Caste-based Census

Bihar, Odisha and Maharashtra assemblies have passed a resolution demanding, the 2021 Census exercise, etc. be based on caste. This demand is being made to determine the population of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the country and the socioeconomic conditions of OBC.

Caste-based Census Timeline

  • Pre-Independence: 1871 Census was the first attempt to measure the population and enumerate caste data across India. The 1931 Census was the last exercise to enumerate caste data.
  • Post-Independence:
  • Union of India after Independence, decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste-wise population other than SCs and STs.
  • Thus, India’s largest caste bloc – Other Backward Classes – has not figured in any census from 1951-2011.
  • There is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, various groups within the OBCs, and others.
  • Aftermath of Mandal Commission:
  • In 1979, Mandal Commission (Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission) suggested the expansion of affirmative action to include other backward classes.
  • OBCs, as per the 1931 census, amounted to 52% of the Indian population. Based on this a 27% reservation was given to the OBCs in 1990.
  • Later appeared demand for the introduction OBC category in the decennial census to count them.
  • Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011:
  • SECC 2011 was the first caste-based census since 1931.
  • It was conducted by the Ministry of rural development (MoRD) and the Ministry of Housing and urban poverty alleviation in rural and urban areas respectively.
  • This was the first time such a comprehensive exercise has been carried out for both rural and urban India, which included caste-wise population data.
  • 2011 SECC data, excluding the caste data, was finalised and published by the government.
  • Demand is being raised to enumerate castes as part of Census 2021 itself. To make available authentic data on caste-wise populations and their socio-economic conditions.

Need for Caste-based census

  • Estimate change in demography: Present reservations and other welfare scheme entitlements to OBC are still based on the population estimates of 1931
  • Bring about social justice: Help governments’ welfare schemes reach the most backward and deprived castes that have been marginalised to date.
  • Help rationalize reservation policy as per the need of a specific caste or community: 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.
  • Demand for Reservations: There have 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 the 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 the demand for sub-classification of various caste groups among OBCs. The caste-based socio-economic census will help in such classification.
  • Assess the impact of Affirmative action: A socioeconomic caste census would help in assessing how far the extension of reservations to OBCs benefited them.
  • Identify relative deprivation of some castes.

Concerns associated with caste-based census

  • Subvert India’s anti-caste struggle: Constitution, social reform movements and forces of modernity have long aspired for the 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 the 7th schedule of the Constitution, the Census is in the domain of the Union. Thus, State governments conducting their own caste census is against the constitutional spirit.

Way forward

While caste-based OBC enumeration is necessary for documenting discrimination, understanding the current social-economic conditions of various castes and developing policies to distribute resources in the correct proportion.

A full caste census might be a 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.

Rohini Commission

This Commission was constituted under Article 340 of the Constitution with the mandate to examine issues of sub-categorization within Other Backward Classes in the 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 zero representation in jobs and admissions in educational institutions.

Proposed to divide 27% reservation for the castes on the Central list into four sub-categories.

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