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 Rangrez (43,347 people).
The Rangrez are a community of dyers who have been a cultural symbol in this country. They have their own unique past. One might even say that the community has been the flag bearer of the country’s Ganga-Jamuni culture. For them, everyone is equal and there is no difference based on caste or religion.
They dyed and stamped clothes, and inspired classical poet Amir Khusrau to mention it in his famous verses –
You have snatched away all trace of me with just one glance…
May my life be sacrificed for you, o my cloth-dyer
You have dyed me in your colour with just one glance.
For those who believe in a secular India, this song of Amir Khusrau evokes a pleasant emotion. But the truth is that the mechanisation of the textile industry has snatched away the livelihood of the dyers. Culturally, the downfall of the caste began when Rangrezi came to be divided between Hindus and Muslims.
Turning a few pages in history, one can see the golden past of the dyers. Be it the areas of Awadh or the era of Delhi Sultanate when the influence of the dyers in the Meena Bazaar of the Red Fort was no less than that of any Mansabdar. Dyers also dominated the Rohilkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi was no less than their home. The work of the dyers on Banarasi saris speaks volumes even today. The Rangrez community also inhabited parts of Bihar and West Bengal and some areas in Punjab.
According to the caste-based survey report released by the Bihar government, at present their population is only 43,347. The community resides in districts like Bhagalpur, Patna, Nalanda, Buxar, etc. Since it is quite a small number, there is a need for comprehensive research to find out the reason behind their numbers. One needs to find out where the dyers have gone whose shops used to keep the market abuzz. Did they change their caste after changing professions?
Rangrez are mainly Muslims. However, there are Hindu Rangrez as well, whose work is similar to that of Muslim Rangrez. The population of such Rangwa people is only 3,001 in Bihar.
As far as the social status of the Muslim Rangrez community is concerned, they are considered Sunni Muslims and while there is no stigma of untouchability owing to their occupation, certain Ashraf Muslims look down upon them, like the Julahas.
As far as their political participation is concerned, the population of this caste in Bihar is only 0.0332% of the total population and in the current democratic political situation, this number casts negligible influence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this community or caste and its profession, which has been braving significant social, cultural, political and economic hardships, is on its last leg because a lot has changed in the world. Some people are still trying to keep their art alive. But when they are no longer able to earn their bread, how long will they survive on an empty stomach?
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.