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What are the Surjapuri and Bajjika dialects, and why is the Bihar govt promoting them?

What are the Surjapuri and Bajjika dialects and where are they spoken? Why has the Bihar government decided to promote these dialects now? Is there a political reason as well?

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav in Patna, Tuesday, Sept 20, 2022. (PTI Photo/File)

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Education Minister Prof Chandra Shekhar have asked the state education department to set up academies for the promotion of the Surjapuri and Bajjika dialects on the lines of the Hindi and Urdu academies. The education department will also set up an umbrella body to monitor the progress of all languages and dialects spoken in Bihar.

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What are the Surjapuri and Bajjika dialects and where are they spoken?

Surjapuri is spoken mainly in Kishanganj and other parts of Seemanchal in northeastern Bihar, including the districts of Katihar, Purnia and Araria. The dialect, a mix of Bangla, Urdu, and Hindi, is also spoken in contiguous parts of West Bengal.

The name Surjapuri comes from Surjapur pargana, which no longer exists. But there is a toll plaza called Surjapur between Purnia and Kishanganj.

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Although Surjapuri has nothing specifically to do with religion, the largest share of speakers of the language is made up of Surjapuri Muslims, who live mainly in Kishanganj, the district that has about 70 per cent Muslim population.

About 80 per cent Muslims of Kishanganj are Surjapuri. Prominent leaders of the community include former MP Asrarul Haq Qasmi, the sitting Congress MP from Kishanganj Dr Mohammad Jawed, the head of the Bihar unit of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, Akhrarul Imam, and the former Union minister Rafiq Ahmad.

Qasmi, the two-term Congress MP from Kishanganj, owed his election victories (in 2009 and 2014) to the overwhelming support he received from the Surjapuri community, and had worked hard for the promotion of the Surjapuri dialect. He passed away in 2018.

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Bajjika, one of five dialects spoken in Bihar, is a mix of Hindi and Maithili, and is spoken mainly in Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, and parts of Sitamarhi, Sheohar and Samastipur. Bajjika is not as well known as other dialects such as Bhojpuri and Maithili. Although the Bihar education department had considered teaching in local dialects up to Class 5 during the second Nitish Kumar government (2010-15), it did not come to fruition.

Why has the Bihar government announced this move at this stage?

Eight academies or functioning organisations — for Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Angika, Magahi, Bangla, and South Indian languages — already exist in Bihar, and the government’s decision on Bajjika and Surjapuri takes note of the two dialects that had been left out.

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The idea of setting up an umbrella organisation for Bihar’s languages and dialects envisages a platform for academics, litterateurs, and officials to work together to promote literary writing, the upgradation of dictionaries, and the updating of the grammar of these dialects. While Maithili and Bhojpuri have made progress in fields of art, culture, and literature, Magahi, Angika, Bajjika and Surjapuri remain less-developed. The idea is to promote literary writing and conduct more research in Surjapuri and Bajjika as well, so that these dialects could be more popular.

AIMIM Bihar spokesperson Adil Hasan Azad, who belongs to Seemanchal, said: “Surjapuri is the main dialect and even people trading in this region learn it. But there was need to give it a wider platform for greater respectability.”

Indeed, while one can immediately recall legends like the poet Vidyapati and the dramatist and writer Bhikhari Thakur for Maithili and Bhojpuri respectively, other Bihar dialects have been struggling in terms of literary growth.

Is there a political reason as well behind the government’s move?

Possibly, yes. Having recently joined hands once again with Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar may well be looking at a chunk of votes in the Seemanchal region. Even though Muslims traditionally vote for non-BJP parties, especially the RJD and Congress, the JD(U), which is now part of the Grand Alliance, would like to reach out to voters in Seemanchal. Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently held a rally in Purnia and visited Kishanganj; Nitish would have seen it as important to seek a connect with the Surjapuri community.

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Bajjika, which is spoken mainly in parts of North Bihar, may also fit into the political scheme of things for Nitish Kumar. The Bajjika-speaking regions of Sitamarhi, Sheohar, parts of East Champaran, and Vaishali, have been a stronghold of the BJP. While the setting up of a Bajjika academy could be only a symbolic step and an administrative decision, it can only help the Nitish-led Grand Alliance.

First published on: 26-09-2022 at 05:19:54 pm
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