The Bihar legislature unanimously passed a resolution agreeing to a caste census, twice: first on Feb 18, 2019 and then on Feb 27, 2020. The Government of Bihar, in June 2022, issued a notification for conducting a caste survey in the state on its own and subsequently allocated Rs 500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise.
More than 3 Lakh people, mainly teachers, went from door to door with a 17 question from on caste, religion, and economic status. An app was used to collect the data for tabulation and processing.
Key findings of the survey Bihar Caste Census:
Total Population: 13.07 crores (10.41 crores in 2011 census)
Population Distribution on the basis of Religion:
% of Population
Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and other groups
Distribution on the basis of Caste:
Backward Classes (EBCs (36.01%) + OBCs (27.12%)
Unreserved Category (“Forward Castes”)
Significance of Caste Census in Bihar:
Political Significance: The results may present political parties like JD(U)-RJD with an opportunity for renewed backward class mobilization.
It is first such large scale exercise where results have been made public.
The states of TN and Karnataka, as well as Union Government itself (in an ill-fated SECC 2011), have collected comprehensive caste data in the past, but for reasons that remain unclear, never revealed it.
The survey results will amplify the clamor for increasing OBC quota beyond 27%, and for a quota within quota for the EBCs.
The Justice Rohini Commission, which had been examining the question of “sub-categorization” since 2017, submitted its report in last July – its recommendations are not public yet.
Reopen debate on 50% ceiling on reservation:
Need of a caste census/ Advantages of Caste Census:
Sociologist Satish Deshpande says that the realities of caste inequalities in the present must be acknowledged and addressed before we can arrive at a cast-free future. To censor caste division is not to overcome them.
Caste must be counted because it counts – it is arguably the most important regulatory of life chances today. This means that the caste differences are real differences. To call for “unity” without addressing these differences is to practice dishonest politics.
A caste-based census can help in recognizing and quantifying the extent of historicalinjustices and disparities that exist in society. Recognizing these disparities is a critical step towards addressing them.
Granular socio-economic profile of each caste should help settle intractable question: Has caste ceased to be a key vector in inequality? Should reservation be based only on caste or on economic status or both? Have a few castes captured the quota? Should there be sub-quotas within the quotas? What should be the cutoff for creamy layer?
Better Targeting of Social Justice initiatives: It may enhance the demand for quota within quota to ensure benefits reach to extremely backward classes (and not only the dominant OBC. groups). It will also force political parties to announce and initiate more welfare schemes for the poor and marginalized sections of society.
Caste census will not just be headcount, it will be a storehouse of multi-dimensional and multi-layered information which will be very useful for policy makers and designer of social welfare schemes.
Regular caste-based census data can help track the progress of different caste group over time, helping better evaluation of policies for social justice.
Constitutional Mandate: Article 340 of the Constitution of India provides for the appointment of a commission to investigate the conditions for the improvement of socially and educationally backward classes.
Limitations/Criticism of Caste Census:
Deepening of Faultline and Increasing Polarization – It will lead to delay or prevent the movement towards casteless society.
Criticism of this argument by Yogendra Yadav: Everyone in a village or Basti knows everyone’s caste and that every politician walks with an unofficial caste count of each polling booth.
Preventing the deepening of faultlines:
Articulate the demand for caste census as an element in a larger multi-dimensional ideology of social justice that includes gender, class and location.
Develop a cross party consensus
Concede it quietly, rather than create a national row about it. Anyways, the limited side effects cannot outweigh all the benefits outlined above.
Caste must be counted in order to strengthen efforts to transcend it. In a changing India, in which education and technology are important equalizing forces, caste-based affirmative action, fine-tuned with the help of caste numbers, can spur larger conversations on aspiration and ambition, freedom and opportunity, and the need for an eco-system in which citizens are neither unfairly privileged nor straitjacketed by their identities.
The counting of caste is not a magical wand that will wave away the evils of caste inequality and oppression. Instead, it is a messy, contentious, complex exercise that is sure to have its flaws and inadequacies. But it is also inescapable first step towards an honest political engagement with the real differences and disparities of caste. And for that reason, it is imperative that India no longer evade this.’: SATISH DESHPANDEY