Caste Census in the times of changing social equations
25th Aug, 2021
The 2021 Census of India, the 16th Indian Census, will be taken in 2021. But the growing demands for a caste census from various sections of society have once again surfaced the issue like its immediate need and long-term repercussions.
- The origin of the Census in India goes back to the colonial exercise of 1881.
- Census has evolved and been used to-
- capture the Indian population
- access resources
- map social change
- delimitation exercise, etc
- However, as early as the 1940s, W.M. Yeatts, Census Commissioner for India for the 1941 Census, had pointed out that there shall be no All-India caste table in the 1940s due to enormous expenditure in World War II.
Caste Census & its actual origin
- The caste census is often linked British era of “Divide and Rule”.
- But is a beautiful piece of information to know that some 200 years before British rule, between 1658 and 1664, the home minister Munhata Nainsi of the Marwar kingdom, ruled by Maharaja Jaswant Singh Rathod conducted the first caste census.
Caste Enumeration in Census:
- The 15th edition of the Indian Census, 2011 had taken into account the data of population-based on Socio-Economic and Caste Status for the first time after 1931.
- As the enumeration was based on self-declaration, it resulted in hundreds of thousands of caste/sub-caste categories.
- Every census from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes.
Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC)
- In 2011, the Socio-Economic and Caste Census was conducted for the first time since 1931.
- Every Census until 1931 had a mention of data on caste.
- Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on SC and ST, but not on other castes.
- SECC is meant to canvass every Indian family, both in rural and urban India, and ask about their:
- Economic status, so that allow Central and State machinery can come up with a range of indicators of deprivation, permutations, and combinations of which could be used by the state to define a poor or deprived person.
- To allow the government to segregate which caste groups were economically worst off and which were better off.
- SECC has the potential to allow for a mapping of inequalities at a broader level.
- The Mandal Commission came up with the estimates of the OBC population at 52%using methods of extrapolation.
What happened to the SECC 2011 data?
- The SECC exercise was done by the Ministry of Rural Development in rural areas and the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation in urban areas.
- The data of Socio-Economic and Caste Census excluding caste data was published by the two ministries in the year 2016.
- The crude caste data was given to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which formed an Expert Group under Arvind Panagariya for the classification and categorisation of collected data. So far, no such report has been made public.
The measure took by the Government after Independence:
- In 1953 Kaka Kalekar Commission (under Article 340) was formed to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India.
- In 1979 Mandal Commission (under article 340), was established for the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC),with a mandate to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes" of India.
- In 1992, Indra Sawhney the Supreme Court held that should be in place a permanent body to look into the matter of inclusion and non-inclusion of groups, classes and Sections of Other Backward Classes.
- In 2018, NBCC (National Commission for Backward Classes)was made a constitutional body (123rd constitutional amendment bill 2017 and 102nd amendment 2018 in the constitution to make it a constitutional body).
- 102nd Constitution Amendment Act inserted new Articles 338B and 342A.
- Articles 338B: provides authority to NCBC to examine complaints and welfare measures regarding socially and educationally backward classes.
- Articles 342A:empowers President to specify socially and educationally backward classes in various states and union territories
- The amendment also brings about changes in Articles 366.
- The Rohini Commission was constituted in October 2017(Article 340of the Constitution) to submit its report on the Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Why do we need a census to be done?
- In order to better understand the population of society and what people have access to, and what they are excluded from.
- It is relevant not only for social scientists but also for policymakers and academicians.
- The Census of India enumerates and collects demographic and socio-economic data on the Indian population.
Associated Concerns with SECC
Arguments against the Caste Census:
- Fear of breaching the 50% ceiling for a caste-based reservation: It is argued that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case to breach the 50% cap on the reservation.
- Procedural Issues: As per the central list, the total number of OBCs in the country stands at 6,285, while the number further increases to 7,200 if the list is prepared by the states, and UTs are taken into consideration. (Though the Rohini commission is in place to look into the sub-categorisation of the OBC’s.)
- Social fragmentation: Caste identification can lead to friction amongst various classes and can result in an increased caste enmity.There have been concerns that caste census may result in a society with reinforce identities. It is being argued that counting caste will perpetuate it further deeper.
- Partial benefits: The way reservation is practised in the country; it has invariably led to elites among castes and communities.
- Opposition from religious groups:The resistance to the caste census is not only coming from the Hindus; Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are also scared, since there exist castes even in these communities and the Dalit Muslim, the Dalit Christian and the Dalit Sikh are catching up on the fight for their rights.
- Vulnerable open-ended categories: There are certain open-ended categories in the lists such as orphans and destitute children. The cases of a migrant from one State to another and the status of children from inter-caste marriages, in terms of caste classification, are also related questions.
Positive outcomes of the caste census
- Bringing the marginalized to the table: A caste census brings up the number of people who are at the margins. There are many of such castes which are still nomadic and is deprived of identity and development.
- Data for Policymaking: This information is important for any democratic policymaking agency. A caste census would bring up the anthropological facts, and on the other, provide the basis for framing relevant development policies required for social justice.
- The consumer expenditure survey (68th round) and the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 are the base of welfare schemes such as the ones for LPG cylinders and rural housing. There’s been no update to this database which is worrisome.
- Backing by the judiciary: Legislations of many States on reservation policies for SEBC and OBC had been struck down by the courts on the ground that, the policies on the reservation is made without supporting the scientific database of the SEBC and OBC population. So the detailed enumeration of SEBC and OBC should be made by the Centre.
- Caste doesn’t marginalize: We need to do away with the idea of caste applying to only disadvantaged people, poor people, people who are somehow lacking. Counting of caste doesn’t necessarily strengthen caste or the caste system. Myths of caste-elitisms can only be debunked through a caste-based census.
The most important thing is improving existing databases is more crucial to this than getting into the debate of whether to do a caste count or not. Accurate and timely data is central to India’s effort to tackle poverty. Poor data diminishes the efforts to design welfare programmes.
The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) among many has sought caste census for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). It’s the right time that the Central government consider the benefits, welfare and all-around upliftment of the SEBC and OBC categories of population after collection of scientific databases through General Census 2021.