Biharis

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Bihari people
Languages
Bhojpuri
Maithili
Magahi
Religion
Predominantly:
Om.svg Hinduism
Minority:
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Aryan peoples

The Biharis (About this soundlisten ) is a demonym given to the inhabitants of the Indian state of Bihar. Bihari people can be separated into three main Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic groups, Bhojpuris, Maithils and Magadhis.[1] They are also further divided into a variety of hereditary caste groups.[2]

Photo of Bihari wedding

Biharis can be found throughout India, and in the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. During the Partition of India in 1947, many Bihari Muslims migrated to East Bengal (later East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh or Pakistan).[3][4] Bihari people are also well represented in the Muhajir people of Pakistan (formerly West Pakistan) because of Partition.[5] [6]

History[edit]

Commemorative stamp of Shri Krishna Singh, the first Chief Minister of Bihar

Bihar is one of the longest inhabited places in the world with a history going back to the Neolithic age.[7] Since that time, Biharis have long been involved in some of the most important events in South Asian history. Biharis were the founders of many great empires based out of Magadh including the Maurya Empire and the Gupta Empire.[8] Both of these empires had their capitals in Pataliputra (modern-day Patna).

Two of India's major religions also have their origins in Bihar. Gautama Buddha who was the founder of Buddhism, achieved enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, was born in Vaishali in North Bihar.[9]

Martial tradition[edit]

Many academics including Dirk Kolff and Walter Hauser have noted that Bihar has a history of armed activism among its peasantry.[10] For centuries, Purbiya soldiers from Western Bihar have long served as soldiers in the armies of Kings in Western regions of India. Mughal sources also record that many peasant soldiers were recruited from Northern parts of Bihar (Tirhut).[11] This martial heritage continued into the late 20th century with the formation of private armies or senas that were formed to maintain the interests of specific castes.[10]

Servan-Schreiber described this martial tradition as follows[12]:

For any traveler on the roads of Bihar, an inescapable image comes to mind. That of a peasant who always keeps his wooden club or lathi at hand, under no circumstances letting it out of his reach. The Biharis, who constitute a martial race in India similar to the Sikhs or the Pathans, in keeping with the role conceived by the British colonial administration, were a mother lode for Monghol and English army recruiters. Their independent fighting spirit, which has earned them a reputation for toughness, has been in evidence throughout their history.

Clothing[edit]

The traditional dress of Bihari people includes the dhoti-mirjai (a modified form of the flowing jama)[13] or the kurta (replacing the older outfit of the dhoti and chapkan which is a robe fastened on the right)[14] for men and Saree for women. In everyday life women wear saree or Kameez-Salwar. The saree is worn in "Seedha Aanchal" style traditionally.[15] Nevertheless, Western shirts and trousers are becoming popular among the both rural and urban male population.[15] And Salwar-Kameez for women in urban Bihar. Jewellery such as rings for men and bangles for women are popular. However, there are some traditional Bihari jewelries like "Chhara", "Hansuli", "Kamarbandh", etc.[15]

Language and literature[edit]

Maithili language in Tirhuta and Devanagari scripts

Hindi is the official language of the State.[16] Maithili (61 million speakers including Bajjika dialect which has 11 million speakers in India),[17] and Urdu[18] are other recognised languages of the state. Unrecognised languages of the state are Bhojpuri (60 million), Angika (30 million) and Magahi (20 million).[17][19] Bhojpuri and Magahi are sociolinguistically a part of the Hindi Belt languages fold, thus they were not granted official status in the state.The number of speakers of the Bihari languages is difficult to count because of unreliable sources. In the urban region, most educated speakers of the language name Hindi as their language because this is what they use in formal contexts and believe it to be the appropriate response because of unawareness. The uneducated and the rural population of the region regards Hindi as the generic name for their language.[20]

Despite of the large number of speakers of Bihari languages, they have not been constitutionally recognized in India, except Maithili which is recognised under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Hindi is the language used for educational and official matters in Bihar.[21] These languages was legally absorbed under the subordinate label of Hindi in the 1961 Census. Such state and national politics are creating conditions for language endangerment.[22] The first success for spreading Hindi occurred in Bihar in 1881, when Hindi displaced Urdu as the sole official language of the province. In this struggle between competing Hindi and Urdu, the potential claims of the three large mother tongues in the region – Bhojpuri, Maithili and Magahi were ignored. After independence Hindi was again given the sole official status through the Bihar Official Language Act, 1950.[23] Urdu became the second official language in the undivided State of Bihar on 16 August 1989. Bihar also produced several eminent Urdu writers including Sulaiman Nadvi, Manazir Ahsan Gilani, Abdul Qavi Desnavi, Paigham Afaqui, Jabir Husain, Sohail Azimabadi, Hussain Ul Haque, Dr. Shamim Hashimi,[24] Wahab Ashrafi[25] etc.

Bihar has produced a number of writers of Hindi, including Raja Radhika Raman Singh, Shiva Pujan Sahay, Divakar Prasad Vidyarthy, Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar', Ram Briksh Benipuri, Phanishwar Nath 'Renu', Gopal Singh "Nepali" and Baba Nagarjun. Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan, the great writer and Buddhist scholar, was born in U.P. but spent his life in the land of Lord Buddha, i.e., Bihar. Hrishikesh Sulabh and Neeraj Singh (from Ara) are the prominent writer of the new generation. They are short story writer, playwright and theatre critic. Arun Kamal and Aalok Dhanwa are the well-known poets. Different regional languages also have produced some prominent poets and authors. Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, who is among the greatest writers in Bengali, resided for some time in Bihar. Upamanyu Chatterjee also hails from Patna in Bihar. Devaki Nandan Khatri, who rose to fame at the beginning of the 20th century on account of his novels such as Chandrakanta and Chandrakanta Santati, was born in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Vidyapati Thakur is the most renowned poet of Maithili (c. 14–15th century). Satyapal Chandra[26] has written many English bestseller novels and he is one of India's emerging young writer.

