Why this is a good time to talk about the Caste Census
The Maharashtra assembly on the initiative of its speaker Mr. Nana Patole – who is also an important OBC leader of the Congress in Maharashtra – has passed the resolution on January 8, 2020 demanding caste census in 2021. On January 12, 2020, the Odisha state cabinet passed a resolution to conduct Caste Census in 2021. These developments have once again raised expectations of caste census activists and started the discussion about the need of caste census. It is a good time to revisit some important issues about the caste census, particularly counting of OBCs, and the implementation process of Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC).
A brief history
It was UPA government which had given an assurance of conducting the caste census. Congress has mostly ruled this country since 1947 but even though the need for having a caste-based census was repeatedly brought up, they never took this seriously. Both current and previous home ministers, P. Chidambaram and Rajnath Singh were against this and they expressed this not just in internal party forums and but also publicly. However, some allies of the Congress government demanded that caste census be conducted before the 2011 census of India and social organizations have been demanding this for a long time.
In the first caste-based census which happened in 1911 it was found that in this country the so called upper castes are in a minority and those who are currently called Bahujans (in those times they were called non-Brahman, Untouchables, Adivasis) are in majority. Around the same time, there was a movement for universal adult franchise going on in Europe. And in 1917 when the Montague-Chelmsford reforms for gradual devolution of power came there was a realization that if universal adult franchise was implemented prevailing upper caste identity and politics may be insufficient for generating consensus to support leadership from those communities. It was around this time that the term “Hindu” started being used more frequently and in a widespread manner. Thus, we find that the caste census of that time established who is a majority and who is minority and forced the so called upper castes to switch to majoritarian “Hindu” identity. V D Savarkar’s Essentials of Hindutva which inspired this new found identity movement was written around 1921-22 and published in 1923.
Literature at the international level about the relationship of identity and census says there that a census plays an important role in construction of social reality and collective identities (like that of OBCs in India) in the same way that a map is essential to understand the geography of a nation. Dr. Ambedkar in his article From Millions to Fractions had also emphasized the importance of the caste census.
Census is important for two reasons. Firstly in helping people to organize politically. When people realize that there is strength in numbers, that their collective identity is being recognized, that their existence is getting recognition this has a very significant impact. On the basis of this social movements can be created. In the current census scheme the OBCs are not getting this recognition.
Secondly it is important for evidence-based policy making. This is a big problem in India because any data which is collected, with the exception of NSSO data, one does not find caste a variable in that data. In the US that health data is available in terms of race; you can find out whether more black people are dying than white people in the hospitals. In India, SC/STs who are admitted to hospitals may be having a higher mortality rate but you can’t find out about this because no such data is available. Caste as a variable is not captured in India’s accounting system. If caste is a defining parameter of Indian social structure, then it becomes very important that the caste variable is captured in every database in India.
Opposition to Caste Census
There are two objections to conducting a caste census. The theoretical objection is that the caste-based census will divide the society on the basis of caste. In many US universities data is made publicly available on the racial composition of the faculty as well as students as well in governmental agencies. Since 1950, the SC/STs are being identified in the census but there is no evidence that this is leading to casteism in society.
The second objection is that there are technical problems with conducting a caste census such as there are too many castes and communities. When Dr. Ambedkar had first placed the demand for universal adult franchise at the Round Table conference one of the objections to agreeing to his proposal of universal adult franchise was that it would be a logistical challenge as the number of people to be included as voters was very high. And he had replied that if we agree in principle that every human being has the right to self-govern, to determine who will rule them, then we have to overcome any difficulties in its implementation. This means that if one agrees in principle that something is important, then the technical issues with getting it implemented need to be overcome.
2013 Socio-Economic Caste Census – A False Hope
The 2013 Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) started by the UPA government and was supported by many OBC leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav, and DMK leaders did not even have a coding category for OBC although there were established methods for capturing this information similar to those used to document SC/ST status. Even after completion of this survey the guidelines prepared under the direction of UPA Home Minister P. Chidambaram explicitly prohibit making religion and caste/tribe information public.
The SECC survey itself was conducted very poorly with a reported 8 crore errors of which the government claimed to fix 6.7 crore errors, the current official government position is that the data will be published after all errors are fixed Procedural errors – where enumerators were not provided OBC caste lists – also resulted in documentation of 46 lakh caste, sub-castes, surnames and gotras which are now supposed to sorted into caste categories. Finally, India has a Census Act of 1948 but the SECC conducted in 2011 did not happen according to the Census Act but more as a voluntary disclosure of information and had very few guidelines.
The reluctance of ruling establishment can be gauged by media reports that when the SECC data was shown to some senior ministry officials they were startled by the lower than expected numbers of ‘upper’ castes and tried to prevent its disclosure to the public.
Proportion and Participation
RTI inquiries have found that in central ministries there are only 12% percent OBCs; in the DOPT (Department of Personnel and Training), the ministry which takes care of all the appointments of the central government there is 13% SC, 4% ST, and 7% OBC representation. In the President’s Secretariat, there is not a single OBC even today. And the UPSC – the institution responsible for free and fair selection of civil servants, has only 9 percent OBCs (out of a total of 650 officials). OBCs comprise about 52% of population based on the Mandal Commission data calculated from 1931 census; the NSSO claims it is 46 percent. When these facts come out in the public domain there will be a comparison done about the percentage of population vs. representation as well as comparative welfare of these social groups. Discontent among the affected people is bound to increase, people will organize, a movement of social change may gather steam.
In a democracy if the ruling class does not possess “constitutional morality” as stated by Dr. Ambedkar then citizens creating pressure on governments will make them comply. This is one of the biggest challenges for the conducting caste based census. The 2011 census has already been conducted and the next is in 2021. The demand for caste census was raised in 2010 but at that time government said it is too late to do anything. For caste census to happen a movement for this demand would need to be present along with follow up with political assurances such as through the Committee on Parliamentary Assurances.
This issue of caste census is a very important one because it is about the social reality and the constitutional right of a large section of people to be recognised as a social category.
Courtesy : TwoCircles.net