By Bhawna Khattar:
I am a girl from Delhi who has spent the last three months in Bihar. Yes, what people probably call the rape capital of our country, the poorest state in India, the least literate state, etc. The most common question that I am almost tired of answering is: “Why are you doing this?”
Because this is my happy place, it’s my place of learning, and I have fallen in love with the people.
The Bihar that the world knows is very different than the Bihar I know! My journey has included visits to a number of villages which has led me to form a very different picture of this place than what is portrayed in mass media. I have travelled across Bihar, sometimes alone, in local buses. The first time, I was quite scared because of the things I had heard and read.
I once travelled from Supaul to Dighalbank (that’s about 150 kms) and my experience was nothing like what I had feared it would be. I had a lot of luggage with me, as usual, but the bus driver, ticket collector and everyone else were sweet enough to find me a seat, help me out with the luggage and kept informing me as to where we had reached. And it wasn’t just this one time. This has always been the case. During my bus and rickshaw journeys, I have come across breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and it has always transported me to a peaceful place.
The best part is the people though! No, not the politicians we watch on the TV channels. I am talking about real people. The people of Bihar, contrary to popular belief are warm, welcoming and extremely hard-working. None of the families I visited have let me leave their house without the delicious Bihari food (I love chana-moodi – chickpeas and puffed rice) and a belly full of chai. My favourite dialogue, that I kept repeating even when I visited Delhi, is: “Khaana vaana ho gaya hai?” It sounds boring in English but it means ‘have you eaten?’ I have spoken to youngsters who are working hard towards making their villages better and it gives me hope. One of my biggest inspirations is Neelam. She belongs to a small village in Dighalbank. We call her ‘kasai’ (butcher) because she is fighting for gender equality in her village. She has become a role-model for rest of the families in her village.
Talking about the families in villages reminds me of Diwali. I have never been too fond of the festival. I mean, I love the lights and celebrations but not the ostentation which is generally what Diwali revolves around in the cities. It’s all about how expensive the gifts that you have bought are, how your house looks after the Diwali makeover, and oh, the fireworks are a form competition too. Who burst the most crackers!
Diwali in 2015 was a completely different story for me though. Firstly, there were hardly any fireworks in the villages and secondly, it was a true celebration of love. The people were not concerned about how much money they had spent but they were really happy, and the houses looked gorgeous with diyas and candles. That’s all they used for the decoration but it’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, something that truly touched my heart and would stay with me for a long time.
Festivals are not the only celebration in India, extravangant weddings are an integral part of our culture as well. In the last few months, we have come across many religious and caste issues, haven’t we? That’s all we see in the newspapers and while I am not denying this side, I have also seen the other side, a different mindset. I recently attended a Muslim wedding in rural Bihar, where the entire village had gathered in one place, enjoying the feast. That includes both Muslims and Hindus and there seemed little sign of tension. After seeing and reading the media coverage about these issues, this was a big relief. It’s the politics that’s responsible for religious discord, not the people!
I am very proud to be friends with another person here whose thoughts blow my mind everytime I talk to him, and he is a ‘Bihari’. He is getting married in a few days. It’s an inter-caste marriage in which his whole village is invited. He told me the other day that it’s the love that matters, names don’t make any difference.
I am not denying the problems the state is dealing with. But the root cause of the problems and the way we look at solutions must be rethought. Our mind functions on stereotypes. What we have heard, what people have told us etc. But that’s not how it should be. Most of the problems in this world exist because of stereotypes, because of the notion of the ‘other’. But who is this ‘other’? It’s time to stop for a moment and give it some thought. Where have these notions about Bihar and its people come from?