The issue over a caste-based census has resurfaced as the 2021 census approaches. While numerous political parties have called for a countrywide caste census, the union government has said that a Backward Classes caste census would be administratively complicated and time-consuming. With the ongoing discussion, it is critical to understand the caste-based census and the implications for the country that caste statistics will have.
In this article we have discussed the Cast Census, the difference between Cast Census and SECC, the government’s stand on the Cast Census and the significance of the Cast Census. This topic is significant for numerous government examinations as part of current events.
The topic also finds place in GS Paper II (Polity) of the UPSC IAS Exam.
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What is Cast Census?
Caste Census is the demand to include the caste-wise tabulation of India’s population in the upcoming exercise. Caste, a powerful cultural underpinning of Indian culture, was last included in the Indian Census in 1931. The drill was carried out at the time by the Britishers. From 1951 to 2011, every census in independent India provided data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but not on other castes. The Britishers ended the practice in the 1941 Census, citing cost restrictions. The lost parameter was not picked up by the Indian government. In the absence of such a census, there is no reliable estimate of the number of OBCs, other categories within OBCs, and others.
Also read Quantifying the Caste Quotas.
Learn what is the Reservation Percentage in India.
How have details of the cast been collected so far?
While information on SC/STs is collected as part of the census, enumerators do not collect data on other castes. The most common method is to self-declare to the enumerator about the backward class one belongs to. Until now, backward classes commissions in various states have conducted their own census to determine the population of backward castes.
The Mandal Commission estimated 52 percent of the OBC population; other statistics are based on data from the National Sample Survey. Political parties create their own estimates for state, Lok Sabha, and Assembly seats during elections.
Importance of Cast Census
People who advocate the cast census give the following arguments in favour:
- Equitable representation: The actual population size of each caste would aid in tailoring the Reservation System to guarantee fair representation for all of them.
- Enumerating the marginalised: A caste census would bring to light the specific number of individuals who are on the fringes, or who are disadvantaged, or the types of vocations they pursue, or the kind of grip that institutions like caste have on them.
- Removes caste rigidities: Caste counting does not imply the perpetuation of caste or the caste system. A caste census aids in the dispelling of illusions regarding caste elitism. It helps abandon the notion that caste exclusively applies to those who are disadvantaged, destitute, or otherwise deficient.
- Data for Policy Making: It will be beneficial to provide statistical justifications for maintaining caste-based affirmative action programmes or welfare schemes. A comprehensive census of all homes in the country will aid in identifying disadvantaged households and implementing anti-poverty programmes.
- Judicial support: Indian courts have often stated strongly that appropriate data on reservation is required. It may also be a legal requirement, given that courts seek ‘quantifiable facts’ to back up the current levels of reservation.
Know in detail about Caste Census 2011 in the linked article.
The topic can be asked as a Current Affairs Question in IAS Prelims. For quizzes on current affairs, visit the linked page.
Arguments against the Caste Census
The following arguments are given against conducting the caste census:
- Rising assertiveness: It has been observed in many states that the greater is the state’s disregard for caste, the greater is the inclination to defend and protect the caste. So having a cast census would lead to higher assertiveness.
- Social conflict: Caste identity can cause conflict between different castes. There is a chance that it may irritate some people and spark calls for higher or separate quotas.
- Imbalance in Society: Data collection is a major issue since it may become quite invasive. However, we must strike a balance between aiding individuals and upholding citizen equality. It has been claimed that just labelling people as belonging to a caste contributes to the system’s perpetuation.
- 50% Reservation Breach: It is believed that Caste census will not do much and Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is the only way to rationalise the Indian Reservation System.
Read more about Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011 in the linked article.
Government’s Stand on Cast Census
In September 2021 the central government ruled out a Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), claiming that it was unfeasible, “administratively difficult and cumbersome”. The current stand of the government on the issue is:
- Data is Not Useful: The Centre reasoned that even when caste census was done prior to independence, the data deteriorated in terms of “completeness and correctness.” Justification given was that the caste data enumerated in 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) is “unusable” for official purposes since it is “replete with technical defects.”
- Administratively Difficult: Furthermore, the government considers that it is too late to include caste in Census 2021 because census planning and preparations began roughly four years ago, and Census 2021 preparations are almost complete.
- Not a Good Policy Tool: The government said that caste-based enumeration in the Census was discontinued as a matter of policy beginning in 1951 because a population census was not the “perfect tool, since many individuals may not register themselves in the census if they are disguising their caste.” This may jeopardise the census’s “fundamental integrity.”
Difference between SECC and Caste Census
- The Census presents a portrait of the Indian people, whereas the SECC is a tool for identifying state assistance recipients.
- Because the Census is conducted in accordance with the Census Act of 1948, all data are deemed secret, however the SECC website states that “all personal information submitted in the SECC is open for use by Government agencies to award and/or restrict benefits to families.”
The relative fortunes of particular communities have been influenced by economic advancement and government affirmative action. So, it is time to collect data that reflects the current situation. Data collecting on caste is becoming increasingly important in order to rationalise reservation procedures. Furthermore, independent of the census, preparatory socio-anthropological study at the state and district levels can be done to identify all sects and sub-castes in the society. Although a caste census may be incompatible with the goal of a casteless society, it may be effective in correcting societal inequities.
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