Er Prabhat Kishore
People's voice for a complete Caste-based Census is gaining momentum in various corners of the country. In the absence of a caste census, the country is relying upon 90-year-old data to formulate its holistic developmental policies and schemes for backward and deprived sections of society. Caste and social justice are interlinked to each other and caste census will help the government to implement welfare schemes, with the pious motto of 'Jiski Jitni Bhagidari , Uski Utni Hissedari'.
For a welfare government, it is a constitutional obligation and commitment for the inclusive growth of the weaker sections of society. So, caste census is vital for social equity. A section of people argues that it may allow social tension to develop between communities in the country. Such fictional argument of a handful of casteist forces is creating hurdles in way of all-around development with social justice. If religion-based and language-based census had not created division and hatred in the society as per their claim, how a complete caste-based census can create differences in society?
The various census, conducted after independence, cannot be termed as casteless, since not only castes of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes are being recorded, but religion-based census too is being conducted. It is beyond the perception of the people that why the Centre is hesitating on a complete caste-based census, enumerating OBCs too.
The reference to caste census is found in the Rigveda and Kautilya's Artha Shastra; although caste or class categorization was not so nasty as are being seen today. Systematic caste-wise enumeration of the population was introduced by the Registrar General of India in 1881 under British Rule, which continued till 1931. In the 1941 census too, the caste-wise figures were collected, but the exercise was curtailed due to World War II and final data could not be published. In 1951, the Census exercise was revamped drastically and the recording of caste, except SCs and STs, was abandoned. Thus 1931 Census, which included Pakistan and Bangladesh territories too, became the last caste-based census in India.
The first Backward Classes Commission, headed by Kaka Kalelkar, was recommended in its report of 1955 for undertaking caste-wise enumeration of the population in Census 1961. The Second Backward Classes Commission, i.e. Mandal Commission has highlighted that the report is based on 1931 Census data, which is not adequate and hence next, i.e. 2001, Census should be caste-based. The commission had no way other than to assume inter se rate of population growth of various communities & religious groups over the last half a century to be remaining the same. But this was far from reality. The census records of the years 1951 and 2011 reveal that the population of Hindu has decreased from 84.1% to 79.30%, whereas that of Muslims has increased from 9.8% to 14.23%. Similarly, the population of SC and ST has increased from 14% to 16.63% and 6.23% to 8.61% respectively. The assumption of constant decadal growth of all communities is a farce.
In December 1996, the H. D. Deve Gowda Cabinet has decided for caste-wise enumeration in Census 2001. But in 2001, the Vajpayee-led NDA government scuttled the decision on the plead of so-called caste biases. In June 2010, The UPA government had made a commitment for caste census after discussion in both Houses of Parliament. But instead of adding a column in the main decadal Census of 2011, a separate Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was initiated, whose final report was neither concluded and nor made public. On 31st August 2018, after reviewing progress for Census 2021, the then Home Minister has promised for collecting data on OBCs first time, but the Government took a U-turn in Lok Sabha in 2021 saying no to it.
The demand for a complete caste-based census emerges every time in Parliament when it is due. Usually, such demand comes from OBCs and other deprived sections of the society and it is constantly & aggressively opposed by the representatives from upper castes, who are dominating the power share despite having nominal population share and are afraid of losing their age-long monopoly.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is leading the chorus for Caste Census and all political, as well as social institutions, are in its favour. The proposal for caste census in 2021 was unanimously passed by the Bihar Vidhan Sabha on 17th February 2019 and again on 27th February 2020. Such a resolution has also been passed in Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha on 8th January 2021. Last year Odisha became the third state to urge the centre for holding an enumeration of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes along with a general census in 2021. The National Commission for Backward Classes has also urged the government for the same. But, as Central Government has not accepted the proposal, the various State governments should come forward to conduct the exercise on their resources on the pattern of Karnataka.
It may be noted that the Karnataka High Court and the Supreme Court had directed the Karnataka State government to provide the latest percentage of a particular caste in the total population of the state, whenever the government plans to extend reservation facility to a particular caste. So, the State government decided to conduct the caste census to know the current status of various castes in the state. The Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC) has recommended for Socio-Economic and Caste Census by the State government.
Caste Census is the need of the hour, as the unavailability of reliable and authentic data regarding the exact population of each segment of the society, geographical area of their spread & density is posing a huge challenge in ensuring focused and outcome-specific planning. The latest data and statistics are the essential tool for policy-making and research, as it helps the policy-makers to determine the target and direct the course of policies & actions. With the fresh assessment of the caste-wise population, the economic deprivation levels of different castes in various states could be determined and it would help to tailor reservation policy to ensure equitable representation of all of them.