Socio-Economic and Caste Census: A Need for reforms

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Syllabus: GS 1 – population and associated issues

Synopsis:  Socio-Economic and Caste Census is suffering from many issues. All the issues must be removed before the next exercise is conducted.


The Census of India is one of the largest exercises which counts and collects demographic and socio-economic information on the Indian population. It has its own history, context, and purpose.

About the Census

The census was a colonial exercise practiced since 1881. It has evolved with time. It is used by the government, policymakers, etc. to estimate the Indian population and its access to resources.

  • Census Commissioner for India in 1941 had pointed out that the census is a very powerful tool. But it is not a suitable tool for detailed enquiry about the population.
  • Later, many scholars also found census as not useful enough for a detailed and comprehensive understanding of a complex society.

The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011. It was the largest exercise of the listing of castes and has the potential of finding inequalities at a broader level.

However, there were many concerns associated with it.

What are the main apprehensions with regard to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC)?

First, This census has the potential to solidify the caste identities of individuals.  It won’t be helpful in eliminating discrimination from society. 

Second, SECC has not been able to cover the effects of the caste system on social structure from the local, to the regional, and to national scale. 

Third, the data captured by the census is considered confidential under the census act of 1948. Whereas the personal data captured by SECC is open for use by Government departments. It makes the SECC data prone to use and for misuse by govt. 

Fourth issue is the time duration between each census and the delay in the release of data after it is done.  It makes the data obsolete and unusable to estimate the present status of issues. For example, a sizeable amount of data collected under SECC has not been released even a decade later.

What can be done?

There should be transparency on the use of existing caste data by the government for granting or withdrawing benefits. Further, the following steps should be taken:

  • First, the collected census data should be linked with other databases of national sample surveys or the National Family Health Surveys that cover issues such as maternal health. This will help in the utilization of this data for dealing with social issues in a better way.  
      • Scholars like Mamta Murthi have suggested linking the data of surveys in the past.
  • Second, This linking of data sources that involve the Census should be inclusive and non-discriminatory.
  • Third,
  • Fourth, there should be a closer and continuous engagement between officials of the Census and SECC. It is because the Census and the SECC are projects of governance as well as of academic interest.
  • Fifth, there should be an evaluation of the previous exercise before the next SECC is conducted.

Way forward

Concerns regarding methodology, significance, rigidity, spreading, transparency, and privacy need to be taken seriously.

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