Does India Really Need A Caste Census? [PROS & CONS]

Posted on November 26, 2010 in Specials

By Pallavi Murthy:

The much debated topic in India has been the Caste Census. Is there really a need for a caste census in India? Well first of all, what is caste census? Census is a term used for numbering of people, valuation of their estate for the purpose of imposing taxes. Caste is a social reality which determines one’s social status and the limits of the social relations and also opportunities for advancement in the life of an individual.

The 2011 Indian census, is considering collection of caste data. On one hand we say that India is growing and becoming a developed nation while on the other we are agreeing to the caste based census. Are we really trying to show to the world that we are still tied in the ropes of a caste based society? In a secular and independent country like India, is there still any scope for the old caste based census that used to be followed during the British rule?

Among the urban elite, caste is private information while in the rural places caste is public information. Clearly, caste is neither relevant, nor sought to be known in anonymous urban spaces like worksites or commercial areas. But it is known in places of residence, which is where the census is conducted. Now, like any other topic, caste census has its own pros and cons.

Well, starting with the pros of the caste-based census. It definitely will help in identify the various backward and downtrodden classes. These classes may benefit if the government implements development plans effectively. It would also help in understanding the change in society. They say having this data will strengthen the democratic system and will help to uplift a particular caste and in future there will hopefully be a casteless society. Also the caste-based system could help in eradicating inequality in the society.

Now the cons of the caste-based system. First of all a caste-based census will give rise to caste division. Also there will be a difficulty in the operation of ascertaining the correctness of the caste claimed by a person as the census authorities do not have any such final list. The census may be misused by a person to move up the social order. Do the government really want to label a person by caste? “The caste-based census will not help the common man. It is only going to add fuel to the fire. If the government really wants to work for the progress of the country they should divide the people on the basis of educated and non-educated, literate and illiterate, rich and poor(above poverty line and below poverty line)”, says Payal, a student. She goes on to say that if they have a proper count of the number of illiterate and poor, the government can then work towards their uplifting them. When we talk about a secular India, then where does the question of caste division arise? Also there are more than 4000 castes in India. How many different caste divisions are they actually going to do? Will it be feasible to take into account all the different castes? Also will you consider an Aiyar and an Aiyangar as 2 different castes or just as one caste (i.e. Brahmin). If the latter is true then how are you giving justice to both the castes? Also there are some castes that are spelled differently. For example a Gaunder might spell it or pronounce it as Kaundan. What if a person does not want to identify himself by caste? What will he put in the caste box? How will the government keep a track of all these various issues?

Politicians are doing everything possible to divide the country rather than integrating it. A caste- based census will further divide it. It will merely become a tool for formation of vote banks and be wielded power hungry leaders.

Now let me discuss a few aspects of politicization of caste system. Caste division earlier was just a reminder to the societal vocations. But now the government has ended up giving an official status to caste. They have used the caste label for quotas and reservations in education and job. By creating such caste divisions the government is giving rise to casteism. People have started showing more interest in their caste status so that they can use it to fill up application forms for the various examinations, jobs etc to become eligible for quota privilege. The policy of the government to give quotas and reservation on the basis of caste rather than on the basis of economic status is discriminatory towards people of other caste and is often condemned by the common people.

We talk about equality. But by creating a caste division and on that basis making quotas and reservations, is the government really showing equality? Well if they really wish to develop the country and eradicate poverty and illiteracy then the government should give more importance to economic division, education, health etc and not caste. This is my opinion. So do you think India really needs a caste census?

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