When Justice (retd) Markandey Katju offered Kashmir to Pakistan with a rider that it would have to take Bihar as well as part of a package deal, many of us were not amused. The learned former jurist may have made the remarks in the lighter vein but it made us – the inveterate Biharis -- wonder if our beloved state has become so eminently dispensable that it is being offered to an enemy nation on a platter.
To many of us born and brought up “in the backwaters of a benighted state”, Justice Katju’s comment underlined something we had always feared for years, that the average Bihari has been stereotyped as an uncouth, good-for-nothing fellow who has nothing significant to contribute towards nation building. And it made us wonder if our reputation was such that even the Pakistanis would refuse to accept us regardless of Kashmir, everybody’s heaven on earth, being offered to them.
If indeed, it was a joke on us, I am afraid most of us did not get it. Maybe we do not have the innate sense of humour to laugh at ourselves. Probably the years of neglect by the policy makers have made us too bitter to grin and bear it. Perhaps the wisecracks, however innocuous, made by the stiff-upper-lip aristocracy of this great democratic country at our expense, make us – their poor country cousins -- frown and fail to bring smiles on our dry lips. But we do cherish the right to freedom of expression enshrined in our Constitution even though it is often exercised to mock others in the name of humour.
I am sure a majority of the Biharis did not know the zestful side of the learned justice (retired) of the apex court. After all, most of his remarks in the recent past have been no laughing matters. But then, even if they had known, they would hardly have bothered. Every morning when they wake up, wherever they are, their primary concern is to ensure two square meals for their families. They would take cognisance of a barb or two if only it could help them get their daal-roti for the day.
We know for a fact that the maximum number of daily wagers in the country, mostly engaged in menial work, hail from which state. We do not have to hire a professional agency to get a survey done to realise it. All we need to do is visit a construction site in Baramulla, a firecrackers factory in Salem, a carpet-making hub in Mirzapur or a bangles plant in Ferozabad to count how many Biharis are sweating it out under adverse conditions to eke out their livelihood. If we cannot do it, we can simply ask a taxi driver, a vegetable vendor, a street food seller or a security guard in our neighbourhood to get an idea of their contribution to our everyday lives. They are the ones who personify the dignity of labour in true sense, and it does not matter which region they belong to.
These people are not so thick-skinned that they would not feel offended if somebody treads on their toes but they remain too busy in their daily grind to laugh at themselves or others. It is the thin-skinned people like us – or someone like Chief minister Nitish Kumar -- who feel offended at any insult heaped on us because of our social and cultural identity. The Biharis, like people from any part of the country, have contributed their mite towards the all-round development of the nation in every field. From academics to bureaucracy to business and politics, they have excelled in every profession. Nitish, in fact, believes that the Biharis are so enterprising that they can be found working even on the moon. Still, they are invariably made the butt of jokes, objects of ridicule and targets of derision with impunity even by those who are expected at least to be politically correct.
But then, why have the Biharis been stereotyped in the first place? Is it because of the large-scale migration of the poor and illiterate people to the different parts of the country where they are considered to be country bumpkins? Is it because of the caste-and-corruption centric politics being pursued in the state for decades? Is it because of the sheer buffoonery of some state leaders that has perpetuated this image in the recent times? Or, is it only because of the abject poverty and underdevelopment in the state?
There is no denying the fact that Bihar has been a backward state, with dismal per capita income and literacy rate, over the years. Even though the Nitish government has tried to ameliorate the situation by giving a fillip to growth in the past ten years, the state is nowhere near its developed counterparts. It will not be able to catch up with Maharashtra and Gujarat even if it manages to retain its double-digit growth rate in the next 30 years.
India’s growth has, as a matter of fact, remained lop-sided since Independence. While the developed states have continued to prosper, the poor ones have remained stuck in the morass of underdevelopment. Even though Bihar had abundant mineral resources before its division in 2000, few companies chose to set up any big industry in the state. The freight equalisation policy formulated by the Central policy makers after Independence to ensure equal growth of the different parts of the country benefited many states other than Bihar. Even the agro industries failed to flourish despite its fertile land and abundant water resources primarily due to skewed policies, power crisis and law and order problems. The abysmal fall in the overall standard of education further sealed its fate.
Such a situation has prevailed for years in Bihar leaving lakhs of skilled and unskilled youth with no option but to migrate to other states, and countries, in search of employment of any kind. Let alone verbal insults, local goons have bashed them up at some places for being intruders in their states. But they have put up with everything rather stoically to do their work with dignity without hurting anybody's sentiments. They are the true representatives of Bihar who should be stereotyped as dedicated and hard working people who would be welcomed by every state and the nation.
I am afraid Pakistan would not mind getting Bihar -- with or without Kashmir -- only because of the people like them. But then, what will happen to the other states if all the Biharis leave the country?
Just joking, milord!!!