivilized etc). 'Jahil' similarly is an abuse for illiterates, in general. 

Therefore, racial abuses generally trace their origin from communities which are placed low in the social, political or economic hierarchy in a particular region. When a large section of people from a particular community are abundant in a place, mostly staying at the lowest level of the hierarchy, their community name becomes an abuse. Biharis, mostly the manual workers, maid servants, rickshaw-wallahs are placed low in hierarchy in Delhi and thus their community name becomes an abuse. These same rickshaw-wallahs when in their homeland Bihar were abused by the names of Chamar, Dom, Chuhar, Malechchha (meaning unclean, actually a term for untouchables) etc. In the cities of Jharkhand (Bokaro, for example), most of the manual workers are tribals and not biharis. So bihari is not abused there, but the tribals are (LD, junglee etc). The community placed in the lowest rank has been historically much exposed to such exploitation for generations and it does not complain any further. It either resigns to its fate or else finds justification in such an exploitation. (Marx's concept of 'false class consciousness' can explain this further).

Examples show that when such an abuse has become part and parcel of a group's language, it is the upper cream of the 'abused' community which also has to face the brunt. The sense of humiliation germinates in this upper cream, which is generally well educated and well accomplished, but of the lowly origin. Indians were called 'coolies' in South Africa because most Indians who went there worked as coolies in the mines. It is only when a First Class Attorney of an upper caste Gujrati Bania family landed in South Africa and was thrown out of a train for being a 'coolie' that the sense of humiliation germinated. That well educated 'coolie', Mahatma Gandhi, as he is known today, sowed the seeds of a mass movement. Similary, Dr. Ambedkar, a PhD from London School of Economics, when was ridiculed as a 'Mahar' (a low caste), felt the humiliation and devoted his life to the cause of upliftment of the the low castes. Educated African Americans, similarly led the Civil rights movements in USA.

Thus, to blame Delhiites for being chauvinist in calling us biharis, is only part of the picture. We bihari too call people as 'Chamars' and Junglees and Kattu. No changes in the abusive status of bihari is possible unless the educated upper caste biharis themselves do away with abusing entire communities just because they have been traditionally placed in lower ranks in social hierarchy. If one wishes to see that Bihari is no longer an abuse in Delhi or Mumbai, the need is not to fight the residents of Delhi and Mumbai, but the need is to uplift the conditions of the rural, low caste and illiterate biharis who have no choice but to exchange their manual labour and their dignity in lieu of bread and water. Otherwise, till the time, Chamar is an abuse in Bhagalpur and LD is an abuse in Bokaro, Bihari will remain an abuse in Delhi.


The Pack said...

Dude!! First of all...thanks to Mandal Commission and the likes...today even people from lower castes/low economic groups of Bihar have also been able to get into IITs, IIMs and other Institutions of repute...and are at quite "enviable" positions...What surprises me is that even then they do not find such abuses offensive? Can you throw some light on that?

Also, you are correct that we do not need to start a revolution against Delhiites or Mumbaikars...but we need to start a revolution amongst these moronic Biharis who are ready to slog themselves like asses in Delhi or Mumbai, but won't plough their own fields back home. I have also had my share of interactions with these Coolies of Kolkata, Auto-wallas of Delhi and Taxi Drivers of Mumbai...they all seem to have cultivable land pieces big enough to ashame the big shots of these cities...BUT...these morons feel it is better to be in Mumbai/Delhi...wherever than in Bihar...than in their own fields...I feel that quite strange...and no matter how much sense I try to put in them to go back...their moronic attraction of these cities and irrelevant pride that "people in my village know I work here...I cannot go until I make good money"...Assholes! They never realise that no matter what they will never be able to make any money...and had they been working so much in their firlads...Bihar would have become the next Punjab!

Its a long debate...I have so much more to say and add and do...that I might write a post on it :)

Sparkle said...

I totally understand the agony associated with this blog and the pain we all are going through in today's world (specially pakis/punjabis in the rest of the world, biharis & SC/STs in Mumbai and Delhi and other set of people in Bihar itself.
The point remains that how can one make sure the lower caste belonging to its specific society is not treated the way it is!
I agree with the fact that previous reader has mentioned about the biharis not feeling ashamed of what they are treated as! But I do not think that its their fault..they wanted money and they had to come to places where employment existed- whether the biharis entering the metros or the punjabis going to canada!
This debate remains incomplete as we cannot think of any solution of the so called " demeaning nature" of treating the mankind. Its the problem of all those who belong the higher strata..We need to bring the change in the higher class and treat everybody as humans.
Another concept which the author dint throw much light on - is the strong caste system that exists in India - specially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh- you are treated like a God if you are a pandit..however treated like nobody if belonging to kayasta or even lower class of shudra's. It is painful when the caste system is very strongly followed by the educated elites of India! Where will the nation go with all this? Will we be able to prosper with the set of norms that have existed for years?

Rishi.... said...

I have also observed and heard the autowalas,subji walas guards and sweepers in and around delhi and have different views.They do feel a need to hide there identity as biharis . they would prefer themselves to be as up wala (much better than bihar in there thought process). Further probed they come out to be from bihar. There is a sense of sanskritization of different level if someone has stayed in delhi for a longer time. They themselves call upon their fellow state mates as bihari. Having said that you have very nicely portrayed the psyche behind the heirarchy of "abused" people. My native place is bhagalpur (sabour) and the way we have division of tolas like brahmin tola, bhuiyaan tola and what nots also defines the caste heirarchy. In Jharkhand I studied at hazaribagh and bokaro where the class system and caste system is more prevalent. Quite a nice blog

Shubhrastha said...

To make a minor edition or addition, the internalisation of inferiority amidst a host of dominant, loud, local metropolitan populace by the Bihari population is not just a defining phenomenon among manual labourers and others who are to occupy the lower rungs of the socio-economic strata, but cuts across class and caste consciousness. Biharis across universities and cities have actively participated in making fun at their own expense by imitating the tone, accent and diction of hindi and english languages used in the state. The problem doesnot lie in a light hearted banter, the problem lies in the politics behind that "fun".

It is painful to note that Bollywood and daily soaps on television feed on to this stereotype pretty actively and abashadely. It is as if anyone from Bihar(easily identifiable withy the spoken "quality")is good to serve only two purposes-typify the goonda, mawali or a notorious local politician or to showcase a caricatured and inflated version of extereme illiteracy and unsophisticated demeanour. It is not that Bengalis and Rajasthanis or Punjabis do not have an accent problem with the popular languages in use. They do and it is natural. So, why is it that Biharis have to suffer the brunt of "social" stigma on using Bhojpuri or Magadhi while Bengalis get away with a liberal smattering of their local dialects without any bias.

It is important to note that we Biharis equally contribute to the making, remaking and cementifying of this quasi "racial"
phenomenon. The dramatic societies in various colleges across reputed universities work along the same lines as commercialised industries of entertainment and Bihari students lavishly contribute to the process of making a phenomenal play. Mnay of us in metropolitan cities try to impersonate the Delhiite or the Mumbaikar not more to learn the local speech but more to hide our identity.

Lingaraj said...

Very well analysed. I esp was startled at the LD and Bokaro thing you have written. On one side such terms are used as abuses on the other side they are also forms a part of stereotype, a overtly simplistic genaralisation. RK Narayan the writer of Malgudi Days writes in his autobiography about being referred as a Madrasi in Delhi. He himself was from Karnataka(Mysore) and he felt irritated with such references and also about South Indians etc. He wrote even North India is south of Siberia !

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