The Bihar government has recently unveiled the results of its comprehensive caste survey, shedding light on the demographic makeup of the state. The survey revealed that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) together constitute more than 63% of Bihar's population. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed his congratulations to the team behind this endeavour and highlighted the importance of this survey in shaping policies for the development of all social classes.
A History of Caste Data in India
Historically, census data in independent India has included information about Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but omitted details on other castes. This practice continued until 1931 when data on caste was collected. However, in 1941, despite collecting such data, it was not published due to the circumstances of World War II. The then Census Commissioner, M W M Yeats, deemed it impractical and costly.
Estimates and Political Debates
The absence of a caste-based census has left a void in understanding the population of OBCs and various subgroups within them. The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%, while other estimates have relied on National Sample Survey data. Political parties have also made their own estimates, leading to differing figures. The demand for a caste census has historically divided opinion, with OBCs and marginalized groups advocating for it, while some from upper castes opposing the idea.
Recent Calls for a Caste Census
In recent times, the demand for a caste census has gained momentum. Opposition parties have rallied behind the cause of "social justice," with leaders like Rahul Gandhi calling for the release of data from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted during UPA-II's tenure. Moreover, there have been calls to remove the 50% cap on reservations for SC/ST/OBC communities.
Government's Stance on Caste Census
The government's stance on a caste census has evolved over time. In July 2021, Union Minister Nityanand Rai stated that the government had decided not to enumerate caste-wise population, except for SCs and STs, in the Census. However, in 2018, there was a notable announcement regarding the collection of OBC data during Census 2021, although the specific details of this decision remain unclear due to the absence of documented minutes from the relevant meeting.