Dr. Ufaque Paiker (Ashoka University)

Paper Title:

Muslim Singers of Maithili Mars̱īya in Nineteenth Century Bihar

Paper Abstract:

Maithili mars̱īya (elegy) featured in George Grierson’s Introduction to the Maithili Language and Grammar as a specimen of Maithili literature. According to him Maithili, mars̱īya was sung by poor boys of a village. This intermixed genre disrupted his and other colonial linguists’ idea of literature and identification of languages with religion and caste nomenclatures. 

While “oral literature” and sayings of common people were not considered literature, Maithili was predominantly associated with Maithil Brahmans; mars̱īya was associated with the Shia Muslim community by colonial linguists and Maithil scholars. Through an analysis of other instances of such aberrations and inconsistencies in Grierson’s and other colonial linguists’ surveys on the Maithili language, the paper will underline differences and similarities between the colonial monolingual conception of language and the “indigenous” multilingual traditions. The inconsistencies in colonial linguistic surveys will be read to underline sites and networks through which speakers from diverse socio-economic backgrounds interacted and which eventually led to the emergence of genres that were not strictly restricted to caste, class and religious identities or distinguished as language and dialect or as ‘high’ and ‘low’ languages.

Who were these speakers? What were their socio-economic backgrounds? In which language did they speak, sing and write? And if there were any hierarchy amongst these languages are some questions that this paper will address.I will follow these questions through colonial linguistic surveys, collection of songs, taẕkira (compendia/histories of poetry) grammar, malūfẓāts (spoken words) and retrospective recollections of some literary figures of the 19th century Bihar.

Participant Bio:

Ufaque Paiker has a PhD in Modern Indian History from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her work lies at the intersection of History, Cultural and Religious studies and explores themes related to literary cultures, knowledge production and identity formation in colonial and contemporary India

Her PhD traces the transformation in Urdu from early to late colonial period in Bihar and argues against the dominant perception of Urdu as a language of elite Muslims (ashrafs).In her MPhil dissertation, Ufaque had historicized the changing contours of students’ politics in the Aligarh Muslim University. She is also a co-recipient of the 2021 Antipode ‘Right to Discipline’ and documented resistance and ideologies of organisers and participants of two of the most dynamic contemporary protests in India (protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Farmers’ Bill). She has also archived artifacts of these protests as a Honorary Research Fellow in the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at University of Exeter. She has published parts of her work in co-edited volumes, Journal of South Asian Studies and in web portals such as Outlook.