Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Anti-Biharism

Did that title anger you? It should!

After a friend in one of the groups pointed out how Bihari's are stereotyped in India I couldn't help but ask questions. I didn't know what Bihari's were and hadn't really been exposed to them. A few of us pardesi girls got into a small discussion about how stereotypes are often misleading and usually negative or harmful to a group of people in some way. So I decided to do some research.

I asked my husband first. After all, what better place to get information on stereotypes within India than directly from an Indian right? Thankfully my husband doesn't take stereotypes too seriously in regards to India so this discussion was a friendly one lol.

He told me that Bihari's are typically darker skinned, menial labor workers. He told me how the wages in Bihar are much lower than other areas of India and thus Biharis migrate to other states for work just as wealthier states migrate to other countries. I really delighted in how my husband didn't have a single negative tone in his voice when he talked about them. That made me feel like I was getting an unbiased statement from him.

Still, I thought to consult my books and this is what I learned there. ”Bihariyon ko hath do aur who poori baah le lete hain" (Give bihari a hand and he takes the entire arm). Does it surprise you that his is the same phrase used to describe Jews by the Nazi's? (Of course you would replace "bihari" with "jew" but you get the idea.) I should mention, I've never heard that phrase in relation to Jews or Bihari's personally. I only just found it searching so thankfully not everyone is ridiculous enough to be spreading that.

I also found information about how many Bihari's mix castes. This could explain why a country so dependent upon caste designations might not approve of people from the state. Many an aunty will fuss over people marrying outside of caste. It's often difficult for families to accept someone from another caste, country, etc. Bihari's are said to be (in my research) less dependent on caste and less likely to strictly adhere to it. IMO - I see this as a very good thing! My knowledge of India thus far, helps me understand why some wouldn't like it.

I can only imagine that it's difficult for Indians to accept someone who doesn't know or understand the traditional ways that have shaped the Indian social landscape or who chooses not to adhere to it. They don't know how to react to a whole group of people who reject the caste system and the social hierarchy. Of course, that's just my opinion. Let me get back to research.

My research did not lead me to find the following (references at the end of this post):
  • Education is substandard in Bihar and the literacy rates are the lowest in the country.
  • The literacy rate is skewed with roughly half as many females being literate as males.
  • There are some well-known universities in Bihar. (Which doesn't really fit with the bad schools info I found IMO.)
  • The male/female ratio in Bihar is close to equal and fairly healthy. 
  • The infant mortality rate is astounding though it has gotten better (by 6%) over the last decade.
I'm not even going to address the shadism aspect of Biharis. I don't subscribe to the whole 'fair is beautiful' concept. I firmly believe we are all beautiful in some way and without a wide spectrum of colors amongst people the world would be boring indeed. Besides, shadism would need another post or 3 of its own.

Has this stereotype affected you or your family?
How do you feel about these stereotypes?
What have you seen in your life to prove this stereotype wrong?

References:
Maps of India: Bihar
Government of India: Bihar Statistical Handbook 2010

7 comments:

  1. I don't know how you got this idea that Bihar care little for caste. There are caste armies in Bihar which routinely create mayhem in the name of caste. The entire politics of Bihar is based on caste and religion. Bihar and UP are notorious for caste based violence like the rest of the country.

    Personally, Biharis are highly intelligent. They are also very much politically conscious community. Everyone wants to get into Indian Administrative Service to get close to the political power. Every young man starts off studying for IAS. Not to mention an IAS commands high dowry in the marriage market. The Biharis do have this ability of networking which often leads to their mass political mobilization in other States. Political parties in Delhi and other States tend to treat them as vote banks. This herd mentality causes some resentment in the minds of people of other States who believe that they are taking away their jobs.

    There another interesting phenomenon about Bihar. There is something called "Groom Kidnapping". Those families who are unable to pay high dowry hire goons to kidnap some unsuspecting unmarried man and get him forcibly married to their daughter. Having and unmarried daughter is a big problem in India. Our social system often leads to peculiar kinds of things in different parts of the country.

    Bihar or Magadh as it was known in ancient times, was once the seat of the mighty Mauryan empire and then the Gupta empire. The great Political Thinker Chanakya wrote his political thesis Arthashastra in Bihar. The university of Nalanda attracted students from China, Greece and Europe. It was called the Oxford of the East. However, political apathy and bad administration did create a lot of mess in the State. Lately, Bihar has shown development due to good leadership and is now one the fastest growing States in India.

