Wednesday, January 13, 2010

how bihari became a gaali?

Who carries you on a rickshaw
or an autorickshaw in Delhi?
Biharis. Who drives the cars of
Delhiites? Biharis. Who built the
Delhi Metro?Biharis. (You may not agree with
the last one.)
Who is building the new houses
and the expanding suburbs of
Delhi? Biharis. Who made Punjab
the most prosperous state in the
country? The answer again is
Biharis. (Here too you may not
The credit for building the Delhi
Metro or making Punjab
prosperous will never go to
Biharis. Does anyone ever say
that blacks built America?
In colonial days, Bihar supplied
the "girmitiya", or indentured,
labour force that built countries
like Mauritius, Suriname and Fiji.
A bulk of the labour employed in
the Raj capital of Calcutta came
from Bihar. After Independence,
as opportunities grew, Bihari
workers flocked to places like
Delhi, Punjab and Mumbai.
At the same time, Biharis excelled
in other fields. Many of them
became great political leaders, ICS
and IAS
officers, scientists, doctors,
engineers, writers and artists.
Delhi and other Indian cities
attracted huge white-collar Bihari
populations and Biharis formed
a large part of the Indian
diaspora of professionals.
But in the eyes of the rest of
India, "Bihari" had come to mean
a labourer, a person doing
menial jobs. It had become a
term of scorn and contempt. In
their anglicized lingo, places like
Delhi University turned the word
into "Harry", but the pejorative
tone remained unmistakable.
Heaping scorn on the working
classes is a universal
phenomenon. That is how words
like Negro, Paki (used for
Pakistanis and Indians in Britain)
and some of the words denoting
dalit castes in India earned
contemptuous connotations.
In fact, while Biharis were
getting their hands dirty on
Punjab's farms, Punjabis were
migrating in hordes to the US,
Canada, the UK and Australia.
Never mind that they would take
up blue-collar jobs as taxi
drivers, petrol pump attendants
and waiters in those faraway
As the years passed, many of the
Biharis who had come to Punjab
or Mumbai as manual labourers
started moving up the economic
ladder as did the blue-collar
Indian emigrants abroad. A
usually unnoticed aspect of the
so-called racial attacks against
Indians abroad is the threat the
rise of working classes poses to
the entrenched social order. This
accentuates the contempt they
face. Viewed thus, the attacks on
Biharis in Punjab, and Mumbai,
and the attacks on Indians
abroad are manifestations of the
same phenomenon.
What stopped Biharis from
bringing about a green
revolution or building a Metro in
Bihar? The answer is geography
and history. Geography, because
ravaged by floods, the land of
Bihar was unable to feed its
growing population. And history,
because what was the centre of
the biggest Indian empire in
ancient times was reduced to an
obscure provincial existence. The
skewed landownership system
introduced by the British rulers
worsened the situation.
It is a story of a couple of
hundred years. Things could
have improved after
Independence had the political
leadership of Bihar been able to
exert influence on the rulers in
New Delhi to get enough funds
for development projects and set
off a process of industrialization
in the state.
On the contrary, Bihar continued
to live the same, conveniently
ignored, provincial existence. A
system built on casteism,
nepotism, corruption and crime
came to dominate the state. It
spawned a neo-rich class of
netas, babus, contractors and
government engineers who
would build palatial houses for
themselves with the money
meant for dams, power projects,
ration for the poor or even
fodder for cattle.
The money meant for roads,
other infrastructure and public
amenities would go into their
bank accounts. No wonder, the
roads - supposed to be built with
public money - in front of those
houses would be full of ditches
and become the playground of
pigs every monsoon.
With limited options of higher
education and hardly any
employment opportunities in the
state, the youth of Bihar started
looking out. They flooded places
like Delhi University and
Jawaharlal Nehru University.
They started dominating the
country's toughest competitive
tests like the IIT Joint Entrance
Examination and the UPSC's civil
services examination. With this
success, Biharis started believing
that they were the brainiest. As
for others, they at least began to
acknowledge that Biharis were
inferior to none when it came to
The academic success, however,
did not do much to rid the word
"Bihari" of the scorn it had
gathered. People in Delhi
continued to laugh at those who
spoke with a Bihari accent. Those
who spoke without an accent
would get this compliment: "Oh,
you are from Bihar? But you
don't sound like a Bihari."
Biharis, meanwhile, were
retreating into a shell, with little
but the glory of ancient and
medieval heroes like Buddha,
Mahavira, Chandragupta,
Chanakya, Ashoka, Aryabhatta,
Guru Gobind Singh and Sher
Shah to bask in. Now comes 11%
growth. The state can recover
from the damage it has suffered
over hundreds of years only if
such a high rate of growth can
be sustained for many, many
years. Then Biharis would not
have to till others' land or build
cities and countries elsewhere.
The writer is proud to be a
Bihari.Because he is bihari.genx.