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Should Caste Count?

Should Caste Count?

June 08, 2010

Does the idea of a caste-based census have any merit or should it be cast out?

Caste has been a dirty word in India for some time. Even references to it bring back the ghost of the reservation riots and the spectre of the aftermath of the Mandal commission report back to haunt us. So it’s little wonder that the Indian government proposing a caste-based census and setting up a group of ministers to look into implementing it has resulted in a widespread debate across the nation.

The fact is that try as we might, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of caste if you are an Indian. Sure, it’s uncomfortable discussing it and the middle class claims that caste is a non-issue. But the truth is that we peel away those layers of gloss that our society has coated itself with and there it is staring, unblinkingly at you. So now the question is whether we stare right back and talk about it or do we keep our eyes shut and hope that it’s gone by the time we are ready to open our eyes again. The government’s decision to go ahead with the caste-based census has brought out many voices in support of, as well as against the idea.

The last official enumeration of the population on the basis of caste was conducted in 1931. All reservations in the spheres of education, jobs and the like were done on the basis of this data that was culled before independence. Even the controversial Mandal commission report had to use the numerical data from this 1931 dated census in the course of their research. There were murmurs of the 2001 census including caste as one of the criteria, but the administration did not follow through with the idea. Predictably the debate then as it is now, raised pretty much the same concerns no matter which side you were on.

The supporters of a caste based census contend that since India has never been a casteless society, it is clear that it has always been a social factor. If we are asked about our religion, then why not our castes, they ask. In a country where even today you find human beings forced to work certain jobs, because of the ‘category’ of society they are born into, it is impossible to ignore the fact that casteism in India is far from a myth. Of course there are examples of how the age old stranglehold of caste has been broken with members of a lower caste even managing a majority of seats in their state government. In which case, should people from this group still be enjoying the preferential reservation that they have been accorded on the basis of the 1931 census? Isn’t it time to update the official records and the data? It seems almost illogical that there could be an opposing view.

But every coin has two sides and the opponents of the caste-based census believe that this can only serve a divisive agenda. In a country, where even political seat tickets are doled out on the basis of one’s caste, they believe that this will only further a policy of divide and rule. Also in a country where often the most backward of castes is also the smallest unit of our population, will caste-based counting do more harm than good? If the preferential discrimination privileges are revised to benefit the various backward castes according to the number of people, then even the intended benefit behind the census will be subverted.

Personally I feel that it is high time that the numbers are updated. It simply does not make sense to ignore the caste system when doing so for nigh on 80 years has not worked either. Although it’s not enough that we obtain the data, if the government does not work with it. The caste-based census must be the means to reach at a more meaningful allocation of reservation to various sections of the population rather than being the end itself. And if for nothing but the need to better understand the society in which we live, I believe an offical national tally based on caste is essential. After all we cannot hope to cast out the evils of our society, if we have no idea of the size of what we are up against.


  • Roy Palatty
    Roy Palatty
    17.02.12 02:20 PM
    We do not forget the fact that by asserting caste-consciousness, we flare up fragmentation of the society. Secondly, this Census, atleast indirectly, poses that we do not want to shut the question of caste. To compare religion and caste at the equal footing is wrong. Caste is just for reservation. India may the only land under the sun where people cry to list them backward
  • Manash Singha Barma
    Manash Singha Barma
    27.06.11 06:37 PM
    Yes, it is certainly needed ,beacause INDIA consist of " NANA BHASA NANA MAT NANA PARIDHAN........"
  • Arun
    15.12.10 09:01 PM
    Join my 'SUPPORT JOB ON MERIT' cause on Facebook (sethi.arun) torationalise reservation
  • BharaniKumar24!!!
    15.08.10 11:35 PM
    I have the following point to share...

