Caste Census – An analysis

Mains Test Series


There is a demand of inclusion of caste category in 2021 census.

Need of caste census

  • Our political system and courts are still using caste data from 1931 census. This does not address the change and requirement of present time.
  • To make available authentic information regarding the socio economic condition  and education status of various castes and sections of the population
  • It would help government for identification of beneficiaries for various socio-economic welfare schemes.
  • Based on that, Government can evaluate the performance of its past schemes/policies and update them accordingly.
  • It would help to streamline caste based reservation system.
  • It would help in understanding the change in society and exclude/include well of/deprived caste.
  • It would help to identify hundreds of nomadic and excluded castes in India.
  • At administrative level, it would help to manage caste conflict

Caste census in India

In India, Caste is a social reality which determines one’s social status and the limits of the social relations and also opportunities for advancement in the life of an individual.

History of caste census

  • The first census of 1872 collected information about caste. The 1872 and 1881 censuses attempted to classify people fundamentally according to the varna system.
  • In 1891 census, subdivision of major caste was introduced.
  • In 1901 census, caste of only Hindus and Jains were recorded and in case of other religion name of tribe or race were recorded.
  • In 1921 census, the category of depressed classes was used first time.
  • In 1931 census, Column eight in the general schedule provided for an entry of ‘ caste tribe or race ‘.
    • Mandal commission uses the data to 1931 census to define the criteria for OBC caste in India.
    • The commission adopted 11 criteria which could be grouped under three major headings: social, educational and economic in order to identify OBCs.
  • In 1941, Second World War starts so census was not fully done and data was not released.
  • From the outset of 1872, there was never a formal definition of the census for caste, race or tribe. The recorded details changed in every census from 1872 to 1941.
  • In post independence India, caste was considered irrelevant. It was assumed that caste counting would further create divisions so caste census was stopped since 1951.
  • But Caste census of SC/STs continues as there were provisions in the constitution to give reservation
  • In 2011 census, caste was not included due to logistical reason despite of huge demand
  • Although, caste information was collected later through Socio-Economic and Caste Census, 2011

SECC, 2011

  • The Ministry of Rural Development commenced the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in June 2011 through a comprehensive door to door enumeration across the country.
  • It has generated information on a large number of social and economic indicators relating to households across the country.
  • The announcement for Caste count during 2011 Census has given rise to a big row among its supporters and opponents.


  • It will give impetus to Caste divisions and its perpetuation in society.
  • The other objection is regarding the operational difficulty in ascertaining the correctness of the caste claimed by a person as there is no such final list available with the Census authorities.

Procedure followed

SECC uses the parameters laid down by the S R Hashim committee (urban area) and NC saxena committee (Rural area). They recommended a three-fold classification of households.

  • Excluded Households- These would be identified by assets owned and income.  These households are not eligible for welfare benefits of the government.
  • Automatically included Households – These would be the households facing extreme social destitution. These households are automatically included for the welfare benefits of the government.
  • Other Households- These households would be eligible for graded benefits decided on the basis of multiple deprivation indicators.
  • Census in Rural Area has been conducted by the Department of Rural Development.
  • Census in Urban areas is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation.
  • Caste Census is under the administrative control of Ministry of Home Affairs: Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.
  • It was not conducted as per The Census act, 1948.
  • Personal data given in Population Census is confidential.
  • On the contrary all the personal information given in SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/ or restrict benefits to households.


  • Respondent based canvasser method would be adopted for the survey
  • The Enumerator (a Government servant) would ask the questions, while a data entry operator to be provided by consortium of Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) will enter the responses into a hand held device.
  • Acknowledgement slips will be provided to each household after the enumeration.
  • Each SECC Draft List was to be placed before Gram Sabha for inviting Claims & Objections.

Problem with SECC data on caste

  • SECC 2011 data was criticized by few experts as it was not reliable. The methodology is not full proof and there are many errors and omissions in the draft data.
  • Question about caste was included in BPL census (later SECC) without much preparation.  Hasty inclusion of caste question has resulted in largely unusable data.
  • The SECC asked interviewer to write down the name of the caste exactly as articulated by the respondent. This led to repetition of various castes as sometimes same caste is spelt in different ways.
    • By some reports, SECC has come out with 46 lakh categories of caste, sub-caste, synonyms, different surnames, gotras in the caste and clan names
  • As far as reliability is concerned, it is not confidential like the census, so respondents could have skewed their answers to be eligible for schemes or due to a number of social reasons.
  • The procedure of claim and objections are not properly followed.

Present status of SECC data on caste

  • The caste data that was collected was sent to the all the states in November 2014 for clubbing them to consolidate the caste count.
  • Later, Government said that a total of 8 crore errors were found in caste particulars and all states and Union Territories, of which approx 6.75 crore errors have been rectified.

  • The government tasked former NITI Aayog chairman, Arvind Panagariya to look into this but effort was stalled.
  • Government has not yet  released the caste data of SECC
  • However, the government has released provisional data of rural India to addresses multi-dimensionality of poverty.

Way forward

  • Government should include the caste question in Census 2021.
  • Government should include advice from various corners to collect a flawless data on caste.
  • The data and experience of SECC can be used to develop a methodology to collect desirable caste data.
  • Government should make a comprehensive list of castes and condense them into meaningful categories via machine learning tools.
  • These categories should be validated by domain experts such as Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR)
  • The accurate caste data is need of time to rationalize reservation policy and targeted distribution of welfare schemes and policies
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