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Bihar Caste Survey: The Who’s Who in the Data | Kahar

One needs to understand the social, political and economic dilemma of this caste.
Representative image. Photo: The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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 Kahar (2,155,644).


The caste group we are going to discuss today is Kahar. They are also known as Ramani, Rawani and Kamkar. Now, some people have also started referring to them as Chandravanshi. There are both Hindus and Muslims among Kahars.

Many things changed as human civilization progressed. Thought processes changed and even the connotations of words. But some things have remained intact like the strong shoulders of palanquin bearers, or kahars. Carrying Brahmins, priests, kings, and other landlords in palanquins and ferrying them to their destinations was their job.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

There was a time when Kahars did not even have slippers on their feet. When they moved with the heavy load on their shoulders, they used to make a unique sound to boost their spirits.

While one finds mention of slavery in the history of western countries, the concept has been concealed behind the veil of caste in Indian history. Kahar and Kamkar were caste groups whose members were forced to bear the burden of others.  

At present, the Kahars, or Chandravanshis of the feudal system, primarily reside in Bengal, Bihar and the eastern areas of Uttar Pradesh in addition to other states. They did not have any rights on agricultural land or farming, nor do they have many rights now. Today, they are only sought after when someone is getting married. They used to work as a group and chose the palanquin or the group as per their status. Generally, they worked in groups of four – two each at the front and the back – while the person sitting in the palanquin at the centre travelled comfortably.

Despite their sincerity in the job, the members of this caste group have been oppressed a lot in the feudal system.

However, times have changed and science and technology have advanced. Roads have been built. Uneven and narrow walkways are gone and vehicles have become available. Yet even now, affluent people seek their services while planning a wedding. The number of palanquin-bearers has reduced significantly now.

A crisis of livelihood is looming over the community. They already had a dearth of land and whatever little bit of land there was, has been divided further. It is difficult to say how much immovable property is owned by the present generation of this caste group.

According to the documents of Bihar government, their total population is 2,155,644 and they are included in the extremely backward class. Though they are not considered ‘untouchable’, their condition is no better than that of Dalit communities’. For example, only 1.5% to 2% of their population participates in government jobs in Bihar.

This caste group is in the grip of political Hinduisation now. To alienate them from the OBC community, they are being told that they are not Kahar but Chandravanshi. For example, it is claimed that the Chandravansh, or lunar dynasty, was a Kshatriya caste of ancient India. Sometimes, to pit them against the Yadavas, it is also said that the Hindu deity Krishna was born in the Yaduvansh branch of the Chandravansh. They even call Kahar caste members descendants of Jarasandha.

Change is necessary because other OBC caste groups often do not mingle with them while Dalits do not consider them one of their own. One needs to understand the social, political and economic dilemma of this caste.

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 | Kamar | Chik | Bari and Bauri | Dhuniya | Donwar Sinduria Baniya |  Bhathiyara | Dabgar Kumhar Amaat | DhobiPaswanKevatBhishti | Bakkho | Noniya | Musahar.

The series is available in Hindi here and in Urdu, here.

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