Complex count: On caste census

Synopsis:  A precise caste census is difficult, but the data will be useful to drive social policy.


This article talks about the complexities that are inherent in the caste census. There are challenges in conducting a caste census, but given the merit of such a census, should we go ahead with the census?

What are the challenges in the caste census?

India, which seeks to construct a casteless society, a caste census can deepen the caste divide. Further, such a census can be used by politicians to further their caste agenda. Some may intensify the demand for reservation, while others may justify the need to abolish caste reservation.

Apart from all this, there is a genuine administrative difficulty, which was also cited recently by the Government as the cause for not going ahead with the caste census. For example, in the 1931 census, there were a total of 46 Lakh caste names. And if we add the sub-castes, the number will rise exponentially. So, at present, it is hard to include all caste and sub-castes in the caste census. This challenge was also cited by the Government when 2011 SECC data was not released, citing “several infirmities”.

Given all these, the exercise may seem futile. But we also need to consider the benefits that may accrue from this.

Why there is a demand for caste census?

India did not conduct all the other surveys regularly. This led to a sense of deprivation among the public, and they demand any other means for their inclusive development.  For example, The last poverty estimates are a decade old. There is a lag in unemployment data also. Household consumption expenditure surveys are also not conducted regularly.

Above all the socio-economic and caste census findings related to caste is never made public.

How can we make the caste census data useful?

The data can be used for making evidence-based policies to strengthen affirmative action. This will further the goal of creating equitable opportunities in society. This will also confirm legal requirements, as courts had mandated quantifiable data for affirmative action and reservation policy.

Read more: Caste based census in India – Explained, pointwise
What should be the way forward?

Conduct other surveys regularly:  Conducting other surveys regularly and releasing the reports will reduce the demand for the caste census. At present, the government must hasten the 2021 Census and release its socio-economic data without any delay.

We can begin with a preliminary socio-anthropological study that can be done at the State and district levels. This exercise can act as a  pilot for other large-level exercises.

State governments can do the caste survey on their own: Even the supreme court has turned down orders of various high courts for conducting the survey at the Central level. For example in the Pattali Makkal Katchi Vs Union of India, the apex court had discarded the petition in 2009 to conduct a caste census. So States if needed can carry out the exercise on their own.

Many states like Karnataka and Orissa have conducted their caste census. So States have the freedom and the capacity to carry out this exercise on their own if needed. For example, the Telangana government conducted the “Samagra Kutumba Survey” found backward castes constitute 51% of the population.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

  • Complex count: On caste census published in The Hindu on 25th September 2021.
  • “Caste obsession: Demanding better, contemporaneous socio-economic data from GoI would serve Bharat better” published in The Times of India on 1st October 2021.
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