Bihar Caste Census: A Much-Needed Half-baked Report

One day before the Supreme Court hearing , the Government of Bihar released the much-awaited Caste-Census report. It was a result of the long drawn demand in the state’s politics. The published report, which revealed the caste composition in the State, stated the Other Backward Class (OBC) population in the State is 27.1286%, while the Extremely Backward Class (EBC) comprises 36.0148%. The Scheduled Caste population in Bihar stood at 19.6518%, and the Scheduled Tribe (STs) accounted for 1.6824%. Those belonging to unreserved communities comprise 15.5224% of the total population.

The findings of this report pave the way for fresh discussions on reservation and also raise questions on the famous Supreme Court Judgement in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992,  which limited the reservation to fifty percent. With the combined representation of Other Backward Castes and Extremely Backward Castes reaching sixty-three percent, alongside an additional twenty percent for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the argument against limiting reservations to fifty percent gains traction. However, an opposing viewpoint contends that General seats are open to all, allowing any caste group to compete for these positions. With “Jitni Abadi Utha Haq” being the slogan of the opposition, it will be interesting to see the implications of this new development.

Since 1990, India’s political landscape in the Hindi heartland has revolved around a single dichotomy: whether to employ caste to divide communities that religion has brought together or to use religion to reunite those divided by caste. The caste-centric approach held sway for a quarter of a century following 1990. However, the ascent of the BJP after 2014 was driven by the unprecedented phenomenon of various caste groups voting across their traditional lines. However, this report has presented new challenges to the BJP’s established model. Furthermore, Political leaders have learned from the consequences of disregarding caste realities, as evidenced by the decline of Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress in the 1980s. It’s now certain that no party can oppose a caste census with a straight face. With several state governments planning similar caste-based surveys and the united opposition INDIA poised to champion this issue with renewed vigor, it will be interesting to look at how the ruling government reacts to this situation.

Now, to ensure that caste data should not just become a tool to win elections and broaden existing fault lines among communities, a broader socio-economic analysis must be done before implications are made. The report on the socio-economic conditions of castes, which this caste survey claims to have conducted but not published when this article was written, should be looked into with similar enthusiasm when published.

Another consideration to be looked into is that everyone gets what is due to them, not just a certain community in the OBC list. The awaited Rohini Committee Report is long overdue, and it is high time that the central government releases those recommendations, forms policies, and ensures reservation so that no caste group is left behind. Also, granting benefits based on population is like punishing those groups that have been responsible for  its population growth. This will create panic among such groups and may lead to long term repercussions.

Whatever turn this political bait takes, it is sure electoral debates in the upcoming days will have major space for caste and religion. However, it is also vital that we do not lose sight of Economic and Educational development, as despite being the early provider of Social Justice, Bihar still has the lowest per capita income and lowest literacy rate. If the state policies continue to fare on similar lines, in a world with opportunities where other states are expanding their business and influence, “People of Bihar despite their caste affiliations will continue to fight over the limited resources their state have, instead of focusing on expanding the avenues of their prosperity in this ever-expanding world.”

Finally, caste must be counted with an aim towards transcending them. 21st-century India, which is asserting its dominance over the world forum, should view education and technology as the equalizing force along with caste-based affirmative actions.

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