Social Economic Caste Census is an important and contentious issue that was first addressed in pre-independence India in 1931. The then census under census commissioner H Hutton aimed to collect information of every individual in rural and urban areas. In post-independence India, this exercise was conducted under the UPA government in 2011. The survey asked questions about economic status, the standard of living to calculate deprivations, define a poor and depressed person and specific caste name. The government aimed to evaluate economically worst off and economically better castes. India is a land of diversity.
India has a diverse cuisine, culture, language, dialects, religion, environment, political ideologies and castes. The caste system which succeeded the Varna system has been oppressive towards a few sections of the society. Even after so many years of modernisation and development caste system still rears its ugly head during religious functions, cultural gatherings and availing government policies. Academics, politicians, social scientists, social workers have been trying to dim the caste boundaries and inculcate India as a whole society that believes in no caste but dignity to human beings.
The caste census of 2011 met resistance because it is re-establishing caste lines by asking questions about the demographics of a caste in a particular state. A caste census will solidify already established identities on the lines of caste and hatred. Due to the resistance and repercussions, only a part of the data of the census of 2011 was released. The release data had details about the household of urban and rural areas, but the data on caste was not released due to fear.
What is the stand of the present government on Socio Economic Caste Census?
The NDA government did not favour a caste census and made it explicit when Union Minister for State for home affairs Nityanand Rai answered a question in Lok Sabha on the same. The minister said that the government of India has decided not to go ahead with collecting caste-wise population data other than schedule caste SC and schedule tribe ST.
After that, a series of requests started emerging for caste census from people like current Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, former chief minister of Bihar Jitan Ram Manjhi and Union Minister of State for social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale.
The demand for a separate caste census emerges every time in the parliament when the regular census is due. Usually, the demand comes from other backward classes, OBC and other deprived sections, and it is constantly opposed by representatives from the upper caste. For a change Pankaja Munde, the BJP national secretary, has also requested the government to conduct a caste census.
The Maharashtra assembly passed a resolution on 8th January requesting the centre to hold a caste-based census in 2021. The national commission for backward classes has also urged the government to survey the population of other backward classes OBCs as part of the 2021 census of India. People like G Mallesh Yadav has filed a writ petition for caste enumeration with the Supreme Court.
Why is the government opposing Socio Economic Caste Census?
The present government is against a socio economic caste Census because it will harden the old existing caste identities. Social identities are human nature, but hardened social identities can divide people. When the census asks questions like what cast do you belong to, it can reinforce the caste system.
Our Constitution of India provides in article 15 that reservation or special provisions must be made for educationally and socially backward classes of citizens and scheduled caste and scheduled tribes. Caste has never been used as a tool to identify beneficiaries because deprivation and caste are not related. So even if data on caste is collected, discrimination won’t stop. If identified beneficiaries are provided with better job opportunities based on caste, it will not reduce resistance and shaming of inter-caste marriages.
If a girl marries a well educated and well-off Dalit man, it’s possible that her parents won’t attend their daughter’s wedding or eat at her wedding. Hence the government believes that collecting caste specific data won’t do any good. Also, caste is context specific. One caste can be well of in a particular state, and the other may be deprived in another state. Hence a generalised data cannot give details about specific areas. The Centre believes that since demographic indicators of caste differs from state to state, backward classes commissions of different states doing their job.
Why is a Socio Economic Caste Census necessary?
The central government opposes the idea of a caste census because they think that it will harden the caste identities and create fault lines. But the Centre also agrees that states have their own backward classes commission who collect data on SC and ST. The Centre believes that state backward classes commission won’t harden the caste identity, but a centralised national caste census will.
What an irony!
Data and statistics are essential tools in policy-making and research. The presence of data helps a researcher or a policymaker determine its target and directs the course of policies. Not collecting data is like closing your eyes and believing that the world is bright, sunny and full of happiness.
Fact check – it’s not.
A caste-based census will help us to determine the economic deprivation levels of different castes in various states. The Centre says that caste and deprivation do not go hand-in-hand, which is why a census is necessary so that dynamics of economic deficiency can be determined whether it’s because of caste or education, employment opportunities or land, skills or social status et cetera.
Caste is a social evil that directs our daily lives. Its surfaces the most in cultural gatherings, religious functions, inter-caste marriages, et cetera. As far as surveys have suggested, backward classes also tend to be economically backward. But if there is another aspect to economic backwardness, the policymakers cannot know until centralised, extensive and detailed data is collected.
The guidelines of the Supreme Court state that the reservations cannot exceed more than 50% but has raised concerns on the alarmingly high level of reservations in some states. The Supreme Court has demanded data to justify the status of reservations for a particular caste in the backward list as well as evidence of under-representation in employment.
What do Supreme Court and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh RSS say on caste based census?
The Supreme Court has also advised the government for a periodic revision so that castes which cross deprivation levels are removed from the beneficiary list. The periodic revision ensures that all the benefits do not go to a particular section of society. The data will also help policymakers to identify beneficiaries that really need help. Also, if some states have a higher level of reservations, it is an injustice to the castes that do not fall under the reserved category. This is why a caste census is important to ensure justice to every section. A census with truth will possibly break the hearts of a few sections, and they will demand a larger quota.
The RSS sarkaryawaha Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi has also expressed his opinions against a caste census, saying that it will hamper the idea of a casteless society as dreamt by the father of the constitution Babasaheb Ambedkar. A caste census will also weaken the efforts to create social harmony. The Centre is not touching caste census because this issue will open Pandora’s box. It will tip an already politically sensitive issue and harm the political aspects of the centre.