The Bihari of South Asia
A cluster of 7 Bihari groups in 4 countries.
The Bihari of Bangladesh, Fiji. The Anga of India. The Bhojpuri Bihari of India and Nepal.
The Magadhi Bihari of India. The Nagpuri Bihari of India.
The Bihari speak several dialects, the most common of which is Bhojpuri. Although this dialect has very little written literature, it has many oral folk tales. Other Bihari dialects, such as Nagpuri and Magahi, are possibly understood by those who speak Bhojpuri. The majority of the Bihari in Nepal live alongside the Maithili people. For this reason, they speak both Bihari and Maithili.
The Bihari in Bangladesh feel like refugees in their own homeland. In 1947, when India was divided to form the Hindu state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan, some Bihari fought to defend the Muslims. However, when Pakistan and Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan) became two separate nations, these Urdu speaking Bihari remained in a predominantly Bengali speaking Bangladesh.
What are their lives like?
The wealthier Bihari usually live in homes made with mud walls and tiled ridge roofs. The poor live in less costly homes made with thatched roofs and walls of mud. Some Bihari communities are located in the Chitawan district of south-central Nepal. The people there typically live in stone houses made with thatched roofs.
Since 1971, Bangladesh has regarded the Bihari as inferior and greatly resents their loyalty to Pakistan. When Bangladesh offered them citizenship, less than half accepted. Those who refused vowed that they would rather die dreaming of moving to their "promised land," Pakistan, than to change their citizenship. Unfortunately, the government of Pakistan can do nothing to help the Bihari. They are housed in overcrowded refugee camps and feel as though they have been forgotten. They live in fear of cyclones and other natural disasters that have recently hit Bangladesh.
Since about three-fourths of the Bihari population is concentrated in the cultivated plains, almost all of them are involved in agriculture. The soil in the Terai region of Nepal and northern India is of good quality, providing large, fertile land areas and few problems with erosion. The Bihari farmers have the ability to grow a wide variety of crops due to the wet and dry seasons they have each year. Produce is sold in the hat, or weekly market, and this plays an important role in their economy.
The Hindu population makes up the elite upper social classes, or "castes," and the so-called backward castes. The majority of the Bihari belong to the lower, castes. The Brahmans (priests and scholars) are the best known of the upper castes, and they form the religious backbone of Hinduism in that region.
The tribal culture of the Bihari is quickly changing due to a number of external influences. Such things as Christianity, industrialization, new communication links, tribal welfare programs, and community development projects have greatly impacted their traditional way of thinking. Also, since the people of India and Nepal need water from the Himalayan streams that flow through both countries, they have been forced to cooperate in the use of water resources.
Hindus basically worship three main gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Some scholars say that the number of Hindu gods worshipped exceeds 35 million. Most of the deities are both good and evil in nature.
Hinduism teaches that the soul never dies, but is reborn over and over again after physical death, a process known as reincarnation. The law of karma states that if a person leads a good life, his soul will be reborn into a higher state. However, if the person leads a bad life, his soul will be reborn into a lower state.
Most tribal Hindu villages have a dancing floor, called "the sacred grove," where worship is offered by a village priest.
A small number (almost 5%) of the Bihari are Jains. Jainism is a religion that was founded in India during the sixth century. It teaches that the soul goes on to live in another body after the physical death of the first body. Contrary to Hinduism, however, it denies the existence of supreme beings and rejects the institutions of caste and sacrifice.
What are their needs?
The Bihari of Bangladesh have been rejected by both their present country and the country for whom they fought. They need to know that true acceptance can only be found through knowing Jesus Christ.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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