In defence of Bihar: A note for Justice Katju

Photo by Jaipal Singh

When Markandey Katju asked Pakistan to take Kashmir and Bihar, he wasn’t being funny

When there was a widespread demand to hit back at training camps across the Line of Control, to take revenge for the September 18 Uri terrorists’ attack, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju was busy deriding Bihar. And when he came under heavy fire from political leaders cutting across party lines, he said he was just joking. Luckily for him, the issue soon subsided after the surgical strikes of September 29, which was followed by other developments. But that was not before he was booked for sedition after a Janata Dal (United) leader in Bihar, Neeraj Kumar, who is also an MLC, lodged a case against Katju. It is worth mentioning that Katju had also served as the chairman of the Press Council of India.

However, what remained unanswered is as to why he, in his Facebook account, posted: “Either you take both Kashmir and Bihar, or nothing.” The word ‘you’ here stands for Pakistan. Even if he was kidding, as he later said, why was he using the name of Bihar and not any other state, especially those sharing borders with Pakistan? After all he was not criticising the government of Bihar, but the state as such: that is its people. Pakistan, which could not hold its eastern wing for even 25 years and lost it in 1971, can in no way control Bihar, which is more than 1,500 kilometres away from its border. So if Katju was joking, the joke was cheap and in a very bad taste.

The truth is that he was derisive and disdainful towards the people of the state because he knew that, unlike others, they would not protest loudly.

Katju’s stature and the timing do not behove him to post remarks which many people would call seditious. But then he is not alone in indulging in such an exercise. Every society has its Bihar. Often Britons would crack jokes on Scots. The famous 18th century English literary giant and lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, in the dictionary compiled by him defined ‘oats’ in a very unusual and funny way. Oats, according to him, is “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” Thus the description reveals his low opinion of the Scots.

Similarly, while Englishmen use the term “French leave” for leave taken without permission, the French would instead say “English leave” to explain the same. But in Bihar’s case, it is one-way traffic all the way. People of UP, Delhi or elsewhere may poke fun on Biharis, but the latter may not dare to retaliate in the same words. This may, in some way, be true to Sardars too. Even the late Khushwant Singh had his stock of jokes on Sardars, but seldom would any Sikh mock other Indians by the same token. The problem arises when the thin line between wit and derision is crossed or blurred.

As Bihar –– itself a great civilization in the ancient past –– lies between Delhi-UP and Bengal, the two centres of politics, culture and economic activities in recent centuries, people of these two regions would often find Biharis living in their states as rustic and simple –– if not simpletons. They would be called less civilised and lacking in the manners and culture of the ruling class. Deriding a Bihari is particularly a north Indian phenomenon. As people of Delhi-UP and Bihar speak almost the same Hindustani language and resemble each others in several other ways, the latter would be ridiculed by the former if they speak a distinct dialect or pronounce something differently. Thus the people of Delhi-UP would try to assert their cultural supremacy. Fearing that fellow hostellers from other states may poke fun, many a time students originally hailing from western Bihar districts of Rohtas, Bhojpur and Siwan would introduce themselves as inhabitants of Benaras, Ghazipur or Gorakhpur in Eastern UP.

There is no such apparent competition between Bengalis and Biharis as they both speak different languages. This is in spite of the fact that Bengal witnessed a great cultural renaissance in the 19th century and wielded considerable influence in Bihar. The other problem is that while the Bihari has a regional identity, there is nothing like Uttar Pradeshi or even Madhya Pradeshi. Because of want of appropriate expression, sometimes non-Hindi speakers would mistakenly club the people of these Hindi heartland states as Biharis. For example, in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sainiks and MNS workers would seldom differentiate between a Bihari and ‘UP-wallah’. As is apparent, there is nothing wrong in the expression Bihari, but for many it has become a sort of a slur.

In similar ways, in neighbouring Pakistan, Punjabis and Pathans used to call all the Urdu-speaking migrants from India as Biharis. Initially, Biharis in Karachi and Hyderabad (Sind) would not mind being called so, but those who migrated from UP––then United Province –– Delhi and other places would feel offended in being addressed as Biharis. As they always felt culturally superior to Biharis, they coined a term Mohajir, meaning migrants.

Since Mohajir is a much exalted expression in Islamic history as it is associated with the migration of Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Medina 1,438 years ago they gladly adopted this name for themselves. In India, many commentators mistakenly translate Mohajir into refugees for which the actual Urdu word is ‘panahguzeen’. The term Mohajir helped the Urdu-speakers come under an umbrella and form the All Pakistan Mohajir Students’ Organisation in 1978 and Mohajir Quami Movement in 1984.

What is strange is that back in Bihar, many non-tribal Biharis living in what is now called Jharkhand, after initial reluctance started backing the demand for a separate state. Though it was essentially a movement led by Adivasis associated with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the BJP later supported the cause. Instead of Jharkhand, it wanted the new state to be named Vananchal. Seeing the growing demand of the people, the original Biharis who settled there after the industrialisation of the region too changed their stand. They also finally got a chance to get rid of the Bihari tag. Before posting his injudicious comment on Facebook, retired Justice Katju should have known that free speech does not amount to loose talk. Both Kashmir and Bihar can never be butts of unkind jokes.

Courtesy : DNA