Aiming for Equity: How Bihar is Shaping a Fairer Society Through Progressive Reservation Measures
Bihar took the long-overdue step of the Caste Survey, and the reports of the population of different castes were released on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. According to the survey, Bihar's current population is 13,07,25,310. The Upper-ed caste constitutes 15.5%, while Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) together make up more than 63% of Bihar's population (OBCs at 27%, EBCs at 36%). Scheduled Castes account for 20%, and Scheduled Tribes (STs) make up 1.6% of the population.
Counting the numbers of different castes from the state and drawing a value base of economic status is not for pomp and show, nor can it be limited to political benefit. It has more to it. It's the Brahmastra to create a social and democratic purpose for emancipatory practice and assert the need for socio-political justice.
In India's political, social, and economic history, November 7th was a significant day in the discourses and debates regarding Castes. Socioeconomic data were released in the state assembly, revealing that the financial conditions of 94 lakh families are upsetting. 34.13% of the families in Bihar earn less than Rs 6,000 a month. When the data on economic conditions and poverty are analyzed longitudinally, the graph of the percentage of economically poor people appears to be decreasing. Before 1990, the poverty rate in Scheduled Castes was 71.14%, and Scheduled tribes were 72.11%, which declined to 51% in 2011 for SCs and 56% for STs. Until 2023, no data was available for BC, EBC, and the 'General Category,' which now is 33.16, 33.58, and 25.09, respectively.
The decreasing poverty graph brings hope but raises grave concerns regarding those earning less than 6000 monthly. In times when inflation is at its peak, and the prices of gas cylinders cross thousands, how difficult it would be for the poor sections to sustain lives. About 63.74% of families earn less than Rs 10,000 per month. This means Bihar has acute poverty. Indeed, some significant steps have been taken by the Nitish and Tejasvi-led grand alliance government, where 2 lakh rupees per family will be given as one-time monetary assistance to the 94 lakh families who earn less than Rs 6,000 per month and do not have jobs or other measures to earn so that they can be self-employed. Furthermore, 1 lakh rupees will be given to those families who don't have land to live.
The earlier reservation system has contributed to the development of a fairer and more equal society, but the percentage of these reservations does not go far enough in seeking the social change needed for society.
The majority of the population, accounting for 67.54%, incorporates housewives and students in the state. 1.57% of the state's population are government job employees. But within government jobs, a large disparity can be seen. Kayastha, who is 0.6% of the population, has a 6.68% stake in government jobs. Bhumihar is in the second position, whose population is 2.87%, but they have 4.99% of the government jobs. The population percentage of Rajputs is 3.4%, but 3.81% of the government jobs belong to them. Brahmins are 3.7%, holding 3.81% of jobs. In Muslim upper castes, 39595 people of the Sheikh caste have government jobs, which is 0.79% of their actual population.
The significant population of OBCs in Bihar is Yadavs, which constitute 14%, but they are highly underrepresented in jobs. Only 1.5% of their population is in government jobs; for Kurmis, it is 3.1% and for Kushwahas, 2.04%, who are 4.3% of the population. The total population of these three castes is 21%, but their representation in government jobs is 7%.
For the scheduled tribes, the picture gets even darker. Dusadhs/Paswans, who account for 5.3% of the population, are 1.4%, 3% Musahars 0.26%, and chamars, who are 5.2%, have only 1.2% stake in government jobs. For scheduled tribes, the situation is even worse.
This data is the link between caste and economic condition. Those belonging to upper-ed castes are highly represented and have better living conditions than those in the Caste system's lower rungs. These data have proved that some sections of people have a lot of resources while others have considerably less, and it is natural that any attempt to create a fairer distribution will be resisted by those who stand to lose the most, but for the larger impoverished and historically marginalized sections, Justice must be served. RJD’s Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson Manoj jha rightly said, “Justice to the 90% cannot be injustice to the 10%.
Bihar becomes the state with the highest percentage of reservations, followed by Tamil Nadu(69%).
