Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has taken a significant step by releasing caste data in the state, a move reminiscent of former Prime Minister VP Singh's decision to implement the Mandal Commission report. While Singh revived the long-neglected report and put it into action, Kumar's government carried out a caste survey that had been both publicly demanded and privately opposed by various political parties. During the UPA regime, caste data was collected, though with imperfections, but it was not released by the BJP government. Kumar's initiative received support from every party in Bihar.
Historically, it was believed by nationalists that casteism might have faded away if the British had not encouraged it through caste-based census activities. The last such census took place in 1931, and political parties have continued to use those figures as a basis for calculating caste statistics during elections. As reservation policies for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) were introduced and extended, the need for accurate data on these communities became essential. Bihar's figures indicate that OBCs, including the most backward among them, make up a significant 63 percent of the population.
The demand for a caste census across the country is now likely to gain momentum, with the Opposition alliance I.N.D.I.A already calling for it. The BJP and other parties will likely need to align with this demand. Eventually, there will be a clearer understanding of the population distribution among SCs, STs, OBCs, and others, leading to potential calls for resource allocation and job opportunities in proportion to their representation. It's worth noting that those opposing caste-based reservations may have their own interests at play, as evidenced by the low representation of OBCs among high-ranking officers, with only three out of around 90 joint secretary-rank officers belonging to this group.
Whether termed reservation or affirmative action, this policy has found a place in other countries also, including the USA. It's worth reflecting on the fact that in a state like Bihar, where the Upper Castes make up less than 20 percent of the population, the chief ministers in the early decades after Independence predominantly hailed from these privileged communities. The BJP attempted to counter the Mandal Commission's influence by pushing for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid once stood. The nation is now eager to see how the ruling party at the Centre will respond to the challenge posed by Nitish Kumar.
The recent ruling by the Delhi High Court has brought a significant distinction into focus, one that delineates religious texts such as the Ramayana, the Bible, and the Quran from books or works derived from them. India's copyright law dictates that a book's copyright lasts for sixty years following the author's death. Take, for instance, the literary works of Rabindranath Tagore; these can now be freely published by anyone, as can the religious scriptures mentioned.
However, a dispute emerged over the re-publication of books authored by ISKCON founder Prabhupada. This act was perceived as a violation of copyright law, tantamount to piracy. Notably, the court also referenced Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana and BR Chopra's Mahabharat, both of which enjoy protection under the copyright law. In both cases, they used the story lines contained in the religious texts to create works of art by involving so many artistes and spending enormous sums of money. It's interesting to note that worldwide copyright standards typically extend for 50 years after an author's demise. In India, the extension to 60 years was primarily to safeguard the interests of Viswa Bharati University, founded by Tagore, which held the copyrights to his literary works.
In the specific case of ISKCON, commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, the copyrights on Prabhupada's books are set to expire in 2037. Publishers will need to exercise patience until that time or risk facing legal penalties. This ruling not only emphasises the importance of upholding copyright laws but also ensures that religious texts are treated differently from derivative works, preserving the intellectual property rights of authors and their estates while respecting the sanctity of religious scriptures.