Though surnames may serve identity purpose for many, they are also used to conceal identity.
A number of Biharis try to hide their caste identity either by not mentioning the surname or by using the surname "Kumar", according to a book called People of India (Bihar and Jharkhand project), published by Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) recently.
The surname "Kumar" hardly denotes any caste in Bihar. But it can be found in almost all popular castes. Similarly, surnames like Singh, Sinha, Verma, Chaudhary, Mishra, Das, Khan etc.. can be found in various castes. One cannot identify castes on the basis of these surnames.
The book covered 261 communities of which SCs (24) and STs (26) form a large component. Union minister of state for culture Kanti Singh had released the book in Patna last week.
Quoting early inscriptions the book says the surnames of Brahmins were strikingly modern and reflected the processes of the formation of identity. The general editor of the book and noted academician-bureaucrat, the late Kumar Suresh Singh, in his introductory remarks said that the surname "Singh", which used to denote connection with power and authority, was used in Bihar by Brahmin zamindars, like the surname "Khan" in Muslims.
"Singh" and "Sinha" are interchangeable. "Narayan" and "Prasad" are also used as caste-neutral surname like "Kumar", he observed.
21 Feb 2009, 0316 hrs IST, Pranava K Chaudhary, TNN