In this conversation with Mr. Ranjay Bihari, who is President of Bihar Mange Rozgar-a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) with the aim of bringing grassroot level changes in and across the state of Bihar, he argues that there exists a connotation between the ‘Bihari’ identity with the underdeveloped socio-economic condition of the state. This misunderstood notion of the ‘Bihari’ identity, according to him, projects all ‘Biharis’ and those residing in Bihar in a negative light.
Ranjay starts by posing the question: “Why should we (Biharis) feel ashamed of our identity?”.
He goes on to highlight the pertinence of a rich amalgamation of culture and history that enshrines the topography and socio-cultural landscape of Bihar from hundreds of years (and even today). From housing the significant landmarks of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, to being the birthplace of Sita, Bihar cradles a rich history of religious significance.
However, today Bihar accounts for one of the poorest states in India, lagging on all developmental indicators.“Today it (the socio-economic position) is bad but tomorrow things will turn out to be better.” Ranjay highlights how lack of education and employment opportunities available in Bihar often force people to migrate to states of Delhi, Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra amongst others. And many of these host states practice a sense of regional discrimination against the migrants from Bihar. “Because of being forced into migration seeking greener pastures, people feel ashamed of their own Bihari identity.”
Ranjay here refers to the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution which grants one the right to travel, work and live in any part of the country, “this should be seen as a ‘right’ and not as a ‘responsibility’. Our responsibility is to work and develop our own State first.”
He blames the current State government for encouraging their own citizens to work in other states for the betterment of those states. “Why are we not focusing on improving the situation within our own state? We must do our work properly and thus demand respect for the hard labor put in.”
Speaking on the state of private investment in Bihar, Ranjay talks about the case of Carlsberg Group, a Danish brewery company which invested in 2012. The Group was about to start production in 2015, but was met with a state liquor ban introduced by the government. Due to this they faced severe losses and called for monetary settlement which amounted to a huge loss for the government. Ranjay argues that this made other foreign investors cautious of investing in Bihar. This is an example on how the environment for upliftment is lacking in Bihar, one which has not been resolved by those in power.
In taking our conversation forward, he goes on to speak about his own journey of starting Bihar Mange Rozgar. He speaks about how he had created a Facebook page under the same name, which slowly started gaining momentum and finally conceptualised into a registered NGO which now aims at amplifying the voices of people who demand better livelihood and employment.
His organisation advocates for “Rozgar” (jobs) to be one of the main agendas that political parties should have. “I am proud to say that nearly all political parties in Bihar have taken a strong note on the progressive need for better employment.” Ranjay concludes by requesting those in power to thoroughly prioritize “Rozgar”, and focus on the means and policies needed to bring about such opportunities within the region.