The plight of Biharis: Who’s responsible?

The Mumbai BEST bus shootout highlights three things – the need for better handling of hostage situations by the police, the growing threat to our federal unity and the need for Biharis to take some tough questions.

By Akrita Reyar | Updated: Sep 24, 2014, 17:03 PM IST

Akrita Reyar

The Mumbai BEST bus shootout that led to the unfortunate death of a youth and injury of another highlights three things – the need for better handling of hostage situations by the police, the growing threat of to our federal unity and the need for Biharis to take some tough questions. The angst of Biharis is understandable. ‘Bihari’ stand alone is a bad word. Being one exposes a person to crude jokes and leads to an immediate depreciation in the estimation of merit. It is for this reason the people who were for generations Biharis, by one stroke of geographical cleaving, happily started calling themselves Jharkhandis, disassociating completely from their roots as if a burden had been removed from their shoulders. Maharashtra has undoubtedly been harsh; against even the spirit of India. Each person in this country has a right to seek education, employment and residence wherever he/she pleases. Of course there are some barriers in terms of size of the land that can be acquired and affirmative action in educational institutes for domicile students etc. But these restrictions are of limited nature. For Marathis to claim a second identity that sows seeds of divisiveness is not acceptable. That said, the point to ponder over is as to why Marathis have been screaming from rooftops against North Indians read Biharis. Other states resent their presence as well, only don’t say it aloud so much. So Biharis have a right to protest such discrimination; it is imperative that they question themselves as to why they are so unwanted. Blaming others alone will not do. Why is it that South Indians are not detested in the North of the country, and other North Indians not so disliked in the South or even in Maharashtra. Reality Check One, Biharis are too many. Two, there are not enough opportunities within their own state. So the compulsion to seek livelihood forces them to look for avenues outside even if it is at the cost of their self respect. Three, the state has suffered long years of poor governance and they took too long to throw out the dysfunctional administration due to their preoccupation with caste politics. Four, there is greater earnest to seek greener pastures outside than to rebuild infrastructure and opportunity within. Five, they unfortunately carry their casteist politics and practice with them wherever they venture, and are not known to possess the spirit of entrepreneurship. One look at the population break-up of India and the statistics that stash up against Bihar are horrifying. According to the 2001 census, Bihar’s population stood at 82,878,796, and is safely over 10 crore now. Ninety percent of the people live in the countryside, while 58% of the population is below 25 years of age, the highest in India in the category. This statistic is ominous as it indicates a further bloating of an already enormous populace. Of the total less than half are literate and only about 3.3 women in every 10 can read or write. Bihar’s economic indicators are even more morbid. The state has a per capita income of just USD 148 a year against India`s average of USD 997. 30.6% of the state`s population lives below the poverty line against India`s average of 22.15%. In terms of per capita income, a person in a rich state like Maharashtra is four times better off than an average person in Bihar. It is no mystery then that Bihar is the weight that pulls the ‘all India’ estimates down. India sans Bihar would rank several dozen notches up on the global human development indices than its current position. Bihar is therefore seen both as an embarrassment and a burden. Possible Solutions Stringent and swift measures must be taken for birth control at grassroot level. A robust healthcare system combined with adult education can indeed achieve desired targets despite scepticism to its implementation. If Bangladesh could achieve it through Gramene Bank’s dispersion of easy credit in a severely poor country, then an honest and earnest policy can achieve the same in Bihar. The will must be there. There is also a need to bring about a change in thinking that more children may mean more hands to earn; they also mean more mouths to feed. Even though the trigger of population control would take decades to spread its positive effect, the time to start should be now. Eventually, fewer people would mean fewer poor people seeking jobs, especially as cheap labour outside. Time had, over a period, begun to blur caste lines in the Bihari society. The chasms suddenly reappeared with the Mandal Commission. Politicians then fed on the insecurity of oppressed classes and what followed was years of misrule that led to exploitation of the state and little else. Eventually, the state government was thrown out on the development issue. Biharis must not forget this lesson. That the ballot must be caste in favour of those alone who promise progress and welfare and hold the promise of a better tomorrow. However, the most important issue is that of self respect and the will to usher in a change of mindset. Biharis must respect themselves before they can expect others to give them their due. Those Who Made It Possible India lived for years in an inferiority complex instilled by long years under colonial rule. But 21st C is the century that must belong to Asia. China has shown it can be done. It had suffered no less a humiliation at the hands of imperialist Japan, but today counts itself as a superpower. And now the Indian elephant is also slowly awakening. Nobody makes place for anyone under the sun. We must step out ourselves. Singapore is yet another fine example. When Le Kuan Yew took over as the Prime Minister in 1959, when the country gained self rule, Singapore was still very much a fishing village though it was also being used as a port town. By the time Yew stepped down in 1990, the prospects of Singapore had changed beyond recognition. The tiny nation is today the 6th wealthiest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, and has foreign exchange reserves of more than USD 177 billion. The turnaround has been achieved in one man’s lifetime. Closer home, when the British wanted to cripple the Indian industry, Jamsetji Tata rose to the challenge and set up a steel plant of the scale that was thought improbable. He did it against all odds and he did it in Jamshedpur, then heartland Bihar. Take the case of Punjab. A lot ails the state. But what must be handed to it is that it not just survived two brutal mauling, it is also a leader among states in terms of prosperity. 1947 had brought to its doors one of the greatest catastrophes of the last century. The biggest migration in human history. Yet each one of the refuges was housed, fed and settled. Our Prime Minister is an example of one of the many stellar stories of the time. Much later the state combated with its own. Operation Blue Star and decade of militancy had left the state battered. Infrastructure was in shambles, no resource had been used for development for more than a decade. Yet the state emerged from the ashes. The attempt here is not to play one state against the other or prove it superior. That is not the case. The idea is only to highlight what is possible. To hold up an example that can bring hope to others of the same land. ….So Can Biharis Biharis must dare to dream big. And prove through imagination, will power and hard work what no one credits them for. They must also shed a parochial mentality. Is becoming an IAS officer the limit of a Bihari’s ambition? Does his life’s ultimate gratification lie in being a government servant and genuflecting to people of half his education? When a clutch of Parsees can provide employment to lakhs, think of the potential a vibrant Bihar can unleash. That there are many constraints is the lament of the lazy. Nothing is simple, but nothing is impossible either. In every thought lies a possibility. Biharis must realize that they have a lot to be proud of. Not only has it in mythology been described as an abode of prosperity and wealth as Maithali, it was the hub of growth, democracy, education and great thinking in ancient and even medieval India. Its record immediately after independence had also been far from morose. The state has fallen behind now. This must be acknowledged. The attacks on Biharis in Maharashtra, though they need to be condemned, must compel introspection. Why must perfectly talented Bihari youth bear the slur of being ‘Biharis’. Success alone begets respect. And success will come only of their own making. Biharis would have to make choice between continuing to be a butt of mockery or a shining example for the rest to emulate. It is time that the community redeems some of its past glory. Contemporary history is strewn with examples of success stories that were dismissed as impossible. Biharis must seize this opportunity that Maharashtra today has unwittingly offered - that of throwing at them some tough questions. And a good start can be made by giving some honest answers.