Caste based Census

Context: The Supreme Court on Friday refused to entertain various pleas challenging the State Government’s notification to conduct caste-based census in Bihar.

What is the caste census?

  • Caste census means inclusion of caste-wise tabulation of population in the Census exercise.
  • From 1951 to 2011, every census in India has published the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, comprising the Dalits and the Adivasis, along with the gamut of data including religions, languages, socio-economic status, etc. It, however, has never counted OBC’s, the lower and intermediate castes which roughly constitute about 52 percent of the country’s population. All castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are marked in the general category.

What are the benefits of caste census?

  • A modern State cannot but count every category of citizens that it recognises for purposes of any social policy. India’s social equality programmes cannot be a success without the data and a caste census would help fix that. Due to the lack of data, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, groups within the OBCs and more. The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52 per cent, while some others have pinned the OBC population from 36 to 65 per cent.
  • The census would ‘besides resolving the needless mystery about the size of the OBC population, census enumeration would yield a wealth of demographic information (sex ratio, mortality rate, life expectancy), educational data (male and female literacy, ratio of school-going population, number of graduates) and policy relevant information about economic conditions (house-type, assets, occupation) of the OBCs’.
  • A caste-based census could go a long way in bringing a measure of objectivity to the debate on reservations. According to the Rohini Commission, which was formed to look into equitable redistribution of the 27 per cent quota for OBCs, noted that there are around 2,633 castes covered under the OBC reservation. However, the Centre’s reservation policy from 1992 doesn’t take into account that there exists within the OBCs, a separate category of Extremely Backward Castes, who are much more marginalised. Its absence also results in inadequate budgetary allocations by governments to OBCs.

Why conducting a caste census is a herculean task?

  • If a caste census was to be carried out, one could be sure that the exercise would be gargantuan and taxing. While carrying out the enumeration, officials would have to ask each person which caste they belonged to. However, the 1951 Census marked a complete departure from the traditional recording of race, tribe or caste and the only relevant question on caste or tribe incorporated in the Census Schedule was to enquire if the person enumerated was a member of any ‘Scheduled Caste’, or any ‘Scheduled Tribe’ or any other ‘Backward class’ or if he was an ‘Anglo Indian’.
  • In 1961 and 1971 Censuses the information was collected only for each Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. Today, if the caste census was to be carried out, a few problems would arise. One of them being that the names of some castes are found in both the list of Scheduled Castes and list of OBCs. Also, there may be issues as some people would be spelling their caste differently from others and that would lead to an inaccurate count.
  • Another issue with collecting the information is that those who collect the data simply record the answer. The enumerator is not an investigator or verifier. The enumerator has no training or expertise to classify the answer as OBC or otherwise.
  • These issues then give rise to the fact that the census questionnaire would have to be modified to add the names of all the castes – not an easy exercise, as many haven’t even been listed. This would lead to a further delay in carrying out the mammoth exercise, which has already been put off by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • A change in the questionnaire would lead to more money being spent – not only to print the new copies, but also to train the enumerator to add the new caste.

What are the perils of knowing caste-wise population?

  • Such a count would reveal how the OBC population is well in excess of the 52 percent identified by the Mandal commission, spurring demands for more quotas.
  • There are others who state that in the 21st century India should be discussing ‘let’s do away with caste’ rather than further divide India on those lines. They believe that the caste census will create further divisions within the society.
  • Additionally, reservations that were implemented for 10 years have continued for 75 years and a caste-based census would only lead to a demand for more.
  • The opponents of the exercise sum it up thus — a caste-based Census could halt India in its tracks, hurting its chances of becoming a global superpower.
  • The first census in India was held in 1872 by its then colonial rulers — the British — in order to better know the subjects it ruled over. One of the heads under which data was gathered was caste and this practice was continued till 1931 in which the count of Other Backward Classes was shown to be 52 per cent.
  • However, in 1941, caste-based data was collected but not published. MWM Yeats, the then Census Commissioner, said a note: “There would have been no all India caste table… The time is past for this enormous and costly table as part of the central undertaking…” This was during World War II.
  • Once India gained freedom, however, it curtailed this exercise and from 1951, the only caste-wise data collected was on Dalits and Adivasis, which meant that no caste data had been collected for more than three-fourths of Indians.

Leave a comment

error: Content is protected !! Copying and sharing on Social media / websites will invite legal action