    Is it not good if we count the population based on reservation category which is already being done?? SCs/STs/BCs etc., ...BCs already have a categorization as A/B/C/D in many states. SCs are fighting for categorization at many places and even the STs will do it in near future. The categorization considers all the castes and none is left aside, in other words, everyone is covered.This system has the advantage of hiding the name of the caste under the name of the category. Thus providing personal liberty from the public scrutiny which points at him/her and always pointed right from the ages with a despise, the ugly feeling of superiority. The Indian Constitution provides a right to freedom of profession to its every citizen.Thanks to the wonderful Indian Constitution. So, now they(BCs,SCs, STs..) are getting into all fields. And now, why does the govt. want to ask them their castes for the official records?? at this point of time?? I don't see any good in caste based census now. Size of the problem(as stated in the above article) can also be known from Category based Census, which is already in use. If govt. wants to know or inquire more into the weaker sections within SCs and STs, it can categorize SCs and STs too rather then sticking the old labels on them. I was dreaming that even these new labels would fade away soon in near future through proper Education. Thereby, everyone would share the joy of Equality and Mutual Respect.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    24.06.10 09:19 PM
    @ Diane -The issue however repugnant to us, is not as simplistic as being wished away as it is deeply entrenched in Indian society. The good thing however is that the majority of us seem to be working towards a change and to see all people as they are. Thank you for reading and commenting.
    23.06.10 10:39 PM
    Very good write-up, and I totally agree with the article. India should become a bit more up to date and get rid of these (in europe looked upon as unpopular traditions). People are people no matter if they are born rich or poor.
  • ramya
    19.06.10 01:47 AM
    most welcome
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    18.06.10 01:20 PM
    @ Ramya and Mahendra - Thank you for your comments. Like Ramya has pointed out the need of the hour is indeed to remove untouchability and like Mahendra has pointed out, we do need an exit clause. Which brings us to the conclusion that a simple counting of the population based on caste is not the solution. But will it be a start of sorts in the right direction is what we need to think about. I'm still on the fence with this one as I believe that from purely research point of view we do need the revised numbers. But it is up to the academicians and social activists to use the data for positive social change.
  • Mahendra
    14.06.10 11:53 AM
    the current excercise is useless because it does not asking caste based but catagory based enumeration. We need to know individual caste composition of the population.There are many forwards among backward castes who take maximum benefits of the reservation catagory and that leaves the real backwards high and dry. for example it is assumed that Yadavas are 10-12 % of UPs population but have 18-20% representation in Gov jobs now. How can Yadavas be now called backwards and under-represented. The problem is the caste based reservation does not have an exit clause and with this the plicy will continue for 200 more years without any justification.
  • ramya
    13.06.10 04:55 PM
    @shweta I seriously wish you were right about economic status as consideration for backwardness.
    having said that,i have to say that you must try to understand the origin of reservation.It was originally meant only to uplift those who faced the most horrible and terrible oppression in the history of humanity and still do "the dalits" or harijans or untouchables.
    This was later hijacked by other lower and backward castes after the mandal commission.
    So the point here is Reservation was only as a small consolation for the suffering meted out to these people for 3000 yrs.Nothing can really compensate them for what they have suffered.
    But still before you do away with this reservation you should do away with untouchability.
    I can guarantee you that these people will be more than happy with this,that is being treated as equal, than with reservations.
    This would just mean that they can drink from the same well as others sit in the same school as others and of course not being strictly rstricted to jobs like manual scavenging of human excreta with the threat of being killed if they dont.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    09.06.10 03:10 PM
    @ G2 - You are right about being concerned about the fight for the recognition of backwardness. I believe it's time we start looking at economic status only to dole out reservations. But again this means an overhaul of colossal proportions.
    @ Ranjit and Hari - Glad you agree with the points raised. Thanks for reading and commenting.
    @ Nikhil - Absolutely. That is the one reason why I believe the caste census should be carried out.
  • Harikrishnan
    08.06.10 07:41 PM
    its a very smart write up dear author..

    you had me change my view from totally agaisnt caste based sensus to hmm..there could be something in it.
  • Nikhil
    08.06.10 02:22 PM
    If you propogate caste based reservations it is mandatory that you have the correct archive and data to back your policies. This is reason enough for caste to be included in the census data...
  • Ranjit
    08.06.10 12:41 PM
    Since the existing data is from 30s, it is high time for an update. But caste based reservation should be revised or removed completely, else there will be no justice for the middle class upper caste's woes.
    Totally agree to " not enough that we obtain the data, if the government does not work with offical national tally based on caste is essential."
    Interesting work dear author!!
  • g2
    08.06.10 09:01 AM
    It is only a few people in the metros and the mainstream media that live in denial as far as caste system goes for the sake of political correctness. The opposition for the caste based is primarily coming from the tax paying middle class and people of upper castes and their concern is justified. The population growth is greater among the backward castes and hence the politicians might increase the percentage of reservations which is already as high as 73% in tamil nadu. And the second possible consequence is people will fight for recognition of backwardness!

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