Reservation at the micro level can bring a change on the macro level. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that 'all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights' (United Nations, 1948). Are they? In India, there is a total paradox between birth and equality. Indeed, social inequality and birth are like hand and glove. These paradoxes create tensions among various sections of society, in the worst case, leading to murders for drinking water and even to suicides in institutions. To enhance democracy and empower the marginalized within the present social systems and structures, raising reservations will pave the way for bringing everyone on the same pedestal.
On 9th November, Bihar witnessed a hike in reservations where reservations of 19.65% Scheduled Castes were increased from 16 per cent to 20 per cent; for 1.68% scheduled tribes, it was increased from 1% to 2%; for OBCs, it was raised to 18% from 12%, and EBCs to 25% from 18%. It is interesting to know that in the whole country, such division in other backward classes exists only in Bihar so that extra attention can be given to economically weaker sections in OBC. This model of affirmative option, aka reservation, was part of Ex CM Karpuri Thakur’s and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s legacy of social justice. Now, OBCs and EBCs together will get 43% reservation. After this, Bihar is the state with the highest percentage of Reservation in India. This can be connected to the realization of dreams of Babu Jagdev Prasad who incessantly reiterated, “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari”.
The chief minister of Bihar said in the assembly that Quotas for Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes need to be raised. This change in the current reservation quota was decided, taking everyone's opinion in mind. Furthermore, on the ambiguity of data, he asserted that those who say their caste numbers have come down or some castes have inflated figures are talking trash. This is the first caste survey after 1931. How do they know their numbers without any study?"
The deputy CM of Bihar, Tejasvi Prasad Yadav, said in 2018, "If our government comes in power, we will increase the reservations to 69%, and on 9th November, after the bill for increasing reservations passed unanimously, he asserted that this is called social and economic Justice. We have always wanted marginalized persons and communities to be brought into the mainstream. For this, we collected scientific data, and after analyzing them, we are increasing reservations."
The political reactions to the caste-based survey
Ahead of assembly elections in various states, Congress leader Mr. Rahul Gandhi promised a caste census when he addressed rallies if Congress is voted to power. He said, "Caste census is an 'X-ray' that is necessary to ensure the participation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Dalits, and tribals in the government as per their proportion in the population". The same is the case with ex-Cm of Uttar Pradesh, MR. Akhilesh Yadav has constantly supported the caste census. He said, "Caste census has the power to bring everyone together". The Andhra Pradesh cabinet also decided to hold a comprehensive caste survey akin to Bihar.
Even the home minister of India, Mr. Amit Shah, while addressing a rally in Bihar, firmly asserted that the BJP has supported caste-based census, which is contrary to what they have done while going against it in the Supreme Court. This fact shows that the BJP has come under pressure on the demands of caste census.
The relevance of the Caste survey
According to any scientific research, hypotheses develop into theories, and to reinforce an idea, one needs data. Then, only an argument can be made, and the theory can be used pragmatically. These data are the support base on which reservation policies have been altered. Wrongly assumed a narrative is widely spread that caste surveys can lead to distinctions and divisions in society, but to understand it the other way around would mean that these distinctions can assist in creating awareness of the reality and developing the policies and methodological praxis which can ultimately lead to a common ground between various sections of society without ostracizing some based on their birth.
Power sharing, bias-free dialogues, and critical reflexivity of one's privilege can help people understand their situation and those of others. Without giving a gaze to their own prerogatives, casteism or discrimination cannot be challenged, and without questioning them, no change will come in articulating their practices. The politics of social Justice focuses on both recognition and redistribution. The task of recognition is the first phase; the second would be acknowledging the differences, and the third step would be attempting to distribute to annihilate the differences.
The caste-based survey is not a magic wand that empowerment and equality will be granted as soon as it is released; instead, it is the most opt process of analyzing power relations, economic status, and social hierarchy and assessing how these dynamics can be challenged, changed, or negotiated.
(Priyanka Bharti is the National spokesperson, Rashtriya Janta Dal, Research Scholar in German studies, JNU)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, and The Mooknayak does not endorse or support them.