BiharMohammad Sajjad, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours

Routledge, London/New Delhi, 2014

This book is a study of participation of the Muslim communities, with their intra-community socio-economic stratifications, in the politics of India’s eastern province, Bihar, during colonial and post-independence period. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the resistance against the Bengali hegemony, the Urban educated middle class of Muslims along with their Hindu counterparts, more specifically the Kayasthas (the Hindu community of scribes), organized themselves along the lines of ‘regional patriotism’ or ‘subordinate nationalism’ and succeeded in creating province of Bihar out of the Bengal in 1912. The Congress made its significant headway in Bihar only after that. Gandhiji’s intervention (1917) in the Champaran Satyagraha (which had intermittently been manifesting since the 1860s under the leadership of local intelligentsia, and had re-intensified since 1907), and the subsequent Khilafat-Non Cooperation Movements (1920-22) galvanized the Bihar people in anti-colonial popular struggle once again, after the movement of 1857. In all these movements including the movements/initiatives for modern education in the nineteenth century, Muslims had considerable share. Subsequently, with the growing political strength of the Congress in the 1920s, rural landed elites like the Rajputs and Bhumihars started dominating the Congress as also in the structures of power like the local bodies created by the colonial state in accordance with the Act of 1919. It started creating misgivings among the increasingly politicized communities of Muslims about the Congress. This is also to be understood that from the 1930s onwards the Congress was under pressure from the landed elites because of which it had started developing sour relations with the emerging rural forces and the grievances of the intermediate castes; the Kisan movement, the Triveni Sangh, the Harijan assertion, the tribal movements, etc., had constant tension with the Congress.

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Rats_matterofratsOne night two summers ago, I was in a car speeding across the border into the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The unlit, pitch-black freeway didn’t deter traffic from barreling forward at breakneck speeds. In the inevitable accident, a young man was shredded by a truck. A politician showed up, but instead of taking charge, he distracted the police with laughter and gossip.

The following has been excerpted from Mohammad Sajjad’s Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857  published by Primus (Ratnasagar): Delhi 2014, pp. xviii+265.

Contesting ColonialismThis monographic account on the Muslim communities of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar explores its history (1857-2012),  the socio-political behaviour, economic conditions and negotiation for share in power-structure, in three segments: (a) political evolution of the locality during the colonial era explaining the sub-regional socio-political setting; (b) their  participation  in  the  Congress-led movements till the 1930s,  (and tells largely untold story of Muslim resistance to League’s communal politics of territorial separatism despite their grievances against and alienation from the Congress during 1937–47); and (c) the post-independence experiences and political behaviour (their anxieties, problems and prospects) in  continuity with the one in colonial era characterized more by inclusive politics of communitarian collaborations and less by conflicts and exclusivism.

This is a mix of history from a local standpoint and also a local history, describing the broader events of the Indian politics in the context of the local political system as it evolved, and the participation as well as location of the Muslim communities in those events and processes. Inter-community cooperation and harmony prevailed over the divisive politics even during the most vitiated atmosphere of 1946–7.

It analyzes Muslim adjustment in the post-partition days, their engagement with the evolving secular democracy, seeking educational upliftment, and political empowerment through language politics (rather than insisting on the politics of religious identity) while not confining their politics only to sectional issues or groups. It also looks at the growing assertion of subordinated Muslim communities, and delineates fault-lines within the leaderships of the Muslim communities.  

Amitava_KumarA young woman with blond dreadlocks skateboards past Twisted Soul Food Concepts, a gleefully international eatery near Vassar College. Inside, Amitava Kumar is ordering Asian dumplings and French fries for his daughter Ila and a Badass Rice Bowl for himself. He recommends the Ethiopian BBQ arepas and insists on picking up the check. Already, the world feels a little bit wider.

Sankarshan Thakur’s biography of Nitish Kumar is also an intimate portrait of Bihar, a state you may be forced out of but cannot really ever leave: Open

Singleman‘Patna is not a nice place to be.’

It is not easy to write about a place you don’t want to live in anymore, yet return to. You describe its ugliness with fondness. You sought, forever, to escape it. Yet Sankarshan Thakur, roving editor with The Telegraph and author of Subaltern Saheb: Bihar and the Making of Laloo Yadav, returned to Bihar to profile Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Single Man and the change that everyone is talking about. And this is a richer book for the author’s decision to join that narrative and position himself within it.

amkumarAmitava Kumar is Professor of English on the Helen D. Lockwood Chair at Vassar College, New York and is the author of several works of literary non-fiction, including Passport Photos, Bombay-London-New York, Husband of a Fanatic, and A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, which was described by the New York Times as a “perceptive and soulful” meditation on “the cultural and human repercussions” of the global war on terror. His novel Home Products was short-listed for India’s premier literary award and republished in the US under the title Nobody Does the Right Thing.

His latest book is A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna. Read the review here.

Kitaab presents an exclusive interview with Professor Kumar:

A Matter of Rats is part memoir and part travel writing. It is a very ingenious way of writing the biography of a city. What did you want to achieve when you started working on this book? How did you define your goalpost?

To be honest, I was working with what my publisher, David Davidar, had asked of me. He had said that this was a part of a series on iconic cities in India, and that he wanted an essay that was about thirty thousand words long. I was comfortable with the thought that I’d put down on the page a series of impressions. Quick images.

Rats_matterofratsA Matter of Rats (Aleph, 342 pages, Rs. 295) by Amitava Kumar never glorifies Patna or defends it. And yet, despite the decline, or perhaps because of it, it feels like a love poem rather than an elegy, writes Oindrila Mukherjee in her review for Kitaab.org.

In the late summer of 2001, I was working for the Indian newspaper, The Statesman. Having completed nearly two years as a reporter who had to cover several beats such as crime and corporation as well as incidents throughout the day and night – bomb blasts, fires, laathi charges, and so on – I was considerably more hardened than when I had started out. Still, nothing had really prepared me for my visit to the state where my father grew up and where I had spent the first year of my life (of which I remembered nothing.) As a child, occasional visits to Patna to see the ancestral house in Rajendra Nagar or to visit relatives and my father’s childhood friends were spent in a whirlwind of feasting and merry-making in comfortable homes. The most exciting or dangerous thing that had ever happened to me on one of those visits was when a passing motorcyclist snatched my mother’s handbag from our rickshaw. Even that incident led to remarks like of course this is expected in Bihar. 

The stereotypes of lawlessness surrounding Bihar grew exponentially as I did. It was considered a dump by not only outsiders who loved to repeat stale jokes about the state’s chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav (referred to typically by only his first name, a term of derision for a village bumpkin – Lalu,) but even by those in my father’s circle who had been born and raised there.

Rats_matterofratsZafar Anjum presents a reader’s report on Amitava Kumar’s A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna

I started reading Amitava Kumar’s A Matter of Rats at 3 am on a Sunday morning. The book was in my office bag, and finding myself suddenly awake, I took it out and went to my study.

Reading the book was like plunging into a rat hole of memories. I had grown up as a child in a village in Bihar and like the ancestral village that Kumar describes in this book, my village too had an adjacent basti. We called it the Mus-har basti (the village of rat-eaters) where low caste Hindu families domiciled. I knew some of the members of those families as they worked on our fields as day labourers. Many of them visited our house everyday to meet my father, a school teacher who doubled up as the village head.

Unlike in Patna, rats then were not a menace in our village. Rats, along with stray cats and dogs, lived and roamed around in our courtyards and galis. They stole grains and sometimes we used to hear that rat-eaters (Mus-hars) had hunted through our fields after the harvesting was done.