A new framework around caste and the census


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Difference between SECC and Census

Mains level: Paper 2- SECC and Census data

The article suggests the ways to make the most of the data collected through Census and the SECC.

Census and issues with it

  • The synchronous decennial Census has evolved over time and has been used by the government, policymakers, academics, and others.
  • Though Census is both a data collection effort and a technique of governance, it is criticized for not being useful enough for a detailed and comprehensive understanding of a complex society.
  •  There is a lack of depth in the Census where some issues are concerned.

The debate around full-scale Caste Census

  • Since Independence, aggregated Census data on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on certain parameters such as education have been collected.
  • There is a growing demand for a full-scale caste census to capture contemporary Indian society and to understand and remedy inequalities.
  • While others believe that this large administrative exercise of capturing caste and its complexities is not only difficult but also socially untenable.
  • There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities, or that caste may be context-specific, and thus difficult to measure.
  • The other concern is whether an institution such as a caste can even be captured completely by the Census.

Socio-Economic Caste Census: how it is different from Census

  • Following debate over full-scale caste census, the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011.
  • The SECC, which collected the first figures on caste in Census operations since 1931, is the largest exercise of the enumeration of caste.
  • Questions remain on whether the SECC is able to cover the effects of caste as an aspect of Indian social structure.
  • This was a distinct exercise from the Census of 2011.
  • The Census and the SECC have different purposes.
  • Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas the SECC data is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.
  • The Census thus provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.

Way forward

  • What is needed is a discussion on the caste data that already exists, how it has been used and understood by the government.
  • Linking and syncing aggregated Census data to other large datasets such as the National Sample Surveys or the National Family Health Surveys that cover issues that the Census exercises do not, such as maternal health, would be significant for a more comprehensive analysis.
  • This linking of the Census with the National Sample Survey data has been suggested in the past by scholars such as Mamta Murthi and colleagues.
  • Census operations across the world are going through significant changes, employing methods that are precise, faster, and cost-effective, involving coordination between different data sources.
  • Care must however be taken to ensure that digital alternatives and linking of data sources involving Census operations are inclusive and non-discriminatory, especially given the sensitive nature of the data being collected.
  • Delay in the release of data needs to be reduced.
  • There needs to be a closer and continuous engagement between functionaries of the Census and SECC, along with academics and other stakeholders concerned.

Consider the question “How Socio-Economic and Caste Census is different from the Census? How linking and syncing of  these data with other databases could help in the governance?”


Data collected through both the exercises serve an important purpose in the governance of the country, however, there is scope to widen the use of data if the steps suggested here are implemented.

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