Just like the way the world has been stereotyping India and Indians for years, Bihar and Biharis have been stereotyped by our own fellow citizens from other states. Not only this, but even many youngsters from Bihar itself, who get the opportunity to emigrate to other states at times do not shy away from ridiculing their identity as a ‘Bihari’. As recently, I got a chance to visit a few cities in the state myself, it would be an injustice to the wonderful land and its people to not share how they embraced me and the reality I got to witness.
One of the most beautiful places to visit is Bodh Gaya. The place, the people, and the accumulated history it owns would make someone urge to know more about the ideals of ‘Dhamma’ brought to light by Gautam Buddha. The place has played the role of a canvas for time to paint a picture enfolding it all- violence, love, peace, plunder, etc. It is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment, where Ashoka after internal transformation laid the foundation of the magnificent monolithic Maha Bodhi temple. The place also bears the scar of plunder by Bakhtiyar Khilji and the recent 2013 terrorist attack. Still every time it manages to gain back its’ glory and the message it stands for. From being restored by Samudragupta to being preserved by people ranging from Rajendra Prasad to Lord Cunningham, the past took a roller-coaster ride to finally submerge in this present when people from around the world come here in search of peace. Monks from Thailand, Japan, Bangladesh, etc. could be seen chanting and meditating within the temple premises.
One other place in Gaya that is a symbol of both, a woman’s strength, and spirituality, is the 1787 Vishnupad temple built by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar on the banks of the Falgu River. This river has no water above the ground but below it, as also mentioned in the story of ‘Sita’s curse’ in Ramayana.
As one moves from these spiritual areas to the main town, the scenario is quite different. It is true that a lot needs to be done in Bihar, especially the urban areas. Even the capital Patna, which once was the great Patliputra has become chaotic due to lack of urban planning, proper infrastructure and non-implementation of proper laws and regulations. As one enters the Patna city, people seem to be going nowhere, still moving on streets, vendors with their shops at the middle of the main road, bus stands with no place to stand and buildings tending to encroach every inch of the public areas. Micro-planning, therefore, can fine tune the irregularities in administration and governance, ultimately benefiting the people of Bihar enabling the state to realize its true potential as a business and tourist hub. It can also contribute to building an atmosphere apt for educational and healthcare development.
One more place that attracted me was the ‘land of ponds’, that is, Darbhanga. I visited a small village there with the name- Panchov. The place is a perfect example of the coming together of nature and its people along with their simplicity. One can find such different varieties of birds with bizarre colours beautifully adorning their bodies. The culture of not harming these birds and animals as it can bring bad luck to the village still exists, the culture of visiting neighbours for evening tea still exists and people still collect around bonfires on chilly nights to discuss some very interesting stories ranging from that of Ayachi to Vidyapati to the Darbhanga Maharaj. For years now, people have painted a very grim picture about the rural areas of Bihar, especially in context to the caste system. Though, it is true that castes exist, people don’t carry the notion of ‘higher’ or ‘lower ‘caste and take it as one other means to identify themselves. Also, this is getting diluted and castes are being replaced by class differences which have existed in the world of urban millennials and the new generation for a long time.
On my way back, there were huge fields in the west Champaran region that once were famous for its dacoits. Probably, it is their assimilation into the mainstream society that started the culture of ‘Bahubali Netas’ in Bihar politics. Nevertheless, the people in any area, with their helping nature and the way of interaction makes one feel comfortable asking for any type of help en route.
Bihar bears a lot of scars from the past because of various invasions leading to cultural and social declination. The governance mishaps that followed further degraded the environment for the state to grow and people to thrive. But one must be aware of the progressive trend that is picking up pace for the last few years. Bihar presently has the growth rate of 10.53%, which is higher than the national average. This figure could be extrapolated to the fact that the state, having the second lowest urban population, has an efficient rural economy and a rich demographic dividend with nearly 58% of the population below 25 years of age. The state is also the first in India to present a green budget showing how the path to development must imbibe sensitivity towards the environment too. Therefore, before stereotyping any region of India, one must realize the difference between constructive criticism that could help both life and livelihood and baseless prejudices that lets divisiveness prevail over Indian-ness. It is time that we, rather than portraying the state as a ‘cow-belt region’ appreciate Bihar, which once attracted every great human being of Bharat from Ram to Guru Nanak, working to restore the glory it always deserved.