People who believe in caste hierarchy, graded inequality, and endogamy are invariably against caste census. The majority of critics of caste census are more often than not advocates of caste hierarchy. The critics fear that if it happens, they may lose their privilege. They frame an imaginary and baseless narrative that caste census may lead to social fragmentation, caste enmities, and weaken the Hindu identity. It may be used for political manipulation and mobilization. The critics spread rumours that caste censuses may face logistical and methodological difficulties, such as defining and enumerating the caste categories, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the data, and dealing with possible errors and anomalies in data collection and processing.
India is a diverse and complex society, with a population of over 1.4 billion people belonging to various caste groups. Caste is an ancient social hierarchy based on occupation and economic status, with roots in historical Hindu Scriptures. People in India are born into a particular caste and tend to keep many aspects of their social life within its boundaries, including whom they marry and whom they choose to count as their close friends. Caste also has a significant impact on the socio-economic and political opportunities and outcomes of people in India. Members of lower castes, such as Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC), have historically faced discrimination and exclusion from mainstream society and the economy. They have also been subjected to atrocities and violence by the dominant castes, who often enjoy social and political privileges.
The last caste census in India was conducted in 1931, during British colonial rule. Since then, the census has only collected data on SC and ST, but not on OBC or other castes.
The only exception was the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) of 2011, which was meant to collect data on the economic status and caste identity of every household in India. However, the SECC data has not been made public yet, due to various methodological and political issues.
The lack of reliable and comprehensive caste data poses several challenges for policymakers and society at large. Some of these challenges are:
The reservation policies are based on outdated and incomplete caste data, which may not reflect the current realities and needs of the caste groups.
The absence of caste data also hampers the monitoring and evaluation of the reservation policies and their impact on the socio-economic development of the lower castes.
Without proper data, it is difficult to assess whether the reservation policies are reaching the intended beneficiaries and whether they are reducing caste-based inequalities and discrimination.
The lack of caste data also prevents the recognition and representation of the diversity and plurality of the caste groups in India. Caste is not a monolithic or static category but a dynamic and heterogeneous one, with variations across regions, religions, languages, and cultures.
Caste data can help to capture the diversity and complexity of the caste groups and their identities, aspirations, and grievances. It can also help to foster dialogue and understanding among the different caste groups and promote social harmony and cohesion.
Therefore, there is a need for a caste census in India, which can provide accurate and updated data on the caste composition and distribution of the population. A caste census can help to inform and improve reservation policies and other welfare schemes for the lower castes, as well as enhance the social and political participation and empowerment of the caste groups. A caste census can also contribute to the democratization and decentralization of governance and development processes by enabling the participation and representation of local communities and their interests.
The idea of caste-based reservation was originally conceived by William Hunter and Jyotirao Phule in 1882. The first instance of reservation was introduced by Shahu Maharaj, the Maharaja of Kolhapur, in 1902, who reserved 50% of government jobs for backward classes. The British government granted separate electorates for different religious and caste groups in 1932, known as the Communal Award. This was later modified by the Poona Pact, which reserved seats for depressed classes within Hindu electorates. The first amendment to the Constitution in 1951 legalized caste-based reservation and empowered the state governments to identify and list the backward classes.
The first commission to do justice with OBCs was made in 1953 and submitted its report in 1955 but on a meaningless pretext, the report was dumped by the Nehru government.
The second OBC commission, the Mandal Commission report, was submitted in 1980 and recommended 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in central government jobs. It was implemented by Prime Minister V.P. Singh in 1990, sparking widespread protests and violence.
The Supreme Court, in the Indra Sawhney case in 1992, upheld the validity of the Mandal Commission report but imposed a 50% cap on the reservation and excluded the creamy layer (the affluent and elite) from the OBC quota. The Parliament, in 2019, passed the 103rd constitutional amendment, which allowed 10% reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS) among the general category in education and government jobs.
A caste census will ensure social justice for all castes, and social justice will further pave the way for prosperity in every caste. Economic, social, and cultural prosperity would break the narrow and hollow walls of caste supremacy in India. The caste census should not be seen as an end in itself but as a means to an end, which is the realization of the constitutional vision of a democratic, secular, and egalitarian India.
-Dr. Sandeep Yadav, a political analyst and social activist, imparts knowledge at the University of Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this text belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of any institution or organization associated with him.