Learning to speak together
In a voluminous definition of the caste bhumihar on a web site, what abruptly caught my attention was the line: ‘Today they are responsible for most of the corruption in the state of Bihar.’ The facts that I am bhumihar by caste – known as bhumihar brahmin in the census register – and that I hail from Bihar, are the two reasons behind myself getting amused at the line.
In fact these are the two facts that I shall be elaborating upon in the following passages: the fact that I am a bhumihar and that I hail from Bihar. This is important for myself coming to grips with the discourse of caste that is being forwarded by Insight and my own position in it.
Being born and brought up in a predominantly bhumihar society in Bihar is not a simple thing. From the very childhood you are led to believe that you are a proud successor of one of the decisive castes in the state that has a long history of control over land and masses. (And until recently, we also flaunted our political control over the state.) But in the process you are also made to forget, and deliberately at that, by certain tricky discourses doing the rounds in the community, that this is the same caste that worked in connivance with brahmins to inflict insurmountable cruelty on dalits by subordinating them for their own benefits.
But my family was a bit interesting in the sense that it deliberately kept me away from the castiest discourse on the ground that caste was a bad thing and that one should keep away from it. ‘We do not teach caste to our children. We do not discriminate against one caste or the other,’ my father would repeatedly say. No doubt my family thought best of me by keeping me away from the discourse. But little did my parents realize that in the process I was getting reduced to a soul thoroughly insensitive about the issue.
But there was something in the social and political structure of the state that one could not remain long untouched by the undercurrents of dissent erupting here and there, leading to one of the most significant political shifts in the history of independent India.
Bhumihars have long flexed their muscle by virtue of their control over the land. The term bhumihar is composed of two separate words, bhumi and aahar, meaning the caste that feeds on land. But bhumihar is not just the caste that innocently fed on land in order to survive. History has it that on the simple pretext of basing its existence on the land, this caste spread its tentacles so ferociously that it became the unchallenged master of the rich fertile land. It so transpired such that despite constituting a reckoning 15% of the total population, the dalits in the state could not even have control over a paltry 2% of cultivated land.
But this was not going to continue long. A force was brewing in the South-Central Bihar region that was going to unsettle the small but powerful land owing bhumihar zamindars, thereby starting a long bloody battle that was going to take away a number of innocent lives.
To counter the MCC-led dalit armed force, the land-owing bhumihars created their own Ranbir Sena armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weapons that only reflected their deep-seated fear. All these were leading to the most interesting twist in the history of caste oppression that Bihar had ever witnessed.
There was also going to be a very significant shift in the political scene of the state. The coming in power of the Lalu Yadav-led government would finally turn the whole upper class domination upside down. Now bhumihars had no reasons to take pride in the BB (Bhumihar Brahmin) Collegiate, a school in my town Muzaffarpur that was once meant to educate bhumihars to the exclusion of dalits. Now the university I studied in, the erstwhile Bihar University, innocently named, was henceforth going to be called by the name Baba Sahib Bhim Rao Ambedkar Bihar University. Now bhumihars had no reasons to flaunt their political control. They were only left to grouse about the way things were transpiring against them.
My family reacted to the massacre of dalits by the Bhumihar-led Ranbir Sena in the parts of Bihar as being some kind of aberration on part of the bhumihars that prompted them for such inhuman act. I cannot clearly say whether my family secretly supported their act.
The fact that Bihar is today in the throes of unprecended social upheaval is something bhumihars won’t ever take in good humour. And this is precisely why the line -- ‘Today they are responsible for most of the corruption in the state of Bihar’-- amused me so much. How blatantly the truth is disclosed in the line. And yet how truly!
I have already done away with my bhumihar past. And this could not be possible had I succumbed to the charm of remaining untouched by the ‘dirty’ discourse on caste that most of the people belonging to upper caste try to do away with.
I have awakened to the dalit discourse fighting all odds on the way. But whenever I try to critically analyze the scenario and open my mouth to speak with my dalit friends – yes, speaking with, and not speak on behalf of – I am faced with a feeling that I am an outsider who had better kept away form the whole thing.
But still, by some imperceptible force, I am given to think about my dalit friends and chime in with their voice. As if by so doing I shall be able to inch a few more steps in the direction of doing away with my past.
What I request from my dalit friends is to give me the confidence to speak. for them, with them.
[Kumar Anand is pursuing his PG Diploma in English Journalism, IIMC, New Delhi]