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POLITICS OF LANGUAGE & CULTURE IN BIHAR

- INTRODUCTORY VIEWS”

*BY PROF. PAPIYA GHOSH (2006)

The period of freedom struggle in India was a period of awakening for small nationalities and ethnic groups. After attainment of independence this consciousness manifested itself in the form of agitations and movements for the recognition of their respective vernaculars, formation of unilingual provinces and to assert their own identity in front of

a multi cultural and multi language nation. The dynamics that set the forces of Indian nationalism into motion were also responsible for the beginning of the movements of self assertion by various cultural communities. Language diversity has always been a distinctive feature of India but language consciousness articulated in political terms is a relatively recent one.
While there was lack of consensus among the national leaders over the issues of languages in India, there were certainly lots of debates over national language in India. It was recognized from the very beginning that the regional, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity within India should be recognized and accepted to strengthen India's unity. Unity in diversity was highlighted as the essence of Indian nationality at a time when many Indian and foreigners were raising doubts on India's ability to develop as a nation. Hindi was proposed to become the national language of the union but English was accepted as the language of judiciary and administration till the period the case for the national language was built up.
Regional languages had started building the case for assertion and linguistic reorganization ever since independence. The process had its genesis in the pre independence period when the principle of linguistic reorganization was accepted in the Calcutta session of the congress in 1917.1 By 1921, the regional branches of Congress were reorganized on linguistic basis. In 1948, a commission was set up under the chairmanship of Justice S.K Dar to look into the desirability of linguistic provinces. The States Reorganization Commission (SRC) set up by Pundit Nehru in 1953 submitted its report in 1956, providing for fourteen states and six centrally administered territories.2 By

1958, G.B Pant declared that the regional languages should be supreme in their own areas not only in the sphere of administration but also in the sphere of commerce, law and education.3

Although it was destined that the regional languages of the respective states would be adopted in their region yet the process of adoption of the regional languages and the replacement of English in the states for official purposes was considerably delayed due to various reasons. While in the rest of India a vigorous ethnic and nationality formation process was building up on the basis of local identity, the reverse was happening in the

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1 Sajal Nag. "Multiplication of Nations? Political Economy of Subnationalism in India", Mumbai, Economic and Political Weekly, 17-24 July, 1993, p.1522.

2 Bipan Chandra, Aditya Mukherjee and Mridula Mukerjee, India After Independence 1947-2000, New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2000, pp. 98-101.

3 Jyotirindra Dasgupta, Language Conflict and National Development, Mumbai, Oxford University Press, 1970, p.227.

*(The piece remained incomplete on account of the Author’s tragic passing on 3 December, 2006 at Patna.)

Hindi heartland. The major states of north India as U.P, Bihar, M.P and Rajasthan were treated as Hindi speaking states and their regional languages were subordinated to the aura of nationality that was associated with Hindi. In Bihar, the regional languages happily sacrificed themselves at the altar of nationalism. Bihar always felt the burden of carrying Indian nationalism rested on its shoulder and in the process the agenda of regional languages of Bihar were relegated to the backseat. The demands of Maithili for a separate state were rejected by the SRC and the political leaders of the region gladly accepted the dominance of Hindi in the affairs of the state.

The movement for recognition of Maithili continued ever since, under the guidance of language activists rather than politicians. The movement has been well documented by Paul R. Brass till 1974, but many changes have been experienced in these thirty years. An attempt has been made therefore to construct the Maithili language movement from where Brass left, and to trace the gradual development of the movement. It marks a period of transition when academies became 'fashionable' for the language activists and slowly instead of highlighting the problems that lay in the development of languages they themselves became victims of utter neglect. The activities of the Maithili activists soon caught the attention of the Bhojpuri activists who started following their demands. However the essence of the movements remained apolitical. While Bhojpuri boasted of its numerical strength which crossed the borders of Bihar as well, Maithili was fortunate to have few dedicated leaders who fought for their cause for all their lives as Jankinandan Singh, Lakshman Jha, Tarakant Jha, Sudhanshu Sekhar Chaudhary and others.


