India is preparing to roll out the 16th Census (2021 Census) which is the eighth after Independence. A census is a procedure of systematically acquiring, calculating and recording information about the members of a given area or a country. The responsibility of conducting the decennial Census rests with the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
A questionnaire (which contains a list of questions to be asked) is framed for conducting the census and the enumerators will have to ask the same questions to the people. A questionnaire of 31 questions has already been framed for Census 2021.
Amid this, the debate within the political sphere on a caste census is rising once again. Most of the opposition leaders, including colleagues of the NDA, have already spoken in favour of the caste census. But on July 20, 2021, in response to a question in Lok Sabha, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs said: “The Government of India has decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste-wise population other than SCs and STs in Census.”
Actually, the last caste census was held in 1931. During the first census of Independent India in 1951, it was decided not to collect the data of caste of all citizens but only to continue with the enumeration of SC and ST because their census data is required for implementing reservation in proportion to their population.
VP Singh-led Union government had decided to provide 27% reservation in government services to Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, more commonly referred to as Other Backward Classes (OBC). This decision was in accordance with one of the recommendations of the Second Backward Classes Commission often known as the Mandal Commission.
Later, in 2006, the UPA-I government implemented 27% OBC reservation in educational institutions also. These two big decisions of the Union government has led to the momentum in the demand for caste-based census.
Various organisations, leaders and activists belonging to the OBC category are consistently claiming that their reservations are not in proportion to their “real” population. Evidently, the Mandal Commission stated the population of OBC at around 52%, while the National Sample Survey puts the figure at 41%. So, the vanguards of OBC are demanding caste census for knowing their “real” number.
The position of the Government of India is clear regarding caste census since Independence. The government has conceded the fact that a caste census might create further divisions within the society, which would be harmful to national unity. The caste census is also opposed on the ground that after revealing its data, many caste groups would get a sufficient base for demanding reservation as per their population.
These types of circumstances will act as a catalyst in the rise of caste-based identity politics.
In my point of view, these abovementioned arguments don’t have solid ground for not enumerating caste-wise population and here are some important points for a caste census.
1. Caste is a part and parcel of Indian society, There is a phrase in Hindi: “Marne ke baad bhi jo nahi jati, vah hai jaati” (Caste is one which doesn’t leave after death).
At this juncture of the 21st century, we normally hear the news of honour killing, caste discrimination and caste-related sexual violence against Dalit women’s. This proves that Indian society is conservative regarding caste. Caste division among Indians is already there, it has nothing to do with the caste census.
2. If we consider the 10% EWS reservation as a caste-based reservation for the Upper Castes, which is also a fact. Then, the basis of about 60% vertical reservation in this country is caste. This makes it important to identify the castes and sub-castes who are lagging behind in taking the benefit of reservation. There is only one feasible as well as cheap process for identification is caste census.
3. Caste census is important for revealing the truth about how a handful of people, particularly “twice-born” castes, are over-represented in every sphere (media, judiciary, academic institutions, cinema and culture etc.) and a majority of the population are cast away from the process of nation-building.
4. The government is storing biometric information (which is personal in nature) like ten fingerprints, iris scans of its citizen through AADHAR card, if this scheme doesn’t create a threat to national security. How could be recording and revealing data of the caste of a citizen (which is social in nature) pose a threat to national security?
5. India has a record of bloodshed and huge loss of public property in religious violence, even religion is responsible for the Partition of the country. Despite this, the government had recorded the religion of the citizens in every census.
Many countries in the world are regularly collecting ethnic data that would be helpful in creating better public policies. But the Government of India has refused to do so, just to cover up their failures and perpetuating caste Hindu hegemony in India.