Is Caste based census necessary?

India Sep 13, 2021

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In a response to a question in Lok Sabha, the central government informed in July that it would not enumerate caste-wise populations, except those for the SCs and STs in the census. However, the demand for a caste based census is growing due to various reasons. Many national, regional and local parties have been strongly demanding the caste based census including some leaders of the BJP and parties like JD(U) and AD(S) who are allies of the ruling BJP. Assemblies of Bihar, Maharashtra and Odisha have passed unanimous resolutions demanding caste-based census. On August 23, an 11 member delegation led by Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demand caste-wise enumeration of the OBCs in the census.

Last time in the census of 1931, caste based data was published. In 1941, caste-based data was collected but not published. All censuses published since 1941, contained data regarding SCs and STs but did not publish the data on the population of Other Backward Classes (OBC) or Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC). All other castes except SCs and STs are marked in the general category.

After a lot of uproar, the previous UPA government decided to conduct a separate census called the “Socio Economic and Caste Census” to enumerate caste wise populations instead of including caste wise data in the regular census. Citing quality issues with the data, the data collected under SECC was never released.

There is no accurate estimate of the OBC population due to the absence of a caste based census. The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%. Different surveys by the government like the National Sample Survey give a rough estimation of the population of OBCs. However these estimations are based on surveys unlike the census where almost every person of the country is considered before publishing the data.

Caste based census have its own advantages and disadvantages. A caste-based census can help the central and state government to revise and formulate the reservation in educational institutions and government jobs in accordance with the economic status of various castes as the economic and social status of various communities differs in different states.

The recently introduced 127th amendment allows states to maintain their own list of OBCs. With census enumerating the population of OBCs, states can devise socio economic programs and policy for the upliftment of underprivileged classes. It would also help various political parties to analyze the caste statistics of a region and appease particular communities who can be electorally beneficial, as a huge section of population votes on the basis of caste factor. However, this can lead to the sidelining of other communities and castes whose population is very small.

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that the total reservation should not breach the 50% mark. As the population of SCs and STs is well below 50%, the reservation given to them i.e. 15% and 7.5% fits within the 50% cap. After the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, the central government introduced reservation for OBCs in the 1990s. Although the population of OBCs exceeds 50%, the reservation given to them is 27%, resulting in various demands to increase the reservation.

Recently the Supreme Court struck down the Maratha Reservation as it was exceeding the 50% mark, even though the High Court upheld the quota stating that the 50% cap can be exceeded in exceptional circumstances. Therefore states have been unsuccessful in exceeding the 50% cap. With a caste based census giving the exact percentage of population of OBCs which is above 50% as indicated by several surveys, the actual number might force the Supreme Court to review the 50% cap.

Even after implementing policies for backward and deprived classes, various governments at the center have been avoiding a caste-based census as it might lead to more social rift and disharmony among communities due to a revised policy framework regarding reservation. The unreserved categories might get more angry and organize protests across the country due to increased reservation, the implications of the Mandal Commission were disastrous as protests erupted across the country. Therefore, a caste based census is a necessity but its implications cannot be underestimated.

This article has been written by Harsh Battulwar for The Paradigm

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