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  2. being a bihari myself, allow me to say a few things ...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry about the glitch ...

    Being a Bihari myself, please allow me to say a few things.

    As
    such Biharis are a very diverse groups of ppl .. I dont think your
    hubby has any idea of what he is talking about, biased or not. Most
    punjabis have only seen or met agricultural labor or rickshaw puller
    biharis. Most would probably be shocked if they met someone like me (i
    hate to blow my own trumpet but I belong to one of the elitest colleges
    of India - IIT-K) And IITs are full of biharis.

    Biharis
    do have some stereotypical peculiarities (but as all stereotypes go,
    these have large grains of salt, sugar, honey and pepper) ...

    1. they are not very entrepreneurial (as opposed to, say, Gujaratis)

    2. they are feudal in outlook ... and place a lot of importance in govt jobs and the purported prestige that it bestows on them

    3.
    caste has some role to play but it is largely a tool of organization
    (which may or may not be violent) ... whoever breaches the hallowed
    civil services barrier (the elitest govt job as per Biharis and all
    other Indians) are automatically elevated in status

    4.
    since IITs were seen as a sort of nursery for civil services exams,
    most biharis place a huge prestige to IIT education ... the adulation I
    get in my home circle unsettles and irritates me in equal measure
    [disclaimer: i am not in civvies, much to the consternation of many of
    my relatives]

    5. they do not bestow much prestige
    on arts/crafts/music/dance related professions, anything which involves
    moving your body. and not even on business.
    needless to say, manual
    labor is beyond the dignity of most dignified biharis. so they really
    have much contempt for those bihari rickshaw pullers in delhi and
    punjab.

    6. even though money is most important to them, they like to keep a hypocritical pretense of not caring about it.

    7.
    politically, they are very sharp and are reputed as such ... i have
    seen in many circles that biharis naturally assume a superficially
    dominant role and non-biharis keep at arms length from them. non-biharis
    have other non-political ways of getting back, which confounds biharis.

    I will write more about it ...

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  4. Exactly!! My hubby only knows stereotypes. They have shaped his view of people he doesn't know. Even if his ideas about Biharis' are not bad, as you've told me they are not true. I really appreciate your reply on this and the helpful insight. I do my best in life not to listen to stereotypes and not to use them as a defining factor in what I think of people. That's not always easy when we're taught so much to think in these ways. I have a more personal post on this very topic tomorrow.

    You haven't commented in a while. It's good to know you're still here.

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  5. Bihar was a source of agricultural labour for States like Punjab a few years ago. Now, with increased job opportunities in Bihar, people are not really interested in moving out. I think that's where your husband got this idea.

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  6. The "Terai' is the central southernmost part of Nepal, is pretty much linguistically & ethnically 'Bihari'.

    In fact most Nepalis refer to the residents of the Terai as 'Madhesi' in reference to the ethnic similarity to Bihar & India rather than the ethnic make up of 'hill people' of Nepal.

    Bihar is very interesting as it is one of the places longest occupied by humans on Earth.

    Unfortunately as the Gandak, Bagmati & Koshi rivers of the Himalayas flow through Bihar to the Ganges, Bihar often floods.

    I've seen Biharis working all over India & Nepal from Kashmir to Kathmandu to Kolkata in mostly back breaking day laborer jobs- construction, road work, migrant farm workers, porters. (Kind of like how you see illegals from Mexico & central America in the US)

    Unfortunately Bihar & Biharis do suffer a bit of a reputation for being backwards & corrupt-

    "The Economist" magazine said in 2004 that-

    "Bihar had become a byword for the worst of India, of widespread and inescapable poverty, of corrupt politicians indistinguishable from mafia-dons they patronize, caste-ridden social order that has retained the worst feudal cruelties".

    In 2005, the World Bank believed that issues faced by the state were "enormous" because of "persistent poverty, complex social stratification, unsatisfactory infrastructure and weak governance"

    I don't know how much this has changed since the RJD/Yadav 'goonda raj' was voted out in 2005 & Nitish Kumar was voted in.


    Unfortunately the dealings I've had with Biharis at a personal & professional level have confirmed this negative stereotype.

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  7. I have been around and following your blog on my reader ... since i am
    busy and traveling much these days, most of time I just glance it
    cursorily.

    ReplyDelete