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The Other Backward Classes

Untouchability was the most visible and comprehensive form of social discrimination. However there were a large group of castes that were of low status and were also subjected to varying levels of discrimination short of untouchability.These were the service and artisanal castes who occupied the lower rungs of the caste hierarchy.

The Constitution of India recognises the possibility that there may be groups other than the SC and STs who suffer from social disadvantages. These groups which need not be based on caste alone but generally are identified by caste were described as the socially and educationally backward classes. This is the constitutional basis of the popular term Other Backward Classes. The OBCs are defined negatively by what they are not .They are neither part of the forward castes at the upper end of the status spectrum nor of the dalits at the lower end. But since caste has entered all the major Indian religions and is not confined to Hinduism alone, there are also members of other religions who belong to the backward castes and share the same traditional occupational identification and similar or worse socio-economic status.

Since the 1990s there has been resurgence of lower caste movements in north India among both the Dalits and OBCs.The politicisation of the OBCs allows them to convert their large numbers recent surveys show that they are about 41% of the national population into political influence. This was not possible at the national level before as shown by the sidelining of the Kalelkar Commission report and the neglect of the Mandal Commission report.

The large disparities between the upper OBCs and the lower OBCs make this a difficult political category to work with. However the OBCs are severely under represented in all spheres except landholding and political representation. Although the upper OBCs are dominant in the rural sector the situation of urban OBCs is much worse being much closer to that of the SC and STs than to the upper castes.

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