Friday, May 6, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Now, a survey on status of Bihar's upper castes

Now, a survey on status of Bihar's upper castes
Submitted by admin4 on 6 May 2011 - 12:06pm

By Imran Khan, IANS,

Patna : In a state divided on caste lines, surveys of Dalits, Other
Backward Classes and Muslims have been conducted in the past. But in a
first of its kind initiative, Bihar plans to conduct a survey in rural
areas to reach out to the poor among the upper castes.

"A survey of upper castes in all villages across the state would be
conducted by the commission to gather information about their real
socio-economic condition," Narendra Singh, a member of the Bihar State
Upper Caste Commission, told IANS.

Bihar State Upper Caste Commission or the Bihar Rajya Sawarna Ayog
plans to start the survey in June. A team would also visit the
divisional headquarters from May 25 to meet elected village body heads
and others.

"It is for the first time that a survey of upper castes would be
conducted by the commission to know their socio-economic condition.
Never before has such a move been made to help reach the poor among
all sections, including the upper castes," said A.K. Jha, a senior
researcher at Patna-based A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Science.

The state government had last month constituted an upper caste
commission to identify poor among the upper caste and to study the
problems faced by them. The commission would also examine whether the
poor upper castes are benefiting by the various welfare schemes of the

The last caste census in Bihar was conducted in 1931 under British
rule in India. According to an estimate, at present upper castes
(including Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar and Kayasth) constitute about 13
percent of the state's 105 million population.

In 2000, the then chief minister Rabri Devi conducted a socio-economic
survey of Muslims, who constitute 16.5 percent of the state

After coming to power in November 2005, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
brought with him a new slogan -- development with justice.

Bihar was the first state in the country to constitute a Mahadalit
Commission. It was decided that the commission would study the
socio-economic status of neglected subcastes among Dalits and suggest
ways to uplift them.

During campaigning for the state assembly elections last year, Nitish
Kumar had promised to set up a commission to study the problems faced
by the upper caste poor and launch welfare schemes for them if his
Janata Dal-United (JD-U) party was voted back to power.

But the move has met with some criticism.

J.P. Yadav, a backward caste activist, said the move was an
appeasement of upper castes. "It is known to all that upper castes are
still enjoying a strong hold over the socio-economic structure of

"They are dominating in all fields, be it business, bureaucracy,
judiciary, media or even politics. There may be poor upper caste but
their condition is far better than Dalits, backward castes and
Muslims," he said.

However, the fact that Nitish Kumar has already set up the Mahadalit
commission and given 20 percent reservation to extreme backward castes
in panchayat elections, works in his favour.

Political observers believe the upper caste commission was a move to
send a strong message that he was committed to inclusive development
for all.

In Bihar, members of the upper castes, particularly the Bhumihars and
Rajputs, own large tracts of land in rural areas.

In July last year, the Bandopadhayay Commission on land reforms
suggested the state government bring in a new act to protect
sharecroppers. It also recommended a cap on land owning and
computerising land records.

After the issue sparked a row in the state, Nitish Kumar tried to
pacify angry upper caste members by promising not to enact a new law
to protect farm tenants, who share crop with land-owners as rent, if
voted to power for the second time.

"Months before the campaign began, Nitish Kumar had assured the upper
castes that their land was safe and his government had no plans to
enact a new law to protect sharecroppers," a ruling Janata Dal-United
leader said.

"After winning a historical verdict, Nitish Kumar initiated a move to
provide help to the poor among the upper castes on the lines of
Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. The survey is the beginning of it," he

Nearly 50 percent of Bihar's 105 million people live below the poverty
line (BPL), the highest in India, according to a World Bank report.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at

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