Patna- The release of the caste-based census data in Bihar on 2nd October has sent ripples through the political landscape of India, ushering in a significant moment for the marginalized sections of society. The findings of the survey have not only validated the claims of various social and political groups but have also provided crucial insights into the demographic composition of the state.
With key highlights pointing towards the substantial representation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SCs/STs), this data has far-reaching implications for policymaking and social justice initiatives. In this article, we delve into the remarkable findings of the survey, shedding light on the substantial presence of OBCs, SCs/STs, and the dynamics of representation within the population, presenting a comprehensive overview of this pivotal moment in Indian politics.
On Monday, Additional Chief Secretary of Bihar, Vivek Kumar Singh, announced that the report of the caste-based census conducted in Bihar has been released. The figures of the survey have proved to be a shot in the arm for the Mandal politics and have validated their claim on the population of the marginalized groups.
OBC: The OBCs account for around 63% of the population, with the Extremely Backward Caste comprising 27.1286% of the population, while the Backwards classes comprise 36.0148% of the population. Together, the OBCs account for a whopping 63% of the population of the state. This is more than the rough projections of 50-60% made in the media.
Scheduled Castes/Tribes: The survey discloses that roughly one-fifth of the population of the state comprises of the Scheduled Castes at 19.6518%. The SCs are the next big group after the OBCs. This is also higher than the conservative estimates of 15-16 % pegged by the media. The Scheduled Tribes are just 1.6824% of the population.
The unreserved category of the people accounts for about 15% of the population. Notably, one-third, i.e., 5% of the people in this group are Muslims, which means that the Hindu upper castes are just 10% of the population. Dominant OBC castes like the Yadavs alone garner a share of 14.2% in the population, which is way more than the upper-caste Hindu groups who account for just 10% of the population.
The survey also throws light on the fact that roughly 63% of the population is crammed into the 27% OBC reservation provided for the community in the state. The total population in the state is 13 crores 7 lakh 25 thousand 310, which is around 3 crore more than the 104,099, 452 recorded in the 2011 census.
The last Pan-India caste survey was done in 1931. The unavailability of caste-based data has proved to be a big hurdle in devising plans and policies for the OBC categories. The UPA government had announced reservations for the Other Backward Castes in 2006, but the Supreme Court, in its 2007 verdict, scrapped the quota on the pretext of a lack of data on the population of the Other Backward Castes.
Despite the fact that it is commonly understood that the population of Other Backward Castes is more than the 27% reservation that they are getting, as the 1931 survey had enumerated them at 52%, and the Mandal Commission had also pegged their number at 52%. In 2007, an NSSO survey disclosed that the OBCs form 41% of the population, while the SCs form 19.5% of the population. However, this NSSO survey does not hold much significance as it was aimed at finding the consumption expenditure of the households and not the population of OBCs.
June 6, 2022: The Bihar government, led by Nitish Kumar, issued the notification for the caste census to collect data on the socio-economic conditions to help formulate better government policies for marginalized groups. The survey was to be conducted in two phases in the months of January and April. The General Administration Department was assigned the responsibility of conducting the survey.
January 6, 2023: Akhilesh Kumar, a resident of Nalanda district in Bihar, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court challenging the caste-census on the grounds that only the Union government was entitled to undertake a census, as per Entry 69 of List I of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. He also cited the Census Act of 1948, saying that the act does not provide for a caste-based census.
January 7, 2023: The first phase began on January 7, 2023, with a house listing survey to count the number of households in the state in the prescribed format. Nearly 350,000 enumerators had undergone training by the government of Bihar in December 2022.
January 17, 2023: Vishnu Gupta, National President of the Hindu Sena, filed another PIL challenging the notification.
January 21, 2023: A bench comprising justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath found no merit in the petitions and dismissed them. However, the bench allowed the petitioners to approach the appropriate High Court with their grievances.
By the time the court dismissed the petitions against the exercise, the first phase of the exercise got over.
April 15, 2023: The second phase of the exercise began.
May 4, 2023: A Bench of Patna High Court led by Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran with Justice Mudhuresh Prasad heard a batch of petitions against the survey. The court stayed the survey in the interim order, observing that the state has no power to carry out a caste-based survey, in the manner in which it is fashioned now as it would amount to a census and hence impinging upon the legislative power of the Union Parliament.
May 11, 2023: The Bihar government moves the Supreme Court against the order of the Patna High Court with a special leave petition. The government argued that the state has the power to carry out a survey under the various entries of the Concurrent List, Fundamental Rights, and the Directive Principles.
May 18, 2023: A two-judge Supreme Court Bench decided not to intervene as the matter was pending before the Patna High Court.
August 1, 2023: The Patna High Court upheld the validity of the survey. The court concurred with the Bihar government that the state government was competent to conduct caste-based surveys. The High Court relied on Indira Sawhney vs. Union of India (1992) judgment.
August 2, 2023: The state government resumed the work on the survey a day after the Patna High Court order.
August 16: The data entry work of the survey was completed.
Reacting to the survey, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wrote on Twitter, “Today, on the auspicious occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, the data of caste-based census conducted in Bihar has been published. Many congratulations to the entire team engaged in the work of caste-based enumeration!"
