As schoolboys, we knew ourselves as ‘Bihari’ but our Bengali mates called us ‘Hindustanis’. That surprised us, because we knew that they too are ‘Hindustanis’. We called them parochial and provincial. It was much later that we could know that for them ‘Hindustani’ does not mean Indian, it referred to the linguistic group speaking Hindi –Urdu. For us there was no place for the concept of sub-nationalism; it was not acceptable to think in terms of loyalty to Bihar; that would be provincialism and parochialism /chauvinism according to us.
Paradoxical as it may appear, the identity of Bihari got currency when it was used to identify the migrants from the Hindi Heartland to the erstwhile East Pakistan; though that included people from U.P. and other Hindi speaking states besides Bihar.
|History and Geography play very decisive roles in the shaping of a populace.
1961: Another image that emerges relates to the period of my stay at Silchar (Assam). Those were the days of intense conflict between Asamia and Bengali sections of the state. Silchar was a predominantly Bengali speaking district. I was there as a lecturer. Most of the teachers as well as others were Bangla speaking. Prof. Biren Dey was a learned professor of History. Occasionally we had discussions regarding parochialism versus nationalism. He told me that my concept of parochialism is erroneous. “What you call parochialism is in reality sub-nationalism,” he told me.
Professor Dey told that the people living in the Hindi Heartland are backward because they do not have a sense of sub-nationalism. The concept of Aryavarta i.e. Indian nationalism is central to their consciousness; all Indian national movements have been getting spontaneous and unstinted support in this region, but the leadership comes from outside the region.
Is it a contradiction? Mahatma Gandhi was from Gujarat, but his non-cooperation movement maturing into “Quit India” call struck root in this region. The founder of RSS Shree Hedgewar was from Maharashtra, but the organization found fertile soil only in what is derisively called cowbelt. Shree Shyama Prasad Mukerjea, the founder president of Bharatiya Jana Sangh could not command following for his organization in his own state (West Bengal). Md. Ali Jinnah could succeed in bringing out vivisection of India because of U.P. & Bihar, even though he was a Gujarati. Arya samaj movement has been a phenomenon of this very region, but its protagonist Swami Dayanand Saraswati came from Gujarat. Is it ironical that one has to strain too much to look for a national leader of stature indigenous to this region?
1953: I was then a student of B.Sc.(Hons.) class. One of my teachers Dr. Jawahar lal Wakhloo, was a brilliant young Kashmiri gentleman. He used to be very sincere though impatient with us. Sometimes he would lose patience and could not help becoming abusive, “You Biharis lack grey matter; instead you have sawdust and cow dung in your brains.” Naturally I felt offended even though I used to be one of his favorite students. Somehow my reaction got conveyed to him. He felt sorry, and tried to explain things in his own way.
He told me that history and Geography play very decisive roles in the shaping of a populace. He would elaborate his observation by pointing out that since early history, invasions have taken place through the north western part of India; this has resulted in causing hardships and destabilizing conditions for the inhabitants of these regions. The society was subjected to churning by regular influx of new settlers. Therefore they had had to remain vigilant, hardy and acquire active habits. The destabilizing effects gradually faded as you move towards the east. Then in the eighteenth century, East India Company established its headquarters in Calcutta and Hooghly port became the gateway for transport and commerce. It served as the harbinger of renaissance in the Bengali Society. But there was no such effect in Bihar. The society remained more or less stagnant, stuck in the primitive agricultural mode. Hence it earned the epithet “cow-belt.”
Geography also shows a bias. The Monsoon showers are less bountiful as they move from east to west. People in the north-western regions have been obliged to struggle with their agricultural fields to make them produce crops. They could not afford to keep faith in the all merciful rain gods. The humid climate of the eastern states is another contributory factor as you move from Bihar and other eastern states to Punjab in the west you would notice that people are more and more active, smart, competitive and enterprising. So you see History and Geography have combined to the disadvantage of Bihar.