On October 2, as India celebrated the birth of the father of our nation, the Bihar government released the results of its much awaited (and much debated) caste-based survey. Titled as the Bihar Jaati Adharit Ganana, the census survey was aimed to determine the caste constitution of the state of Bihar.
As per the survey report, the total population in the state stood a little over 13 crore. The report has now revealed that the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) constitute 63 per cent of the state’s population. The census also shows that Scheduled Castes account for over 19 per cent of the 13-crore population, while Scheduled Tribes make up 1.68 per cent.
As the Bihar Government released the survey months away from away from the upcoming General Election of 2024, it also clarified that the same is only a compiled data and no analysis of it has been done yet.
A detailed break-up of the caste constitution in the state
The caste survey had 17-point socio-economic indicators, including caste. Beginning from January 2023, the survey got completed in a three phased exercise in August this year with around 2.64 lakh enumerators documenting the details of 29 million registered households. The 214 castes mentioned in the survey were allotted different individual codes.
The survey has provided that the extremely backward classes (EBCs) formulate the largest segment of the population of Bihar as they comprise of about 36 per cent (4.7 crore) of the state. The backward classes constitute 27 per cent (3.5 crore) of the population. Together, these two depict that the OBCs make up 63% of the whole state’s population. Notably, the survey also revealed that among the Other Backward Class group, the Yadavas comprises 14.26% while the Kushwaha and Kurmi castes forms 4.27% and 2.87% respectively.
It is further essential to note that the survey revealed that the Scheduled Caste population in Bihar is at 19.6518% (2.6 crore) while the Scheduled Tribe population is 1.6824% (22 lakh). Accordingly, the population of general population or “upper caste” groups has come out to be 15.52%. Among upper castes, the population of Brahmins is the highest at 3.65%. The population of Rajputs stands at 3.45% and the Bhumihars population at 2.86%.
The report also revealed that the state enjoys a Hindu majority, with Hindus comprising 81.9% of the population while the Muslim share is at 17.7%. Furthermore, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and those following other religions as also the non-believers have a miniscule presence, together making up for less than 1 per cent
“Historic Moment”- Reactions to the survey from the Bihar government
The Bihar government has maintained that conducting the survey is a necessary step towards ensuring and achieving social justice. Additionally, the process of carrying out a caste survey in Bihar has found support from all political parties. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar took over to X (formerly known as Twitter) and congratulated the survey team on the completion and release of the findings even after facing so many hurdles. CM Kumar wrote, “Today on the auspicious occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, the data of the caste based census conducted in Bihar has been published. Many congratulations to the entire team engaged in the work of caste based enumeration. The proposal for the caste based survey was passed unanimously in the State legislature.” He further informed that “All nine political parties of the State assembly will now be called for a meeting to apprise them about the caste based survey report”.
It is noteworthy that Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has been demanding a caste census in Bihar since it was in opposition. Janata Dal (United) party and CM Kumar has been on the same path as well. Maintaining the same stance, CM Kumar stated that the report would aid in the state government’s initiatives for the development and upliftment of all sections. “Caste-based census also provides information about the economic condition of everyone. On the basis of this report, further action will be taken for the development and upliftment of all sections,” CM Kumar shared on ‘X’.
The last time a caste-based headcount was conducted was in the year 1931.
RJD chief Lalu Yadav and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav termed the occasion as a “historic moment”. Lalu Yadav wrote on ‘X’ that “Today, on Gandhi Jayanti, we all have become witness to this historic moment. Despite many conspiracies by the BJP and legal hurdles, the Bihar government released the caste-based survey.”
Deputy Chief Minister, and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, Tejashwi Yadav said, “Bihar once again became witness of a historic moment with the compilation of caste based survey data and its release thereafter in such a short time. Bihar has now drawn a long line and set an example before the country. What has happened in Bihar today, shall have its voice heard tomorrow across the whole country. And tomorrow is not far ahead. Bihar once again has shown light to the country.”
‘Eye Wash’- Reactions of the union government, opposition
Leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has termed the caste census report to be an ‘Eye Wash’. Many leaders took to ‘X’ (formerly known as Twitter) to express their opposition and criticism of the caste census survey. Bihar BJP President Samrat Choudhary said that “Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar play caste-based politics. Backward class plays a vital role but Nitish Kumar has not done anything for the backward class… Bihar CM has done nothing for the development of the state.”
Senior BJP leader and Union Minister Giriraj Singh further called the caste census as nothing more than “spreading ‘bhrahm‘ (misunderstanding) among the poor” of the state. The minister further stated that “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. Report card of caste census is just an eye wash.”
Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan accused the the Janata Dal (United) of trying to “divide” the people of Bihar by conducting the said survey. Paswan provided that “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.”
Notably, hours after the caste census survey result was released, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech in Madhya Pradesh wherein he accused the opposition of “trying to divide the country in the name of caste”. While he did not specifically mention the caste census, a report of the NDTV provided that through his speech, PM Modi lashed out at the opposition for having failed to secure development while in power and attacked them for “playing with the feelings of the poor”.
“They played with emotions of the poor back then… and even today they are playing the same game,” PM Modi stated
The Prime Minister also called any attempt at “division on caste lines” a “sin”. “Earlier they divided the country in the name of caste… and today they are committing the same sin. Earlier they were guilty of corruption… and today they are even more corrupt,” he said in Gwalior. It is also essential to note that the Congress party has also promised to conduct a caste census survey if they return to power in poll bound Madhya Pradesh.
The origin of the caste survey:
Four years ago, on February 18, 2019, the proposal for a caste based census was passed in the Bihar legislative assembly when Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were together.
Last year, on June 1, after an all-party meeting CM Kumar had announced that all nine parties including the Bihar BJP unit had unanimously decided to go ahead with the caste census. Notably, the survey was ordered last year after the Narendra Modi government at the Centre made it clear that it would not be able to undertake a headcount of castes other than SCs and STs as part of the census. Pursuant to this decision, the state’s Council of Ministers had also approved the proposal to conduct the survey using Bihar’s own resources and Rs. 500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise.
After JDU walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance last year, CM Kumar’s government, together with its alliance partner RJD, expedited the work on caste census. The survey’s first phase, which involved counting the total number of households in Bihar, began on January 7 of this year and ended on January 21. The second and final phase kick started on April 15 to collect data on people from all castes, religions and economic backgrounds, among other aspects like the number of family members living in and outside the state.
In May, the survey was briefly paused owing to the stay put on it by the Patna high court which was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the exercise. As per various media reports, the petitions were allegedly being filed by supporters of the BJP party to ensure that this exercise does not get completed. Notably, the caste survey was challenged in the Patna High Court under two significant grounds: that it violated a citizen’s fundamental right to privacy and that the state had no power to carry out such a survey.
On August 1, after hearing the arguments raised by the petitioners against the census, the Patna HC decided that the survey was “perfectly valid”. The HC noted that “the action of the State to be perfectly valid, initiated with due competence, with the legitimate aim of providing ‘Development with Justice’; as proclaimed in the address to both Houses and the actual survey to have neither exercised nor contemplated any coercion to divulge the details and having passed the test of proportionality, thus not having violated the rights of privacy of the individual especially since it is in furtherance of a ‘compelling public interest’ which in effect is the ‘legitimate State interest’”.
The said survey had concluded on August 25, 2023.
It is crucial to highlight that both RJD and JDU have called for caste-based enumeration across the country and CM Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav had also called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pitch for the same.
A deep analysis of the caste based census can be read here.