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
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 government.
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 population.
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
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
"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
(Imran Khan can
be contacted at email@example.com)