For the first time in India, the caste census had been conducted by the colonial state in 1931, but, the reason behind the census based on caste was to identify the ways through which colonial power could strengthen their control over the entire society. However, the 1931 census had many aspects that have given a new direction to social and economic development in Indian.
Exposing the socio-economic status of Dalit and other marginal communities, the census of 1931, for the first time, brought out a rich data-based caste and socio-economic status of entire Indian society. Scholars such as Bernard S. Cohn stated that the “Censuses of the Raj period significantly influenced the social and spatial demarcation within India that exists today.”
Another scholar, Peter Gottschalk, highlighted its cultural influence. He stated that “classification of convenience for government officials transformed into contested identities for the Indian public as the census went from enumerative exercise of the British government to an authoritative representation of the social body and a vital tool of indigenous interest.”
But, it is shocking that the government of India, after independence, has never really conducted any such consolidated survey to gather data based on caste, claiming that caste-based data will enumerate caste-based identity across India, and also create challenges against the secular vision of Indian democracy.
Although, due to much demand, the government of Indian under UPA-II conducted a Socio-Economic and Caste Census, 2011, which the then-UPA government and now the NDA government haven’t released it till now claiming, citing various reasons.
As the 2016 UN report on caste-based discrimination suggested, the caste system violates the human right of millions globally. The report stated that caste-based discrimination goes against the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between inferior and superior categories of individuals. Moreover, it is also a fact that some dominant castes still dominate the entire power structure and maintains their hegemony over the whole society using their caste nexus.
Therefore, the demand for caste census in this concern is a validation of caste-based discrimination as well as caste-based atrocities that are still going on across the country in different ways.
Besides this, the demand for a caste census has been associated with two different social and political issues. The first one is that it classifies the entire population on the basis of caste and socio-economic status, which can lead a genuine voice against caste identity and caste-based discrimination in India.
If we look over the present Indian social condition, it cannot be denied that the assertion of caste-based identity and caste discrimination has become one of the biggest challenges in Indian democracy. It has been radically claimed by different social reformers as well as scholars that without the annihilation of caste and its material condition, democracy in India will not be a success, and not provide justice and equal opportunities to the people who belong to the marginalised communities.
The second issue is one of the Brahmanical social order which forms a very rigid social structure in which a particular caste and community are still treated like animals. It is a fact that the practice of untouchability still exists across India, where people from Dalit and marginalized communities have been facing the highest forms of discrimination throughout Indian society.
Dr B.R Ambedkar stated that the caste system has been integral to the core idea of Hinduism and resulted in the caste-based division within the labor and among laborers. He, in Annihilation Of Caste, described its several aspects and described how the Hindu caste system is an anti-social spirit that divides the entire society on the basis of their different practices.
Many scholars, like Rajni Kothari, have suggested that the caste system still exists not even in Hindu but also in Muslim, Sikh, and Christian communities. Interestingly, the caste system, in all religious communities in India, exists with its original characteristics and defines the whole population on the basis of the taboo of ‘purity and impunity’.
It forms a separate organic relation based on caste across the religions, preserving radical sentiment against the dominating caste. It is the uniqueness of caste identity and it has a silent tendency to create a space for secular notions among religious communities.
In this context, the emergence of Modi’s Hindutva politics has led not just a new battle against the marginalised communities, but also against Muslims and other minorities. Due to the caste system, the practice of religion and its different forms of ritual practices has become a hegemonic institution through which a particular caste and community often maintain their control over the entire resources.
It is a historical fact that the larger population in Indian society has been deprived not just socially but also economically for thousands of years. In this concern, the census data based on caste may well provide a radical ground, at the policy level, for greater social and economic reforms.