Maithili activists persistently followed their demands for inclusion in the eighth schedule of the constitution, in the examinations conducted by Bihar Public Service Commission, in schools and universities. The formation of three new states Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Uttaranchal in 2000 added fuel to the demands of the activists. While the demarcation of the boundaries of the states in 2000 did not confirm to the linguistic standards yet it regenerated the idea for raising demands for a separate state amongst a handful of Maithili activists. The people of the north Bihar lacked the subjective consciousness over language and had no unanimous opinion regarding creation of a separate state yet they wished for the development of the region and showed disenchantment with the behaviour of their representatives with regard to the problems of the area.4
The low level of subjective consciousness about the linguistic identity among the populace has often been attributed to higher level of caste consciousness that has been witnessed in Bihar. Not only the number of castes and sub castes in the state is very perplexing, but the relationship between the caste and politics has also been volatile.5 The extension of franchise has made people aware of the political potentialities and the paucity of organized interest groups has led to unprecedented leanings on caste as an instrument for bargaining in politics. Even while Bihar's per capita income (Rs. 3859) remained lowest and poverty (42.60%) highest, the state never displayed a state of social

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4 For more on this see, Hindustan, Patna, November 2000 to February 200 I.

5According to a broad estimate there are 135 Hindu and Muslim caste in Bihar, besides a number of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other splinter social and religious groups. See, lawaharlal Pandey, State Politics In India, New Delhi, Uppal Publishing House, 1982, pp.51-59.

2

stagnation.6 The attempts of the Maithili activists showed results in 2003 when Maithili was included in the Eighth schedule thus fulfilling a long standing demand of the Maithili activists. The constitutional status proved a great boon for the Maithili language as the work that was once left to the non state funded Maithili organization were now being taken care by the government. Its demand for inclusion in the BPSC was fulfilled, itbecame a mode of instruction at the school level and there was even recruitment of Mflithili teachers in Jharkhand.7 The works to assist the development of Maithili was undertaken by Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore. Meetings were held at the national level to consider the condition for the development of Maithili language; initiatives were taken to prepare documentaries on Maithili Movement, compilation of history of Maithili language and standardization of Maithili scripts and spelling forms. Specific efforts were also taken for collection and publication of comprehensive volume of folk stories (khissa tradition), collecting songs in Maithili from Darbhanga AIR archive and collection and documentation of Mithila art and tradition.8


While Maithili was enjoying the fruits of its labour at the turn of the century, Bhojpuri non state funded organizations were still making appeals to consider Bhojpuri as a language and not mere dialect of Hindi. The political strand of the Bhojpuri movement being weak due to spread of the language in many states of North India and lack of cohesion among its activists, attempts were made to develop an apolitical strand of the movement in which demands not only centered around inclusion of language in the Eighth schedule but also for reviving cottage industries and economic development of the region. Lack of pride in the mother tongue in the Magahi speaking belt badly affected the prospect of the language.

In the first chapter I propose to present an overview of interplay between politics and language and how it has changed in more than fifty years of independence. It tries to explain the process of development of movement in the regional languages. The three main regional languages of Bihar Maithili, Magahi and Bhojpuri developed separately and went through different crest and troughs. The politics of the state played instrumental role in shaping these events. The chapter takes off from summary presentation of the Bihar-Bengal border dispute to the growth of politics over regional languages of Bihar. Maithili tried to raise its demand for creation of a separate statehood on the basis of its linguistic identity under the leadership of Maharaja Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga Raj before independence and in the post independence period a memorandum was presented by Janakinandan Singh for the formation of the Mithila state, which was considered too non-controversial to find even a mention in the report of SRC.9


It then goes on in succeeding sections to analyze the caste dimension and politics and marginalization of regional languages as an issue in state politics. Caste continues to be

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6 Shaibal Gupta, Bihar: Identity and Development, www.TheBiharTimes.com, downloaded on 15 March 2004.

7Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi, 27 July 2006, p.I8.

8 Maithili Development National Consultation Meeting, 07-09 May 2004, CIIL, Mysore.

9 Paul R. Brass, Language, Religion and Politics in North India, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1974, pp. 52-53.

important for structuring relations of production in agrarian Bihar. It traces the issues that became central in the politics in the seventies when the policy of appeasement for the regional languages was adapted to the Mandalized era when caste overshadowed all other issues not only in the politics of Bihar but India as well. Caste remained the main social anchor and the premiere reference of individual identity in Bihar. The movement of Maithili had no separatist agenda, though occasional demands were made for the creation of a separate state. The movement had limited social base but the elites were almost unanimous about directing the movement for attainment of constitutional position. Bhojpuri activists strived to develop the cultural strand of the movement and spread the apolitical strand of the movement to the other Bhojpuri speaking region as well. Similarly, few Magahi enthusiasts tried to create a movement around Magahi but failed

miserably to build the identity consciousness in the Magahi speaking belt on the issue of language.
In the interstices of the regional language movements another movement kept gaining strength in Bihar, the Jharkhand movement. The first phase of the movement, based on separate ethnic identity was witnessed from 1947-54. It was marked by the emergence of

the Jharkhand party which regarded the formation of a separate state as the only way to safeguard the interest of the tribals. Despite the multiplicity of language and culture, the tribals of Jharkhand were united to tight against exploitation and assert themselves.10 The movement succeeded in organizing the masses to fight for the cause of a separate Jharkhand, which intensified in the nineties leading to the creation of a separate Jharkhand in 2000.


The second chapter aims to understand the efforts taken by the state founded and non-state founded organizations to assist the process of development of the regional languages of Bihar. History shows several examples of people learning a language that they were convinced would bring benefits. Hindi was important as it was channel for communicating with judiciary and bureaucracy at the highest level. Regional languages of Bihar were thus placed in a relation of direct subordination vis-a-vis Hindi. With language as a site in construction of state society relation, attempts were made in the seventies to influence the intelligentsia through giving concessions to the languages. The objective for the creation of academies being unfulfilled, academies have been reduced to the status of government aided non functioning institutions with too many woes and little comfort for the regional languages. Non state funded organizations continued to build up the movement for Maithili as well as Bhojpuri in which ever way they thought they could continue. The combined efforts of the numerous organizations kept claiming successes for their respective languages.
Regional languages of Bihar kept entering the precincts of the various universities in phases. A process that began with Maithili entering the curriculum of Patna University spread to inclusion of Bhojpuri, Maithili and Magahi in the curriculum of various universities of Bihar. There was a major change in the preferences of the students taking up these subjects, with the advent of the era of globalization in India. The student's choice of subjects for their graduation became more and more competition oriented and
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10 Sajal Nag, Op. Cit