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hailed the findings of the report: “The caste census of Bihar has revealed that OBC + SC + ST are 84% there. Out of 90 secretaries of the Central Government, only 3 are OBC, who handle only 5% of India's budget! Therefore, it is important to know the caste statistics of India. The greater the population, the greater the rights – this is our pledge.” Notably, the Congress-led UPA government had conducted the caste-census in 2011, but the findings of the survey were not disclosed. In an interview given to Meena Kotwal, Founder, and Editor of The Mooknayak in 2022, Gandhi had supported the demand to disclose the findings of the census.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, while speaking to reporters in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, said the exercise would be replicated if the party wins the state elections later this year. “I have always supported this. If Congress comes to power in Madhya Pradesh, we will also get a caste-based census done in Madhya Pradesh," he said.
Kamal Nath, Former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh also promised the same and said, “The Congress Party is committed to the caste census and if our party forms the next government in the state, we will conduct a caste-census.”
Tejaswi Yadav, the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, was jubilant on the occasion and said, “Bihar's caste-based survey data made public… watershed moment! The result of decades of struggle!! Now both the policies and intentions of the government will respect the data of the caste-based survey.” Lalu Yadav, Former Chief Minister of Bihar and father of Tejaswi, said that these figures will set an example for the country in making holistic plans for proper development and progress of the deprived, neglected, and poor and in giving representation to marginalized groups in proportion to the population.
BSP Supremo Mayawati said, “The reports of the caste census conducted by the Bihar government are in the news today. Some parties are discomfited by this, but for the BSP, this is the first step in the struggle of granting constitutional rights to the OBCs.” She said that BSP is pleased to see that the politics of the country is taking a favorable turn and is inclining towards the deprived “Bahujan Samaj.”
RLD leader Prashant Kanaujia reacted to the survey by demanding 85% reservation for SC/ST/OBC and the 15% for the general caste.
The BJP has, on the other hand, dismissed the report as an eyewash. Senior BJP leader and Union Minister Giriraj Singh said the caste census will do nothing more than “spreading 'bhrahm' (misunderstanding) among the poor" of the state. "They should have given a report card that Nitish Kumar ruled the state for 18 years and Lalu Yadav ruled the state for 15 years but did not develop the state. The caste census report is an eyewash,” he said.
Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan said the Janata Dal (United), headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is trying to “divide" the people of Bihar. "We had said earlier that JD(U) will be segmented and in the coming days, JD(U) will be wiped out...Some people in Bihar are creating a divide on the basis of caste and religion. People of the state do not trust CM Nitish Kumar due to his policies." The Lok Janshakti Party is an ally of the NDA government at the center. The findings of the survey are likely to have a ripple effect in the politics of the country and reinforce the 85-15% theory of the Social Justice groups.
Apart from the politicians, members of civil society, media, and academicians have also reacted to the caste-survey report.
The Mooknayak spoke to professor Suraj Mandal, who made four points: that the survey was done after many disruptions by the BJP and the vested interests of the Upper castes. He said that as per the Mandal commission, the population of OBC is 65%, and as we can see, the data is bifurcated into EBC and BC, who together constitute about 63%, he thinks if we take into account the minor errors in the survey, the population is 65%. He said that some of the Muslims have been included in the unreserved category and the total number of upper castes is less than 10%, therefore the 10% reservation given to EWS is unjustified, and the Bihar government should scrap the EWS.
He said that the findings prove that the population of OBCs is much more than the 27% share of the quota that they are getting. This also shows that the Backward classes are highly underrepresented in the Judiciary, bureaucracy, universities, and even the clerical staff of the government of Bihar. He demanded that the Union government takes a cue from this report, and the BJP agrees to include caste-based analysis in their 2021 survey, which they have suspended till now deliberately. He congratulated the Bihar government for making the figures public and claimed that the effect of this will be seen in the upcoming Telangana Assembly elections.
Kanchana Yadav, Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “The Central government should conduct a caste-census as soon as possible. The government should provide quota to the SC/ST/OBC women in the proportion of their population. The sharing should be done on the basis of population. In a discussion organized by The Mooknayak, she said that earlier people used the pretext of lack of data to deny the reservation to the OBCs but now they are calling it divisive.
Sanjeev Chandan, Editor of Streekal said in the discussion on caste-census by The Mooknayak that this report is a revolutionary incident in the journey of social justice and this will certainly have an impact on the issues of the 2024 elections. This report will make the Backward castes introspect regarding the share they have in the political, financial, cultural resources of the country. Citing the statements of the BJP leaders Sushil Modi and Giriraj Singh, he also pointed out that with this report, the contradictions within the BJP will come to the fore.
Rajiv Yadav, a Human Rights Activist, said, “Mandal Commission says that there should be a caste-based census. Speaking on the possible effect that this report may have on the population of Uttar Pradesh he said, “Mandal is the answer to kamandal, and Mandal is not mere the congregation of caste but the atrocities meted out to these castes and their rights. He pointed out that in 2018 the BJP spoke of conducting the caste census but in 2020 they backtracked. He said that whenever there is Mandal, the communal forces will go on the backfoot. He pointed out that the survey answers the wrong allegation that some castes like Yadavs and Maurya have cornered the benefits of reservations for OBCs.