Saturday, September 29, 2012

Caste divides sharpen in Bihar

Manoj Chaurasia in Patna

Mandalisation is back in Bihar. Unofficially, that is. 

Students seeking rooms on rent to stay here for study are being forced to answer uncomfortable and disconcerting questions by prospective landlords who want them to reveal their caste and family status first. 

A dearth of hostels in Patna colleges makes many students from rural areas opt for private lodgings as the new session has begun.  But, instead of negotiating the rent, these students have to first tell the landlords about their family status and locations of their homes ~ the most popular method, apparently, to ascertain one's caste and family background.  

What’s even worse, agencies that are supposed to help students in getting rooms on rent insist that the students mention in a personal proforma their castes and preferences for landlords of the castes of their choice. 

“It's revolting the way landlords grill us about our caste and family status", said Vikrant Kumar, a student who has come to Patna to prepare for competitive examinations.  

“Even the Thackerays in Mumbai are better than these landlords in Patna! At least the Thackerays want to know only whether one is from Bihar, but not about one's caste or creed," he said. 

Another student, Saurabh Kumar, said the landlord he had gone to had asked him whether he belonged to his caste, whether he was single and of course the area he was from. 

Social scientists condemned the prevailing trend. "It's certainly not a sign of healthy democracy,” remarked Professor Hetukar Jha. 

Prof Nawal Kishore Chaudhary of Patna University said it was all because of vote-bank politics which, according to him, has caused sharp divisions in the society. 

During the 15-year-long RJD regime led by Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi the usual fights were primarily between the "forward" and the "backward" who suddenly became aggressive apparently bolstered by the implementation of the Mandal Commission report.  

During Mr Nitish Kumar's tenure as Bihar chief minister, caste divisions have become much wider with the government dividing communities into classes and castes into sub-castes. 

The whole issue came to the fore after the Nitish Kumar government classified 18 of 22 Dalit castes as Mahadalits. The four castes left out from the Mahadalit category were Paswan, Pasi, Dhobi and Chamar. As the move triggered strong protests, the government subsequently brought three more castes into the category, all except for Paswan.  

The reason for the exclusion of the last caste is apparently the hostile stand taken by the Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan against the NDA government's policies in Bihar. 

There's also a minority twist to the problem.

Minority leaders have criticised the Nitish Kumar government for giving priority to Pasmanda Muslims or Dalit Muslims in the party and government while ignoring the upper castes. The Pasmanda Muslims are led by Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar, a Muslim face of the JD-U. 

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