Caste aside

The government seems to have been persuaded by political parties to accept the demand for collection of caste data about citizens as part of the 2011 census operations. Most parties, especially those identified with the backward castes, had made a strong demand for inclusion of caste as a category in the census during the last session of parliament. The Union cabinet discussed the matter and was reported to have been divided on it. The decision to finally go in for a caste census lacks logic and rationale. The last caste census was done in the country in 1931. It was stopped  because  eliciting information about the caste status of  citizens amounts indirectly to accepting castes. Caste is reality of Indian life even now but it is wrong and unnecessary to  put an official stamp on it.

The argument that caste data will help to find out the relationship between caste and economic status cannot be accepted. Census is not social and economic survey. The details gained from it cannot be reliably used for formulation of policies that address social or economic backwardness. The census enumerators are not qualified and trained to undertake a scientific and rigorous survey. There are many practical difficulties inherent in a caste survey. The government has listed about 6,000 castes and sub-castes. The states have their own lists. There are other surveys that add thousands more to these lists. Enumeration and categorisation of such large and confusing data is beyond the scope the census. The top census authorities and the home ministry have opposed the idea as it was felt that it would compromise the integrity of the census and make the exercise far more complex and difficult.

The demand for caste-wise information has mainly arisen from the feeling that the number of people belonging to backward castes may be more than what is estimated now. Parties are also looking at the political potential of demanding changes in reservation percentages on the basis of the new data. But moves to make such changes in the reservation system can be socially disruptive and can lead to political turmoil. Neither an increase in the overall reservation limit nor any change in the relative shares of castes in the reservation pie will be advisable or desirable. Parties are playing politics with census for their own narrow gains. Instead of trying to reduce the role and relevance of caste in society and politics, they are promoting it.

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