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?
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
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
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.
- The story of art: the cost of exclusivity in the digital age - May 7, 2019
- The Screen time dilemma – the conflicted reality of today’s life - January 31, 2019
- 8 things you can do if you are in India during Sankranti - January 16, 2019
- One night with Friends, Mothers and the Calcutta Bungalow - December 29, 2018
- Reduce Your Global Carbon Footprint -The Indian Middleclass Way! - December 11, 2018
- The Rise of Fall! - October 26, 2018
- If you complain that #metoo is scary, read this - October 20, 2018
- Miguel Street – Experience the world in one street - October 2, 2018
- Dr Mandakranta Bose: On Sanskrit, her journey, and organizing the 17th World Sanskrit Conference - September 19, 2018
- Whatever happened to the Romance novels? - September 6, 2018