Beyond politics, the Bihar caste survey is a revolutionary document.
A public document, the first ever after 1931, allowing for people to stand up and be counted.
We go down to the wire, on what each of the numbers unveiled mean.
Who are the people referred to by percentages in the survey?
Today we look at Kamar (8,21,103 people).
Who assigned names to castes? The one who created them is perhaps the only one who can answer this question. There are many castes whose names make their status or occupation self-evident. For instance, the term Brahmin evokes a sense of honour. Similarly, Kayastha also appears to be a special word. Bhumihar is another such name which is a combination of ‘bhoomi’ (land) with the suffix ‘har’, making it obvious that the members of this caste are involved in agriculture. Another caste is Rajput, which must include those who belong to the ruling class.
They are also a symbol of social prestige. Since the above-mentioned four names are upper castes, their names are indicative of prestige. As far as the remaining castes are concerned, there is no such caste whose name evokes respect. Koeris have now started calling themselves Kushwaha after the name of Kush, son of Ram. The people of the Bhar caste have also started identifying themselves as Rajbhar. Similarly, the people of the Ramani/Kahar caste now refer to their caste as Chandravanshi while the people of the Chamar caste call themselves Ravidas.
There is no one in the world who does not crave for a respectable place in society. But this hunger for respect has deeper implications.
There is a caste in Bihar called Kamar. Though Chamar and Kamar differ in the first syllable in their names, they have innumerable similarities. For example, the Chamar caste is a craftsman caste that makes all kinds of items from the skin of dead animals – from the king’s armour to his shoes. All sound amplifying instruments have been made by the people of Chamar caste. But the Kamar people do not lag behind. They have offered many gifts to human civilisation through their craftsmanship. If you have ever lived in a village, any object you see made of wood or iron is owing to them.
Hence, Kamar is both a carpenter and a blacksmith. In fact, Kamar is a group that includes three communities – blacksmiths, carpenters and karmakar. Here, karmakar is a completely new word and there are political and social reasons behind it. But before we explain this, it is important to note that even today human life cannot be imagined without the contribution of this caste. Whether it is a bed to sleep in, a cot, a stool or items in the kitchen, or even the bier on which a deceased person’s body is placed and carried to the cremation ground, all of this is made by these people.
The fact is that two things have been done with the creation of castes. Firstly, the people of upper castes reserved respect for themselves, and secondly, the labour of the lower castes was devalued. They were told what their job was and that they did not deserve respect. For example, the one who provided clean clothes to the society was insulted by being called a dhobi; those who reared cows and buffaloes were called Gwala or Gowar; those who worked in leather were called Chamars and those who worked with iron and wood were called Kamars. And thus, their hard work was ridiculed and devalued.
So basically the caste system is founded upon the principles of denial of unity and devaluation of labour. But this was prior to 1990 – a year which was indeed remarkable for all the artisan and farming communities of India. It was during this year that the recommendations of the Mandal Commission came into effect. One of its results was that a provision of 27% reservation was made for backward castes in government jobs. But its social impact was very deep. With this single step a social revolution erupted in India, which changed the etymology with Kamar being called Karmakar and Chamar being called Charmkar. But it is no less than a conspiracy that the government is giving credit for their labour and skill to the Hindu god Vishwakarma, even though their skill and hard work are their own.
Actually, the political conspiracy behind dividing the people of Kamar caste into carpenters, blacksmiths and Kamar is that the ruling class does not want to see these people united. The most recent and official evidence is the Caste Based Enumeration Report-2022 released by the Bihar government, which says that the population of Kamar (lohar and Karmakar) is 8,21,103. The report also states that the population of the Badhai (carpenter) caste is 18,95,672. Now if we add these two figures, the total population of these people in Bihar is 27,16,775. This number is more than three times the total number of Kayasthas in Bihar, which is 7,85,771. But their participation in governance is absolutely nil. In the name of resources, they have only hammers, chisels, augers, trowels and saws.
The Bihar government has included these people in the category of extremely backward classes. But is that what these people deserve?
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.
Read earlier parts of the series on the following communities by clicking on their names: Ghasi | Santrash | Madaria | Koeri/Kushwaha | Chaupal | Nai/Hajjaam | Pasi | Rangrez | Chamar | Gorkan | Jutt | Yadav.