Castes and ethnic groups[edit]

Bihari society follows a very rigid caste system, which influences daily life and politics.[27]

The 2011 Census of India indicated that Scheduled Castes constituted 15% of Bihar's 10.4 crores population.[28][29] The census identified 21 of 23 Dalit sub-castes as Mahadalits.[30] The Mahadalit community consists of the following sub-castes: Bantar, Bauri, Bhogta, Bhuiya, Chaupal, Dabgar, Dom (Dhangad), Ghasi, Halalkhor, Hari (Mehtar, Bhangi), Kanjar, Kurariar, Lalbegi, Musahar, Nat, Pan (Swasi), Rajwar, Turi, Dhobi, Chamar and Dusadh[31] The Paswan caste was initially left out of the Mahadalit category, to the consternation of Ram Vilas Paswan.[32][33]Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) constituted around 1.3% of the Bihari population.[34][35][36] They include the Gond, Santhal and Tharu communities.[37][38] There are about 130 Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) in Bihar.[39][40]

Castes of Bihar[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49]
Caste Population (%) Notes
OBC/EBC 41% Yadavs - 17%
Kurmis - 4%
Kushwaha(Koeri, Maurya, Shakya, Saini, Etc.) - 8%
(EBCs - 17%[39][50][51][52][53] -includes,[54][55][56] Teli-3.2%)
Mahadalits*+ Dalits(SCs) 15%[57][58] includes Dusadh- 5%, Musahar- 2.8%[59]
Muslims 16.9%[60] includes (Ashrafi) Sayyid, Sheikh Mughal Pathan castes[61][62]
Forward caste 21.4% Four upper-castes - Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Kayasthas - constitute around 21.4% of the state's population.[63]
Adivasis(STs) 1.3%[64][65]
Others 0.4% Includes Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists

Religion[edit]

According to the 2011 census, 82.7% of Bihar's population practiced Hinduism, while 16.9% followed Islam.[66]

Religion Population
Hindu 82.7
Muslim 16.9
Others 0.4

Bihari diaspora[edit]

Pakistan and Bangladesh[edit]

During the partition of India in 1947, many Biharis moved to both West Pakistan and East Pakistan, where they were counted among other Muhajirs and still are in present-day Pakistan. About one million Urdu speakers moved to what was then East Bengal adjacent to their Bihar province in eastern India.[67]

When East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh in December 1971, 83,000 Biharis (58,000 former civil servants and military personnel) wanting to leave being ethnic Urdu-speakers, members of divided families and 25,000 hardship cases were evacuated to Pakistan. By 1974, 108,000 had been transferred to Pakistan (mainly by air); by 1981, about 163,000. The remaining Biharis of East Bengal were left behind and found themselves unwelcomed in both countries. Pakistan did not wish to accept the Biharis left in the newly formed Bangladesh as it saw itself a struggling to manage thousands of Afghan refugees at that time,[68] while Bangladeshis scorned the ethnic Biharis for having supported and sided with the West Pakistan during the war and preferring their native Urdu over the Bengali Language Movement.

With little or no legal negotiation about offering the Biharis Pakistani citizenship or safe conduit back home to their native Bihar in India, the Biharis (called "stranded Pakistanis" by some Bangladeshi politicians) have remained stateless for 33 years. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not addressed the plight of the Biharis. An estimated 600,000 Biharis live in 66 camps in 13 regions across Bangladesh, and an equal number have acquired Bangladeshi citizenship. In 1990, a small number of Biharis were allowed to immigrate to Pakistan.

Pakistan has reiterated that as the successor state of East Pakistan, Bangladesh should accept the Biharis as full citizens. Pakistani politicians and government officials have refused to accept these nearly 300,000 stranded Pakistanis of Bihari origin due to inability to absorb such a large number of immigrants at the moment.

In May 2008, a Bangladeshi court ruled that Biharis who were either minors in 1971 or born after 1971 are Bangladeshi citizens and have the right to vote.[69][70] As a result of the ruling, an estimated 150,000 of the 300,000 Biharis living in Bangladesh are eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship.[70] Although the court ruling explicitly said that the Biharis are eligible to register to vote in the December 2008 elections, the Election Commission closed its rolls in August 2008 without enrolling them.[71]

Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, Myanmar and South Africa[edit]

A large number of people from the Bihar Province of British India travelled to various parts of the world in the 19th century to serve as indentured labours on sugarcane, cocoa, rice, and rubber plantations in the Caribbean, Fiji. Mauritius, Myanmar and Natal, South Africa.

A majority of Indo-Mauritians are Bihari Mauritians.[72] Most of the Mauritian Prime Ministers were Indo-Mauritians of Bihari descent.[73] A majority of Indo-Caribbeans are of Bihari descent, while Indo-Fijians are mostly descendants of the Awadh region in Uttar Pradesh as well as Bihar.

Bihari sub-nationalism[edit]

According to social scientist Dr. Shaibal Gupta, the beating of students from Bihar in Mumbai in October 2008, has consolidated Bihari sub-nationalism.[74]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]