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The Central Government had announced on March 28, 2019, that it would be conducting a census in the year 2021. Due to the pandemic, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner could not keep his word and consequently, a new deadline was set. The Union Government has agreed with the Supreme Court and decided not to enumerate caste-wise populations other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s OBC Morcha chief K.Laxman said that the states could take up the responsibility of conducting a survey which would include caste as a factor, and the Union Government could carry out the rest of the procedure. However, this survey cannot be called a census as the constitution includes census in the Union list and not in the state or concurrent list. Hence, until the constitution is amended, no state can conduct its own census. Also, providing wrong information to the enumerators is a punishable offence while collecting data for census, which is not the case for a state-conducted survey.
Over the years, there has been a gradual improvement in the quality of data collected because of the progress in technology, which has helped the government come up with better policies. The Decadal Census provides authentic information on literacy, demography, economic activity, language and many other factors which help in distributing funds, planning and implementation of policies for the future. The last census was conducted in 2011 and there has been a rapid fertility decline and mobility rising since then. The effects of these factors on the population dynamic need to be assessed as soon as possible, especially with the 14th five-year plan getting closer. The pandemic and its devastating course of fatalities have made population enumeration all the more urgent. In such a scenario, an attribute like caste will probably have to be let go of, considering how difficult it is to obtain numbers regarding caste and how complex the Indian caste hierarchy is. Also, the problem of unemployment and inflation is more worrisome and affects a greater population.
While a lot of people in the urban areas do not consider caste as a part of their identity and may even sometimes be completely baffled by the idea of considering caste as an attribute for enumeration, and claim that it does not offer sensible outcome differences as it is not a modifiable factor like education or occupation - we can not turn a blind eye to the caste-based discrimination in the rural part of the country. Untouchability, violence and other forms of atrocities still remain prevalent in the rural parts of the country. According to a leading national daily, crimes against Dalits increased by 6% between 2009 and 2018. The same report flagged a rise in violence against Dalit and Adivasi women. One might argue that these crimes are not recorded in the census but the fact that suppression of lower castes has an intrinsic relationship with their inaccessibility to education can not be denied.
In conclusion, the government should start collecting data as soon as possible and many of the old attributes might have to be changed as the population dynamic has drastically changed in the last 10 years. Although caste is not a major part of the identity of an average Indian man, caste is a masked factor for other attributes.
This article has been written by changemaker Shagufa Bava for The Paradigm.
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