old and reputed language departments in the universities started facing closure. While Maithili was fortunate to have teachers, subjects as Bhojpuri had dearth of students as well as teachers. With the removal of Maithili from BPSC the number of students offering Maithiti for universities witnessed a steep decline. Caste as a phenomenon influenced the working of the state funded as well as non state funded organization. The functioning of state funded organizations became victims to change in governments and caste played an instrumental role in claiming the high offices of these bodies rather than their commitment for the development of the language.
Culture cannot be reduced to narrow political framework as understood in terms of institution and electoral activity therefore in the third chapter I propose to try and understand the workings of television first as a medium per se and then in terms of its influence in a country like India and in terms of ideas it helps to circulate. The arrival of satellite television and the dismantling of state control brought market forces and the power of television together by 1992. In Bihar, television has entered 54.8% households whereas cable TV penetration is in 31.4% households.11 The work tends to study the spread and popularity of the regional languages of Bihar in the regional satellite channel as ETV-Bihar. One weakness of research for satellite channels is that it concentrates largely on urban middle class, especially in Bihar due to unavailability of electricity in the rural areas; therefore other oral mediums of spread of culture have also been explored to understand the deeper impact of popular culture.
Radio is acknowledged to be more versatile medium than television and a more suitable and affordable means of providing local communities with a voice of their own. The type of top down structure maintained by the regional centers of All India Radio has created hurdles in the way of dissemination of language and culture in Bihar. The issue over languages in regional centers of AIR focused around use of Hindi or Urdu in Bihar. With five regional centers and five local stations in undivided Bihar the use of regional languages in Bihar was limited. The structure as well as the format of the programmes remained unchanged for more than half a century that assisted the process of decline in the popularity of radio.
The chapter tries to explore the spread of cassette culture in succeeding sections. Cassettes are part of an Indian information revolution which has greatly enhanced mass media promotion of North Indian cultural diversity at the expense of Hindi mass culture. Cassettes have played important role in reasserting regional identity and political mobilization. A process that has been tried to be studied in the context of Bihar in the chapter. The spread of mass mediated music genres especially film music has contributed to the decline or even extinction of once vital folk genres. The text orientation of most folk music and the weakness of print media in a state where more than half the population is illiterate, limits fixed by lack of electricity in rural areas have jointly assisted the process of spread of cassette culture in Bihar. In this spread Bhojpuri emerges as a clear winner with more powerful listener group that extends to state as far as Delhi and Punjab.
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11 David Page and William Crawley, Satellites Over South Asia: Broadcasting Culture and Public Interest, New Delhi, Sage Publication, 2001,p.163.

the growth of the Bhojpuri film industry in the last couple of years of twentieth century and first few years of twenty first century has also been overviewed in the chapter.


Fourth chapter tends to locate the position of the regional languages of Bihar in the view of philologists, census representation and official accounts. Bihar is a landlocked state bounded by Nepal on North, Orissa in South, U.P and M.P on west and West Bengal on the east. Bihar is one of the older states of India and linguistically it falls in the eastern group of Indo-Aryan family. The regional language that is spoken in Bihar and the adjacent area has been named as 'Bihari' by Grierson. The three languages Maithili, Magahi and Bhojpuri spoken in three geographical regions of Bihar differ from each other on the phonetic, phonemic and grammatical levels.12

The representation of regional languages of Bihar in the census has also been discussed to understand the process of identification over languages. It tends to understand the attitude of government towards these languages and how it has kept changing by each census enumeration. There has been no consistency in either the government’s attitude towards the regional languages or the responses of the people with regard to their languages. The sheer ignorance of the people about the language spoken by them has also been discussed in the chapter. The process has been understood in the context of undivided Bihar which includes Jharkhand.


South Asian diaspora and the identity formation process among the diaspora has been a subject of recent debate and has also been a part of the Patna University curriculum. But to trace the language diaspora among these migrants, especially from Bihar has not been studied so far. The chapter is an attempt to locate the spread of Bhojpuri diaspora and the extent to which Bhojpuri language and culture has been a part of associating these migrants with their homeland. Bhojpuri cuisine, Bhojpuri films and the World Wide Web has been studied to understand the entire process.
Language politics has proved to be one of the most positive democratic channels for pursuing political integration as well as political development. Language is much more than a mere instrument of communication. Apart from being a vehicle of literature it affects the whole way a person responds to life. It is generally assumed that regional languages ordinarily should be the media of education and administration at all levels. But with increasing propagation of English as international language it was assumed that vernaculars were meant for primary education. However it was soon understood by the intelligentsia of Bihar that if the regional languages hoped to retain their cultural legitimacy they have to demonstrate their potential to emerge out of 'backwardness'. My work is an attempt to understand the entire process not only at the level of administration but the informed intelligentsia as well. It includes various forms of cultural mobilization and the spread of regional languages across Indian borders. Language rather than caste is studied in order to understand the multifaceted process of politics and culture in Bihar.

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L.P Vidyarthi, "Cultural Linguistic Regions in India: Bihar a Case Study", Language and Society, IIAS, Shimla, 1969, pp. 126-]27.

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Hindustan (January 2003 to September 2006)
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