Caste In Bihar And The Determinant Question

by | Jun 28, 2024

Before I delve into the topic of caste in Bihar and its attributes, I would like to pique your brains about the times when you think about introducing yourselves. Universally there are a few common ways to introduce; for example, one`s name, one`s parents` name, one`s place of residence, one`s profession. Then there are tricky ones like religion, caste and gender identity. Introducing oneself to others, to me, has been a part of identity, not identity as a whole. A sense of who we are as members of various social groups.

Answering the question “Who are you?” or “Who am I?” is an essential component of growing up. The issue appears basic and easy but the concept of identity is multifaceted and flexible. The answers to the questions are often determined by a variety of circumstances.

That includes how you describe yourself, your participation in specific groups, and how other people and the larger society perceives you. Some aspects of your identity may remain the same throughout your life. Other aspects of your identity are more fluid, changing as you progress from childhood to adolescence and maturity.

The Indian societal structure provides a fertile ground for investigating. The interactive roles of multiple identities such as religious, national, regional (north vs. south), class, and caste. However, numerous academics have emphasized caste’s centrality and influence as a fundamental social identity. This is more relevant among many South Asians, as opposed to other social identities such as gender and race. (Gayer, 2000; Mand, 2006). It has been stated that caste identification may take precedence over other social identities since it is so important to many South Asians. (Judge and Bal, 2008).

I will proceed to seek relevance to the above stated paragraph. In this piece my introduction will be as an Indian woman, from Calcutta, West Bengal, currently living in Patna, Bihar. I am working as an India Fellow at a non profit organization, Muktaa Charitable Foundation, that works in stigmatised diseases and counselling. This piece is solely based on my perspective. I will take trivial examples with secondary data and address the dominance of caste as an identity in Bihar.

In context to caste in Bihar, I remember a statement from, Who is in Justice? Caste, Religion and Gender in the Courts of Bihar over a Decade.

“Bihar has been one of India’s poorest and most lawless states. Rigid social divisions along the lines of caste and religion have impeded economic development and improvements in welfare in the state in the past decade. Bihar has experienced a growth turnaround, intensified social sector investments. It rolled out some exemplary development program” (Singh, 2015; Kumar 2018).

Yet it remains among the bottom three states in India’s recent index of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ and in the ‘Health Index’ (Niti Aayog, 2019). I had already read articles and news about Bihar being behind the development context. To me the picture of Bihar was mostly related to poverty, lack of better healthcare, lack of employment or education. That was my concept of Bihar as a state.

What Is Your Caste?

The initial week or so in any new city is hectic house hunting. It was the second week of March this year, I had already started looking up houses online. People from my organisation were also searching, looking for ‘To Let’ stickers near the office. Among all of that I was thinking of some pre-experienced issues. First issue that came up while thinking that as a bachelor female, I might face some resistance from house owners. Secondly, I was worried about a shared restroom, as I am very prone to UTIs. Third, the affordability, since I will be living of a stipend.

A board hanging from a balcony that reads, Patna Property & to Let Services

However, the one thing I did not consider as a possible threshold that, the stay, could be determined by: “Aapka caste? Aapka caste kya hai?” This was a rather new question to me while I am asked to introduce myself. A form of identity that I never associated myself with. And a forewarning, if you hesitate or pause before answering that question, there will be another question. “Mohammedan ho kya?”; Are you Muslim? with a rather nonchalant tone.

Religion And Caste

Religion and caste have different sets of qualities, religion might not decide social status, occupation. From what I have seen around in Bihar as of yet. On the topic of religion people were dismissive while there was pure disdain when it came to caste. I pondered a lot about the string of things. Things that are attached with the confirmation of caste identity in a person. As Shakespeare had written, “What’s in the name? That which we call a rose by another name would smell just as sweet.” I thought, “What’s in the caste?” It does not change the human being to another species. Then why is it such a galactic question?

“Biswas rehta hai zyada”, one renter had reasoned. There is a better trust when the person in question is a person from an upper caste. “Puchna padta hai, brahmin hoke neechewale kisiko thodi na rakhenge”. It is important to ask I can’t accommodate someone from lower caste being a brahmin, said another. One also said, “Yeh toh bas yun hi puch rahe hai. Ghar mein rehne wali baat hain nahi toh aise koi dikkat nahi hai”. It is just a general question because it is about letting someone in my house, otherwise I don’t have any issue.

What we see here, is the sense of pseudo certitude, sense of superiority, sense of power and hegemony that caste feeds to the people sitting on the higher steps of the system. All of the above took place in the would-be metro-city, capital city of Bihar, Patna. Now, if we move a bit away from the city for instance and dive deeper in township or rural Bihar, what changes? With lower castes thing such as crime and deviances are associated which could end up with accusation of stealing or violence. I will give an example. After the house hunting shenanigans, I started my field work pretty quick. Where I was to visit different organisations and talk about my organisation in detail. And propose for a possible collaboration for better and larger outcomes.

An Example

An organisation, about 60km from Patna city, working for social causes and was pretty well-known at that. While interacting with the person in question they had almost cited a dozen times about how they don’t discriminate caste but how they are “scared of “ST/SC log”. How they have denied these people employment because they are scared of them. “Humne toh bol diya, ke bhai hum tumse darte hai”. I told them that, I am scared of you people. I could sense the smugness and satire in their tone.

The delite castes often use common form of humiliation such as mocking to demean the system of reservation. There is no confrontational attack in this. This is a shift in the behaviour, like a change in the nature of discrimination over decades, from explicit to implicit. Only upon them begging that they signed a couple of them in for trivial errands.

The accounts section in their office is handled by a Brahmin. Someone from the upper caste does the admin work. The Brahmin person served us tea. Almost instantly we were told how it is so great of them that they served tea despite being a Brahmin. Remember this person is a known social reformer in Bihar. I thought to myself, did they ask the people prior to employing them, “Aapka caste kya hai?”. Before asking them for their qualification background.

Why Are Aid Agencies Quiet

There are so many more questions to ask, to a person. To know them, to rent them houses, to employ, to associate with them, but caste is a determinant of life opportunities. The question of caste, has been used to discriminate very often. Now if fifth of the world population faces this, the question that we should rather ask is, why it has such a negligible place in the global development policy? Why not alongside gender, race, religion? And why does no intergovernmental commitments ever register this?

We often blame the practice of caste-based discrimination on things such as poverty, lack of education, lack of development, lack of interventions. However, it has significant effects on subjective wellbeing and contributes to the persistence of national socioeconomic and human capital imbalances. Caste impacts transcend boundaries because it influences almost every market, extending from the country to the city. Caste still exists in the era of the market because of its benefits. Its discrimination permits others to hoard opportunities. The fear of subordinate groups’ growth leads to dehumanizing acts of violence against them. (Mosse, 2018)

– Gayer L. (2000). The globalization of identity politics: the Sikh experience. Int. J. Punjab Stud. 7 223–262.
– Judge P. S., Bal G. (2008). Understanding the paradox of changes among Dalits in Punjab. Econ. Polit. Wkly. 43 49–55.
– Kumar, S. (2018). Post-Mandal Politics in Bihar: Changing Electoral Patterns (Vol. 1). SAGE Publishing India.
– Mand K. (2006). Gender, ethnicity and social relations in the narratives of elderly Sikh men and women. Ethn. Racial Stud. 29 1057–1071. 10.1080/01419870600960305
– Moose D. (2018). Caste and development: Contemporary perspectives on a structure of discrimination and advantage
– Singh, P. (2015). How solidarity works for welfare: Sub-nationalism and social development in India. Cambridge University Press

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