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Sansad TV: Caste Census in India

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Merits of Caste Census

  • Benefit in Policy Making: The purpose of a caste census is not merely geared to the reservation issue; a caste census would actually bring to the fore the large number of issues that any democratic country needs to attend to, particularly the number of people who are at the margins, or who are deprived, or the kind of occupations they pursue.
  • Enumerating the marginalized:A caste census would actually bring to the particular the number of people who are at the margins, or who are deprived, or the kind of occupations they pursue, or the kind of hold that institutions like caste have on them.
  • Also Reveal Privileged Section of Society:Caste is not only a source of disadvantage; it is also a very important source of privilege and advantage in our society.
  • To Address Prevalent Inequalities: Unequal distribution of wealth, resources and education has meant an acute shortage of purchasing power among the majority of Indians.
  • Constitutional Mandate: Our Constitution too favours conducting a caste census. Article 340 mandates the appointment of a commission to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes and make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by governments.
  • Caste doesn’t marginalize:We need to do away with the idea of caste being applicable to only disadvantaged people, poor people, people who are somehow lacking.
  • Rids away caste rigidities:Counting of caste doesn’t necessarily perpetuate caste or the caste system. Myths of caste elitisms can be debunked through a caste census.
  • To Burst the Myths:There are a lot of myths which actually deprive a large number of people, particularly on the margins.
  • Reduce Inclusion and Exclusion Errors:With accurate data of castes, most backward castes can be identified.
  • The Supreme Court has time and again asked governmentsto provide the data related to castes; however, this has not been possible due to the non-availability of such data.
  • Data for Policymaking:This information is absolutely necessary for any democratic policymaking.
  • Judicial backing:The courts in India have often emphatically said that it is important to have adequate data with regard to the reservation.

Challenges with Caste Census:

  • Repercussions of a Caste Census:Caste has an emotive element and thus there exist the political and social repercussions of a caste census.
    • There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities.
    • Due to these repercussions, nearly a decade after the SECC, a sizable amount of its data remains unreleased or released only in parts.
  • Caste Is Context-specific:Caste has never been a proxy for class or deprivation in India; it constitutes a distinct kind of embedded discrimination that often transcends class. For example: People with Dalit last names are less likely to be called for job interviews even when their qualifications are better than that of an upper-caste candidate.
  • 50% breach:It is argued that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case to breach the 50% cap on reservation and rationalize the reservation matrix in the country.
  • Rising assertiveness:More the State ignores out caste, the more is the tendency to preserve caste, protect it. This has been observed in many states.
  • Chaos: Data gathering itself is a big problem because it can become very, very invasive. But we need to actually balance it with enabling people and asserting citizen equality.
  • Social friction:Caste identification can lead to friction amongst various classes.

Way Forward

  • India needs to be bold and decisive in tackling caste questions through data and statistics in the way the United States (US) does to tackle race issues, by collecting data around race, class, language, inter-race marriages, among other metrics.
  • Creation of National Data Bank: The Sachar Committee Report recommended setting up a national data bank.

Conclusion

  • With every passing day and increasing social awareness, the urgency to do away with the caste system is being sharply felt. Dr. BR Ambedkar stated that if India had to attain a place of pride among the comity of nations, caste would have to be annihilated first.
  • The most important thing isimproving existing databases is more crucial to this than getting into the debate of whether to do a caste count or not. Accurate and timely data is central to India’s effort to tackle poverty. Poor data diminishes the efforts to design welfare programmes.
  • The 21stcentury is the right time to solve India’s caste question, which would otherwise extract a heavy price, not just sociologically, but also politically and economically, and make us fall behind in the development index.

Sansad TV: Caste Census in India