Context: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking his government to conduct a caste census. The pitch from the Congress chief came after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday raised a demand to know the strength of the Other Back ward Classes (OBC) in the country.
A population Census is the process of collecting, compiling, analysing and disseminating demographic, social, cultural and economic data relating to all persons in the country, at a particular time in ten years interval.
History of census in India
Ancient and Medieval times
- The earliest literature ‘Rig Veda’ reveals that some kind of Population count was maintained during 800-600 BC.
- Kautilya’s Arthasastra, written around 321-296 BC, laid stress on Census taking as a measure of State policy for purpose of taxation.
- During the regime of Mughal king Akbar, the administrative report ‘Ain-eAkbari’ included comprehensive data pertaining to population, industry, wealth and many other characteristics.
- In the year 1872 the first census was conducted non-synchronously in different parts of India during the reign of the then viceroy of India lord Mayo. (This Census did not cover all territories possessed or controlled by the British.)
- The Census of 1881 which was undertaken in 1881 by W.C. Plowden, Census Commissioner of India was a great step towards a modern synchronous census.
- After 1941 Census India got its independence in 1947. The Bhore Committee was constituted for making Plans for post war development in the field of health recommended that “The Population Problem should be the subject of Central study”. Accordingly the Census Act came into force in 1948 . The censuses of post-independence era were conducted as per the provisions of this Act. The first census of Independent India was conducted in 1951.
- And accordingly exercise of the census has been kept under the Union list of the seventh schedule.
- The responsibility of conducting the decadal census rests with the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
- This organization was created to prepare data on population figures including vital statistics and census. Later, this office was also entrusted with the task of implementation of the Birth and Death Registration Act, 1969 in the country.
- Caste census means inclusion of caste-wise tabulation of India’s population in the Census exercise.
- From 1951 to 2011, every census in India has published the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, comprising the Dalits and the Adivasis, along with the gamut of data including religions, languages, socio-economic status, etc.
- It, however, has never counted OBC’s, the lower and intermediate castes, which according to the Mandal commission make up around 52 per cent of the country’s population. All castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are counted under the general category.
- This is where the demand for caste census comes from.
- The first census in India began in 1872 and the periodic count in 1881 under British rule. Since then, the data on caste was always included, though only till 1931.
- The caste count was excluded for the 1941 census reportedly because of administrative and financial issues with England involved in World War II.
- Thus the count of OBCs is, therefore, available for 1931, when their share of the population was found to be about 52 percent.
- In 2010, the then UPA government had partially conceded to the demand as the caste enumeration was not done as part of Census 2011, but a separate Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in the same year, which also gleaned data on caste.
- Later, the raw caste data was handed over to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, however, it was never made public by the government.
Need for caste-based census
This Commission was constituted under article 340 of Constitution with mandate is to examine issues of sub-categorization within Other Backward Classes in Central List.
Findings/suggestions: It found that 97% of all jobs and educational seats have gone to just 25% of all sub-castes classified. And around 25% of these jobs and seats went to just 10 OBC communities. 983 OBC communities, 1/3rd of the total, had almost had zero representation in jobs and admissions in educational institutions. It Proposed to divide 27% reservation for the castes on the Central list into four sub-categories.
- Rationalising benefits: Objective analysis of change in demography will help in rationalising affirmative action. Present reservations and other welfare scheme entitlements to OBC are still based on the population estimates of 1931.
- Assess impact of Affirmative action: A socio economic caste census would help in assessing how far the extension of reservations to OBCs benefited them.
- Social justice: Help governments’ welfare schemes reach the most backward and deprived castes that have been marginalised till date. Experts believe the economic status of the dominant OBC castes have improved in the past 80 years and certain castes have not benefited as much.
- Minimizing exclusion and inclusion errors: It will help in Help rationalize reservation policy as per need of a specific caste or community. As Land fragmentation and decades of agricultural stagnation have turned many upper caste landowners into marginal farmers. Whereas rising rural wage has benefitted some of the backward classes including Dalits.
- Need for scientific data to addressing contemporary demands: There has been demands to expand OBC reservation (as the present 50% cap is arbitrary) and inclusion of dominant castes like Jats, Kapus, Patidars, Marathas etc. into OBC category. Often these demands are not based on scientific evidence. Hence, a Caste based socio-economic census will bring out the real picture.
- OBC Sub-categorisation: OBC membership is large and heterogeneous, with vast intra-caste differences in socio-economic conditions. Some better-off groups among OBC castes have cornered a disproportionately large share of seats reserved for OBCs giving rise to demand of sub-classification of various caste groups among OBCs. Caste based socio economic census will help in such classification.
- Constitutional mandate : Article 340 mandates appointment of a Commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes. Now such investigations must be backed by certain objective data.
Concerns Against Caste Based Census
- Subvert India’s anti-caste struggle: Constitution, social reform movements and forces of modernity have long aspired for annihilation of caste.
- Reinforces Caste Identities: Enumeration of castes might reinforce caste identities prevalent in society.
- Vote bank politics: caste wise data may be used as a tool for caste-based political mobilization
- New demands for Reservation: Numbers about OBCs might provide a new issue to the regional parties to mount pressure on the Centre for an OBC quota in central government jobs and educational institutions.
- Federal concerns: According to 7th schedule of the Constitution, Census is in the domain of Union. Thus, State governments conducting their own caste census is against constitutional spirit.
While caste based OBC enumeration is necessary for documenting discrimination, understanding current social- economic conditions of various castes and developing policy to distribute resources in the correct proportion.
A full caste census might be little controversial and cumbersome. For Indian society is divided into roughly 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes. If the state plans to use caste as a criterion for the distribution of resources, it may create confusion and anarchy in policymaking.