In a landmark transfer, the japanese Indian state of Bihar has introduced the findings of the first-ever caste census for the reason that nation’s independence in 1947. The survey discovered that over two-thirds of the state’s inhabitants of 100 million belonged to “backward” or marginalised communities.
As a part of the decades-old authorities affirmative motion, marginalised communities have been categorised as backward, extraordinarily backward, scheduled caste (the previous “untouchables”) and scheduled tribe (the Indigenous communities). India is one of the most unequal countries on this planet with the majority of the assets and jobs managed by the privileged castes.
The findings have the potential to upend the nation’s politics, with calls for being made for the same nationwide census, opening the doorways for a revamp of the nation’s affirmative motion plans amid calls to grant proportional advantages to marginalised castes in step with their share of the inhabitants.
These calls for, nevertheless, threaten to weaken Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist celebration, the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP)’s maintain over many of those marginalised castes, simply months earlier than the 2024 basic elections.
What does the Bihar caste census present and why are its findings so important?
Whereas India’s majority Hindu group has been historically stratified into varied castes, there was no correct knowledge for many years now in regards to the inhabitants of those castes and subcastes.
The final time a caste census was carried out was in 1931 when India was nonetheless underneath British colonial rule.
The shortage of current knowledge meant affirmative motion was inadequate and, typically, misguided. As an example, the Bihar caste census knowledge present that its dominant castes comprise simply 15.5 p.c, whereas its marginalised castes make up for as staggering 84 p.c of the state’s inhabitants.
Regardless of this, affirmative motion for these marginalised castes has been restricted – solely 50 p.c of presidency jobs and academic alternatives are reserved for them.
Bihar’s transfer to make this knowledge public is more likely to set off campaigns throughout the nation from marginalised communities, to revisit affirmative motion insurance policies. Within the course of, these campaigns may trigger political upheavals within the nation.
What do the findings say about India’s social construction?
It has been identified that India’s marginalised castes are deprived and endure from lack of alternatives. They endure widespread discrimination in addition to stigmatisation, although untouchability was abolished proper after India gained independence.
The brand new knowledge, whereas reiterating this, provide a glimpse into the large scale of the issue. It goes a step in direction of reiterating that marginalised castes are probably the most dominant bloc in India’s social construction, and but, stay disadvantaged and discriminated towards.
“The information reiterates how a small proportion of the dominant castes have occupied and managed the whole lot, from politics to its media to companies,” mentioned Yashwant Zagade, a analysis scholar learning politics of the backward castes, on the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
India has emerged because the fifth largest economic system on this planet however the hole between richest and poorest folks is big. Oxfam India in its 2023 report mentioned that 60 p.c of the nation’s wealth is held by the richest 5 p.c of residents.
Why are India’s opposition events pushing for a nationwide caste census?
India’s opposition events, a part of a coalition known as INDIA, have been pushing for the same caste census to be carried out throughout the nation.
After a decade of electoral marginalisation, the opposition events at the moment are attempting to problem BJP’s politics of Hindutva (Hindu-ness), highlighting the rising inequality and company management of assets.
Opposition chief from the Congress Occasion, Rahul Gandhi, has been repeatedly insisting on proportionate illustration of marginalised communities in getting their due rights, as per their share of the inhabitants.
After having been criticised for failing to current an alternate imaginative and prescient for the nation, the opposition events appeared to have discovered their mojo, in taking up Modi and his BJP via this situation. An amazing majority of Indians belong to marginalised castes. A 2021 Pew survey had discovered this to be at 69 p.c of India’s whole inhabitants.
By championing their trigger, the opposition alliance hopes to woo them, broaden its fashionable base and defeat the dominant BJP, which has received two comfy majorities since 2014.
Secondly, Modi has been attempting to blur caste strains and, as a substitute, consolidate assist for a unified Hindu id, as a part of his celebration’s Hindutva agenda that has polarised Indians alongside spiritual and ethnic strains. The BJP has been criticised for its canine whistle towards Muslims who kind about 15 p.c of India’s 1.4 billion folks.
The brand new caste-based actions threaten to derail these makes an attempt, consultants say.
“The demand for a caste census can create a brand new caste consciousness among the many varied marginalised castes and might threaten the BJP’s Hindutva challenge,” mentioned Zagade. “If caste turns into the central situation, it can push Hindutva away,” he added.
Does this growth pose a risk to Modi and his celebration’s dominance?
In its dominance over the past decade, Modi’s BJP has sought to create a various voter base amongst Hindus, consisting of each dominant and marginalised castes, together with tribals and Dalits.
Modi, himself belonging to a “backward caste” group, has reiterated his caste id in public conferences to attract in assist.
Nevertheless, an opposition marketing campaign to push for larger rights for India’s marginalised castes may see Modi’s assist base cracking.
“Within the 2022 elections in Uttar Pradesh, Modi’s different backward caste (OBC) vote declined. Therefore, the BJP will probably be fearful that this new growth may fracture its vote additional,” mentioned Sudha Pai, political scientist and creator of a brand new guide that research the BJP’s grip over Dalit politics. Dalits, the previous untouchables, lie on the backside of the advanced Hindu caste hierarchy.
Historical past would possibly fear Modi and his aides, too. Within the early Nineteen Nineties, the BJP’s makes an attempt to return to energy via a communally-charged marketing campaign to construct a temple on the purported web site of the start of Hindu god Ram was undercut by the Mandal motion, which demanded larger alternatives and affirmative motion.
The Mandal motion denied the BJP energy for at the least a decade. The opposition events are hoping for an encore. Because of this, whereas most different events, together with among the BJP’s allies, have pushed for a nationwide caste census, the BJP has remained shy of embracing this demand.
Modi, on the day the findings of the census have been revealed, accused the opposition events of “committing the sin” of “dividing the nation on caste strains”.
Will the difficulty of caste-based census make caste a central level in Indian politics?
Most observers consider it’s too early to inform how the difficulty will pan out, however both manner, caste identities will probably be “one of many main poles” within the 2024 basic elections when India elects a brand new authorities, mentioned Pai.
Zagade, the scholar, mentioned that whereas the opposition events appear eager to make a nationwide caste census their principal level of marketing campaign, their efforts on the bottom will resolve whether or not it strikes a chord with supposed beneficiaries.
“Political events should construct the momentum on the difficulty, create an consciousness amongst voters about how such caste knowledge may benefit them,” he added.
Consultants consider a data-driven dialog round caste will allow a rightful distribution of assets and alternatives to those that want it probably the most.
“Thanks to those conversations, we are going to see extra welfare programmes for the backward castes, extra budgetary allocations for them,” Pai added.