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Calling Bihari Families Toxic Is Yet Another Misplaced Stereotype

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When I tell people that I was born in Ranchi and my mother is half Bihari, I am usually met with an incredulous expression followed by a quick, “but you don’t look Bihari at all”. This quip has often amused me. Despite having a large, boisterous, and extremely close Bihari family, I have never really noticed any distinguishing physical feature that the entire clan shares. I wonder what it means to ‘look Bihari.’

The ease with which we tend to stereotype people based on the state they come from should be alarming, but it isn’t. It’s so embedded in our collective conscience that we fail to even acknowledge the prejudice. The Marwaris are money-minded business owners, plump sethjis sitting at a shop, and counting their money. The Bengalis are all communist liberals, kurta wearing, jhola carrying, and tea-sipping armchair activists. The Punjabi’s are jovial Patiala peg drinkers with fancy weddings and fancier taste. And the Tamilians are cultured, classical music and dance enthusiasts, the only acceptable hobbies to have. These general sweeping statements and stereotypical depictions have perhaps been handed down for generations through a thriving oral tradition amplified by art and literature

Representational image/Image source: Scroll

In a recent article, the journalist writes how the entire ‘cow belt’ and Biharis in particular cultivate a toxic family environment with unrealistic expectations from their sons and unreasonable accusations at the daughter-in-law. In my opinion, this could well be true of Bihar, but it is just as true of anywhere in the country. Patriarchy and misogyny have no state barriers and no preferential allegiances. So while the article in The Print tries to paint Bihar’s cultural system in a sweeping statement, it fails to acknowledge that stereotyping of Biharis is so done to death that another assumption, albeit a more offending one, is something that Biharis will take under their wing.

The Biharis, are not just prone to stereotypes but so used to it that they almost eye-roll every time someone makes a quip at their Bihariness or lack of it. The stereotypes are in constant conflict within themselves. Biharis are, on one hand, village bumpkins from a presumably underdeveloped state, and on the other, an extremely intelligent and studious set of people who claim the most seats in the coveted UPSC and other government exams. Bihar is a set of contradictions like never before. Your rickshaw driver in Mumbai to a state secretary in the Vidhan Sabha, both equally represent a popular trope.

Biharis are assumed to have a penchant for raunchy Bhojpuri movies and lyrically abysmal music but have also delivered revolutionary ideas and literature over the course of history. When you conjure an image of a voluptuous woman dancing at leering men, it is often in the context of the Bhojpuri cinema. Most of the Biharis, I know, and trust me I know a lot of them, will have as much clue of the recent Bhojpuri hits as anyone else. One can argue then that this is because I am from the top 1% and I move in circles that listen to Taylor Swift’s Folklore over Manoj Tiwary. This is probably true but then doesn’t this become a class divide more than a regional one. Regional cinema, specifically designed to titillate a mass audience, is present in every state and yet it is Bhojpuri that draws the most sniggers.

And speaking of Bhojpuri, it is only one of the many dialects native to Bihar. There is Maithali, Magahi, and even Hindi spoken across Bihari households. Along with being told that I don’t look like a Bihari, I have also been told that I don’t sound like one. The drawling Bihari accent has achieved cult status, slow syllables almost mimicking the laid back lanes of sleepy small towns in Bihar. To me, it is endearing, as any regional accent would be to people of that state.

Like the rest of the country, middle-class families who still reside in Bihar, are upwardly mobile with access to good education and as much digital exposure as the rest of the country. Many of their children move on to study in different parts of the country and ultimately settle in places all over the world. The Biharis, however, carry a part of themselves wherever they go, a part that never truly leaves. It is this part that craves a plate of authentic gugni and would happily munch thekua with their evening tea, while chokha simmers on a stove ready to be consumed with sattu patrathas for dinner.

Featured Image source: Scroll

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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Read more about her campaign.

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Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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