Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Caste Census and associated issues


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Census of India

Mains level : Issues with Caste Census

The Tamil Nadu government has decided to appoint a commission to formulate a methodology to collect caste-wise particulars of its population and use that to come up with a report.

Q.India’s caste system is perhaps the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy. Critically analyse.

The issue

  • The Centre conducted a ‘Socio-Economic Caste Census’ (SECC) in 2011 throughout the country, but it did not make public the caste component of the findings.
  • In Karnataka, the outcome of a similar exercise has not been disclosed to the public.

Caste details as a part of the census

  • Caste was among the details collected by enumerators during the decennial Census of India until 1931.
  • It was given up in 1941, a year in which the census operation was partially affected by World War II.
  • In his report on the 1941 exercise, then Census Commissioner of India, M.W.M. Yeatts, indicated that tabulation of caste details separately involved additional costs.
  • However, at the time of sorting the details, some provinces or States that wanted a caste record for administrative reasons were given some data on payment.

Issues with caste in the census

  • H. Hutton, the Census Commissioner in 1931, notes that on the occasion of each successive census since 1901, some criticism had been raised about taking any note of the fact of caste.
  • It has been alleged that the mere act of labelling persons as belonging to a caste tends to perpetuate the system.
  • Some argue that there is nothing wrong in recording a fact and ignoring its existence.

View after Independence

  • The 1951 census did not concern itself with questions regarding castes, races and tribes, except insofar as the necessary statistical material related to ‘special groups’.
  • It created certain other material relating to backward classes collected and made over to the Backward Classes Commission.
  • ‘Special Groups’ has been explained as referring to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Anglo-Indians and certain castes treated provisionally as ‘backward’ for the purposes of the census.
  • This implies that BC data were collected, but not compiled or published.

How have caste details been collected so far?

  • While SC/ST details are collected as part of the census, details of other castes are not collected by the enumerators.
  • The main method is by self-declaration to the enumerator.
  • So far, backward classes commissions in various States have been conducting their own counts to ascertain the population of backward castes.
  • The methodology may vary from State to State.

What about SECC 2011?

  • The Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011 was a major exercise to obtain data about the socio-economic status of various communities.
  • It had two components: a survey of the rural and urban households and ranking of these households based on pre-set parameters, and a caste census.
  • However, only the details of the economic conditions of the people in rural and urban households were released. The caste data have not been released till now.
  • While a precise reason is yet to be disclosed, it is surmised that the data were considered too politically sensitive.
  • Fear of antagonizing dominant and powerful castes that may find that their projected strength in the population is not as high as claimed may be an important reason.

Legal imperative for a caste count

  • The Supreme Court has been raising questions about the basis for reservation levels being high in various States.
  • In particular, it has laid down that there should be quantifiable data to justify the presence of a caste in the backward class list, as well as evidence of its under-representation in services.
  • It has also called for periodical review of community-wise lists so that the benefits do not perpetually go in favour of a few castes.

Caste data for reservations

  • Legislators argue that knowing the precise number of the population of each caste would help tailor the reservation policy to ensure equitable representation of all of them.
  • While obtaining relevant and accurate data may be the major gain from a caste census, the possibility that it will lead to heartburn among some sections and spawn demands for larger or separate quotas.

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