Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Bihari thanks Raj Thackeray

As a Bihari, I want to thank Raj Thackeray and team to have attacked Bihari students gone to take exams in Mumbai. They chased Bihari students away as stray dogs are chased by watchmen. They beat them up as donkeys are beaten up when they refuse to move. I loved it. I loved it as a Bihari.

No no, neither am I a demented soul nor am I attempting any Gandhigiri. But as a hopeless optimist, I see a silver line in the clouds.

As a Bihari, who studied in Bihar from kindergarten to my bachelor’s degree, I had tried several times to leave Bihar and go for higher studies or employment outside my home state. I ultimately succeeded in 2001 when I came to Delhi to study journalism. I never went back to Bihar since then.

So these attacks are inspiring me to go back to my home state and do something for ‘my own people’? Not yet, I have to get rid of my insensitivity a little more to do that. So I am thanking Raj because I believe it will inspire more sensitive Biharis to go back to Bihar and do something? Not really.

I thank Raj Thackeray as a Bihari who was/is sick of caste based feelings that ran/runs deep among Bihari students in particular and society in general.

(my feelings are based on what I felt and experienced when I was in Bihar i.e. more than seven years back, I’d be most surprised and happy to know that situation has changed, but I doubt, as I do keep visiting Bihar a few times in a year)

When I moved to a high school in Patna, I suddenly found out that my identity went beyond what kind of shoes I wore, what lunchbox I brought, or how many marks I scored in exams. I belonged to a particular caste as well. But fortunately, my identity was not completely hinging upon that aspect.

When I moved to college (in Bihar, higher secondary is taught in colleges by state education board), the caste aspect of identity grew stronger, one of the important factor being writing your ‘category’ when applying for admissions in top colleges (from Bihari standard), but mostly due to the psyche of Bihari society; I was growing up, caste feelings had to catch up.

All through the college days (both the higher secondary and bachelor’s degree), I encountered caste consciousness on a regular basis, on numerous occasions.

Students tended to have friends from the same caste as their own (not so rampant or crass trend as it may appear from my words, but still it was a trend). In hostels, I heard students were divided along caste lines on many occasions. And in some cases, students even chose private tutors from their own caste to prepare for engineering, medical, or IAS examinations (only three career options known to a common Bihari student at that time).

Of course, one can see that all the career options meant going outside the state as there were not many good engineering or medical colleges in Bihar (Jharkhand included then). So the benevolent MNS and Shiv Sena ideologues are not wrong in saying that Bihari leaders should be punished because they have created a mess in Bihar which leaves no option for Biharis but to go outside their state to look for jobs and studies. If they really believe so, I don’t know why there are punishing the victims in such a case, let them chase away or beat up the Bihari leaders, no one would complain.

Anyway, coming back to my college days, tea stall (nukkad) gossips by students were about politics and which leader/political party is good for the state. Most of the students would take a stance simply because they belonged to a particular caste. They also discussed about cricket, girls, smoking, wine, and studies. I don’t know if caste was a factor in those discussions as well.

Caste was (is?) a harsh reality among student community. After all they were also part of the society, the Bihari society, which was (is?) notorious for giving their beti (daughter) and peti (ballot box or vote) to people of their own caste. It seemed that the student community, who form the future of any society, had refused to come out of this caste rut and bring about any positive change.

This student community, which had got no facilities in the home state, seemed least bothered about it. They knew there were better institutes and jobs outside Bihar, but they never seemed to worry why Bihar didn’t have them. Instead, they ‘prepared’ themselves for the competition to get into those institutes and to get those jobs outside Bihar. They had every right to do so as they all thought it was their own country and any person was free to move to any other part of the country.

Preparing for ‘competitive’ exams was a ‘status’ factor. A typical Bihari student would take admission in some college in Bihar, which has no facility and system, and prepare for these competitive exams. These exams ranged from prestigious engineering, medical or IAS exams to bank-clerks, lower administrative jobs, and railways recruitment exams.

All these competitive exams would eventually take them out of the state. Most of the Bihari students even chose centers of these exams outside Bihar, even if they had an option of taking exam in Bihar itself. That’s a mystery; either it was wanderlust or a cynicism about the home state.

I also witnessed that while applying for those mushrooming engineering colleges in Maharashtra (wonder why MNS is not attacking those Bihari engineering students, or have Bihari students upgraded themselves?), there were students who would rank choice of their colleges for admission after consulting students from their own caste, perhaps to create a ground for making a coterie of their own castemen even outside Bihar.

When going out of state to take exams, students of the same caste even tended to book railway tickets together, given they were not so much in number to muster courage to travel ticketless (yes, railways have been their favorite mode of transport, much before Lalu Yadav became the minister).

I guess, and I hope and pray that I’m wrong, things have not changed much since then. The same set of events might have taken place in lives of most of those students who boarded trains and reached Mumbai on 19th October.

And as soon as they reached Mumbai, some of them were attacked and chased away. They were treated with utmost disgust, as if they were animals. Those who survived were beaten up in the examination halls, again as if they were unwanted scums. I am sure it was a dreadful, disgusting, and demoralizing experience for each of those Bihari students and Bihari society.

And I hope that the Bihari society has realized that when those students were beaten up, nobody asked them if they were Yavav, Bhumihar, Kurmi, Brahmin, or Paswan by caste.

Thank you Raj Thackeray for creating parity in the Bihari society, which our leaders could never bring about.

Thank you Raj Thackeray for making Biharis feel like one people.

May God bless you. Get well soon.

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