The story of Language in Bihar

Hindi, Maithili and Urdu are the official languages of the state, whilst the majority of the people speak one of the Bihari languages – Bhojpuri, Magadhi, etc. Bihari languages were once mistakenly thought to be dialects of Hindi, but they have been more recently shown to be descendant of the language of the erstwhile Magadha kingdom – Magadhi Prakrit, along with Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya.

The number of speakers of Bihari languages are difficult to indicate because of unreliable sources. In the urban region most educated speakers of the language name Hindi as their language because this is what they use in formal contexts and believe it to be the appropriate response because of unawareness. The uneducated and the rural population of the region assign Hindi as the generic name for their language.

Demography and language of Bihar
Demography and language of Bihar

Despite of the large number of speakers of Bihari languages, they have not been constitutionally recognised in India. Hindi is the language used for educational and official matters in Bihar. These languages were legally absorbed under the subordinate label of HINDI in the 1961 Census. Such state and national politics are creating conditions for language endangerments. The first success for spreading Hindi occurred in Bihar in 1881. In this struggle between competing Hindi and Urdu, the potential claims of the three large mother tongues in the region – Magahi, Bhojpuri and Maithili were ignored. After independence Hindi was again given the sole official status through the Bihar Official Language Act, 1950.

The relationship of Maithili community with Bhojpuri and Magahi communities – the immediate neighbours have been neither very pleasant nor very hostile. Maithili has been the only one among them which has been trying to constantly deny superimposition of Hindi over her identity. The other two have given up their claims and have resigned to accept the status of dialects of Hindi.

A girl from the capital of Bihar, trying to understand the past underdevelopment of Bihar and exploring the ways to improve the status of the State