Dr. Afonso Botelho
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Rosary College of Commerce and Arts, Navelim – Goa
The proposal to reintroduce caste as a category in the 2011 census sparked off considerable discussion among sociologists, anthropologists and others. This paper attempts to analyze the pros and cons of the idea to reintroduce the variable of caste, a distinctive social institution of India. This objective is achieved by focusing on the process of caste enumeration in colonial India, the subsequent decision to exclude the caste enumeration in censuses and the proposal that had hinted at fresh enumeration. The implications of caste enumeration or excluding such a variable from the census to the society are also discussed. _____________________________________________________________________
The proposal to reintroduce caste in the 2001 census was floated in 1998 by the Registrar General of India, almost half a century after the idea had been abandoned. That proposal was later discarded but it sparked off a considerable debate around the subject. A plethora of issues notwithstanding, the sensitive subject of the caste-based census was brought up once again by some prominent political parties at the centre. The demand for the restoration or resumption of a caste based census in 2011 came from none other than some Cabinet members in the present government. However, the process of caste-wise census may not be undertaken now but there have been reports that such an exercise could be underway from June to September 2011. Rationale
A caste based census refers to introduction of the caste category in the census form, wherein the citizens of India specify their caste, thereby enabling the government to approximate the number of people in each caste. Caste enumeration was carried on from 1871 but only after Risley’s ranking of castes based on the ‘native opinion on social precedence’ in the 1901 census, did people realize the importance of census categories and mobilization around the census increased with the objective of social, economic and political advancement. Hundreds of dispersed castes and sub-castes grouped themselves into caste associations demanding increased material benefits and higher caste rankings. By 1931, the census had become an instrument of assigning identities to the Indian population and groups appeared which, even then, encouraged people to respond negatively to the question of caste.
Post-independence Census Act of 1948 did not include the category of caste except for the castes and tribes included in state schedules for affirmative or remedial action. However, today, one of the major demands for a caste census is an outcome of the difficulties entailed by the Backward Classes Commissions which lack data to carry on their task of identifying lists of backward classes for their respective states. Such lists are a prerequisite to the implementation of reservations in jobs and educational institutions and the various welfare schemes. The Chairman of the First Backward Classes Commission identified backward classes by caste. Apart from conducting their own sample surveys, obtaining data from educational institutions and government offices, the Commissions still fall back upon the 1931 census data to draw up new lists of OBCs, to admit new castes into the OBC category and also to graduate the advanced castes out of the existing OBC category. It is argued that the Caste based census, wherein the enumerators will inquire into the caste of those belonging to the Other Backward Classes, will enable more equitable distribution of the reservation benefits among the severely under-represented and underprivileged sub-groups. It will be possible to keep the creamy layers out with the help of quota-within-the-quota system devised from caste based census data....