Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The caste census debate to craft reasoned and inclusive policies

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of these Vulnerable Sections


Source: TH


Direction: The article highlights the triple test formula to provide OBC reservation in ULBs and discusses the need to have a caste-based census.




Context: The judiciary has repeatedly established that caste population surveys conducted by the states are insufficient to provide for political reservation in local body elections.





  • The Allahabad HC recently dismissed the UP government’s caste census to count the Other Backward Class (OBC) population across the state, ruling that “counting of heads” is insufficient.
    • The UP government had ordered (in 2017) a “rapid survey” to count the population of OBCs ward-wise in each municipal corporation, municipal council, and panchayat area.
  • The HC, while directing that local body elections be held in UP without any reservation for the OBC, added that the State had not followed the “triple test formula” as suggested by the Supreme Court.
  • This comes as the call for a caste census intensifies in India, with several states considering introducing reservations for the Backward Classes in urban local body elections.




What is the Triple Test Formula to provide OBC reservation in urban local body (ULB) elections? It requires a state government to –

  • Set up a dedicated commission for a rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness specifically with respect to local bodies;
  • Specify the proportion of reservations required for political representation based on the commission’s recommendation;
  • Ensure total reservations for SC/ST/ OBC groups do not exceed 50% of the total seats.





The case of UP:

  • The Allahabad HC noted that the government’s enumeration exercise does not provide for inquiry into the political representation of the backward class.
  • The court stated that the dedicated commission must also ascertain under­representation in municipal bodies (if any).




Similar case: The Patna HC had made a similar point on distinguishing the social and education backwardness of a group from its political backwardness.




The debate on caste census in India:

Background: The decennial Census currently collects data only on SCs and STs and fails to provide comprehensive data on India’s graded caste hierarchy.


The 2011 Census:

●        Though the political leadership agreed to include a full caste count in the Census, it later excluded a caste-wise enumeration in the Census.

●        The probable reasons for this exclusion –

○        Caste elites generally believe that caste no longer matters in shaping opportunities and outcomes in the 21st century.

○        The exercise may lead to the misuse of public resources.

○        The exercise may be administratively difficult and cumbersome, jeopardising the whole exercise and compromising the basic integrity of the Census.

●        Following the suppression of the caste count in Census 2011, the bureaucracy reconfigured the Below Poverty Line survey and renamed it the 2011 Socio-­Economic Caste Census.

○        This had little resemblance to the caste census and produced unusable caste data.


Need for collecting caste-wise data in the decennial Census:

●        To understand the contours of inequality.

●        To understand how caste intersects with class, gender, and regionality to structure access to resources.

●        The Census has the legal/constitutional standing, public trust, operational expertise, and resources to collect, analyse and make public caste data.


Global practices: Census bureaus in the U.S., Brazil, and South Africa, etc., with long histories of white supremacy, collect detailed data on race and class to understand the current scope of inequality and develop justice-oriented policies.



●        Some progressive scholars fear that a caste-wise count will further entrench caste identities, as a caste census will require all households to think about, acknowledge, and speak about caste identities.

●        Misuse of the caste data by the political parties.


Way ahead:

●        The entire process requires external oversight (Anti Caste organisations and public intellectuals) if the data are to be usable and to minimise potential harm.

●        A public oversight group should work to ensure that major operational and methodological decisions align with the data collection’s purpose.


Conclusion: While counting (or not counting) caste is political, the decision should not be reduced to immediate political contingencies i.e., the expansion of reservation policies, the caste-based mobilisation by political parties, etc.

Insta Links:

Caste census