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

You might wonder – if they do not possess land, where do these people live?
Representative image. Photo: Creative Commons.

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 Musahar (4,035,787).



The philosophy that numbers matter in democratic politics is sometimes not tenable, despite the principle of one-person-one-vote in our country. One of the examples of this is the Musahar caste whose population in Bihar alone is 4,035,787. The data has been obtained from the Caste-Based Census Report 2022 released by the Bihar government.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

This figure is important because the same report contains data of those castes whose numbers are much less than the Musahar caste group and yet their participation in governance is much more in proportion to their population. For instance, the Kayastha caste, whose total population is only 785,771, i.e. 3,250,016 people fewer than the Musahar population has a sizable presence in Bihar politics.

Even though Jitan Ram Manjhi, hailing from the Musahar caste, was once chief minister, this was believed largely to be one of Nitish Kumar’s favours. When it comes to land ownership, the Musahar caste group is one of the most disadvantageous.

Musahars were among the nomadic communities of the country in the past but they neither had sheep like the shepherds, nor cows and buffaloes like the cattle herder caste groups. 

They reared pigs. Even today there are rural areas of Bihar where pigs can be found living alongside Musahar families in their homes.

You might wonder – if they do not possess land, where do these people live? You might also argue that even if they live on uncultivated land, on the banks of canals, or in far off portions in villages, that is still land in this country. 

But there is a lot of difference between living in a hut on non-cultivated land and building a house on one’s own or leased land. One difference is that of address. Apart from Musahar Toli, the word Musahari is mentioned in the residential addresses of most of the Musahars.

Some Musahar people also consider themselves Bhuiyans. However, for the Bihar government, the Bhuiyans are a separate caste now, whose population is 1,174,460. Bhuiyan means land in Magahi. They consider themselves people of the land.

The caste group is primarily dependent on agriculture, not as farmers but as agricultural labourers. In Magadha region of Bihar, khetihar means someone who has agricultural land while someone who has a mouse, or rat, is called musahar

Apart from untouchability and discrimination, another major reason for lack of work opportunities for them is that there is a long list of caste groups whose members are agricultural labourers. In other words, there is competition for employment in the agricultural sector and often only those who are considered ‘socially respectable’ get such jobs.

People of the Musahar caste group can often be seen picking paddy in the fields. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, they are often derided for their joblessness but the fact is that it is social stigma that prevents them from finding any work.

Musahar is a unique caste group. They are nature-lovers and do not exploit natural resources. Suffering neglect at the hands of the entire society, they follow their own customs and as such do not consider themselves Hindus. They worship their own gods. In north Bihar, they worship the deity Dina Bhadri. Even Shabri is portrayed as a Musahari in the Ramayan, there are questions over the representation which many believe do not show the community in good light.

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.

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

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