The curious case of different surnames in a Bihari family!

I saw, what I presumed, was a Bengali surname and spoke to a complete stranger in Bengali. 

From her awkward stare, I realized within minutes, that she did not understand me. Eventually, I came to know that my new acquaintance hails from Bihar. Many moons and a strong friendship later,  I had a conversation with her about her Bengali / Bihari surname.

She told this fascinating tale of how everyone in her family has a different surname, and that this “trend” is nothing unusual in Bihar. The notion of a flexible second name, not automatically driven from your paternal family, was one of great intrigue to me – and so I started digging it a little more.

I was hoping for an uppity story of revolution against patriarchy – but unfortunately, what I discovered was a grim history of casteism, violence, and fear.

When did this start?

jayaprakash_narayan
By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42120853

My research revealed this trend of dropping surnames started as early as 1940, in the pre-independence era, by some Congress workers, who wanted to abolish casteism. For centuries the upper castes had oppressed the backward classes, and they tried to fight the prejudice by giving up their caste tags.

The trend became popular during the Bihar Movement in 1974, led by the popular leader, “Loknayak” Jayaprakash Narayan, who came to be known as JP.By that time, the backward castes had come to power and wanted the erstwhile oppressors to pay for their actions. During that time, the upper castes also started to drop their family names, in hopes of becoming indistinguishable.

Whether the initiation of the trend was based on fear or a revolution, the dropping of surnames became the first positive move towards managing the caste evil in Bihar.

The Current Situation

nitishpatna480
source: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/veiled-attack-against-pm-nitish-casteism-is-everywhere-but-bihar-is-singled-out/

Unfortunately, casteism and its ill effects prevailed in Bihar, despite the interesting movement.

In 1994, the state saw the devastating advent of the Ranvir Sena, an upper caste landlord militia, that aimed to wipe out leftist Dalit farm laborers. The group was banned by the government in 1995, but the sentiment stewed as an undercurrent for many years after. To this day, modern Bihar is still fighting the ills of caste based prejudices. Even the imminent election is poised to be caste based. While the common Bihari continues to try and dissociate herself from the clutches of divisive caste, by concealing explanatory surnames, the political and real estate system continues to be ruled by casteism even to this date

In Conclusion

Of course, explaining different family names at immigration counters is no cakewalk. Most immigration departments find the trend fishy and are skeptical.

But hey, with the rise in this trend, one can only hope that casteism would give way to an inclusive and non-discriminating society, in the near future.

About Moumita Chakraborty

Moumita is gritty and persevering, besides being a subject matter expert on anything she sets her heart to. Her writing style pins on her empathy for the subject and fluidity of thought. She is great with people, which makes her a fabulous feature author and a Partner Relations expert.

Comments

comments

Moumita Chakraborty

Moumita is gritty and persevering, besides being a subject matter expert on anything she sets her heart to. Her writing style pins on her empathy for the subject and fluidity of thought. She is great with people, which makes her a fabulous feature author and a Partner Relations expert.

2 thoughts on “The curious case of different surnames in a Bihari family!

  • April 12, 2017 at 4:21 pm
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    Interesting. Some more research required on the subject

  • December 22, 2019 at 10:27 pm
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    Thank you very much to understand the Name with different surname in Bihar. Many person have as many surname to distinguished them and not only surname but, many person have two names for single person.
    It is only based on teaching of a great leader [JP] Jaiprakash Narayan, who wish to not be identified the persons with their name. Those have believe in them have not any surname in his/her name or have different surname of any other community or have two names together. Naming of people is also based on the name of famous people and few child named by any famous person/saint/leader/businessman/landlord in their locality .
    People in state of Bihar and Eastern UP have very ill feeling towards backward or forward caste. It is a small step to minimize the feelings of caste in very first meeting. Keep going in positive way nothing is in name, understand the person.

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