- The Nitish Kumar government will start its much-hyped caste-based census in Bihar. The project will cost Rs 500 crore.
The state government will conduct the exercise in two stages. In the first phase, which is likely to be over by January 21, the number of all households in the state will be counted.
- First Phase: In the first phase, which will be over by January 21, the number of all households in the state will be counted.
- Second Phase: In the next phase, data pertaining to people of all castes, sub-castes, and religions will be collected.
What is Caste Census?
- A caste census is basically the counting of people belonging to different castes in a particular marked area.
- With this two-phase exercise, the Bihar government will try to get numbers of people belonging to SC, ST, and OBC communities and their financial status among other important things.
- The exercise is termed ‘Jaati Aadharit Ganana’. People belonging to every religion and caste will be covered during the exercise.
Why is it being done in Bihar?
- Caste, as an entity, plays a major role in Indian politics.
- However, the advocates of the caste-based census argue that reservation to the SCs and STs was given based on their population, but this is not the case with the OBCs.
- The central government conducted a socio-economic and caste census in 2011, but the data was not released.
- Bihar has been repeatedly demanding a caste census for the last several years. The state legislative assembly passed two unanimous resolutions, in 2018 and 2019, in favour of a caste census.
- The caste-based headcount will enable the government to work for the development of various sections of society, including those who are deprived.
Political implications of the move
- If the caste census data comes out before the 2024 Lok Sabha election, Bihar coalition, both heading caste-based parties, could be its biggest beneficiaries.
- Conversely, the sensitive caste census data may ignite a fresh round of Mandal and Kamandal politics (slang used for OBC reservations in Bihar).
Arguments for caste census
A caste census is not merely geared to the reservation issue.
- Enumerating the marginalized: A caste census would actually bring to the particular the number of people who are at the margins, or who are deprived, or the kind of occupations they pursue, or the kind of hold that institutions like caste have on them.
- Data for Policymaking: This information is absolutely necessary for any democratic policymaking.
- Judicial backing: The courts in India have often emphatically said that it is important to have adequate data with regard to the reservation.
- Caste offers privilege: Caste is not only a source of disadvantage; it is also a very important source of privilege and advantage in our society.
- Caste doesn’t marginalize: We need to do away with the idea of caste being applicable to only disadvantaged people, poor people, people who are somehow lacking.
- Rids away caste rigidities: Counting of caste doesn’t necessarily perpetuate caste or the caste system. Myths of caste elitisms can be debunked through a caste census.
Arguments against caste census
- 50% breach: It is argued that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case to breach the 50% cap on reservation and rationalize the reservation matrix in the country.
- Caste within Caste: Given the differences in caste hierarchies across various regions of the country, a comparative reading along with generating a common hierarchy may be a challenge.
- Caste over occupation linked predicaments: Further, caste linked deprivation or adversity may not be as common as occupation linked predicaments, which become easier to compare across states/regions.
- Anonymity and bias: An intimate and personalised attribute like caste may have its differential exposition between urban and rural residents. Urban residents’ need for anonymity can always bias the reporting on caste.
- Identity crisis: Above all, recognition and adherence to caste identity is to a large extent shaped by progressive ideals, cosmopolitanism and education, which has its own regional divide in the country between the north and the south.
- Hurdle to casteless society: The idea of a national caste census is abhorrent when the stated policy is to strive for a casteless society.
Feared outcome: Exposing inefficacy of caste-based reservations
- Fractional benefits: The way reservation is practiced has invariably led to elites among castes and communities.
- Domination: These elites within the castes have tended to exercise their dominance over their very communities and not let them exercise the kind of freedoms, or search for equality, which any democratic polity deserves.
- Welfare isn’t reservation: The state has helped privileged communities far more, even though this help has not taken the explicit form of programs like reservation.
Why is a caste census always controversial?
- Data manipulation: This is a manifestation of the principle that those in power control data and information.
- Censoring of data: We have had instances where this data has been collected but has not been made public.
- Relative deprivation: Since a caste census is a necessity, it is not a happy thing, it is not a great achievement, it is just something that the State has to do circumstantially.
- Vote bank politics: Vested interests of particular state governments in hunt for vote banks are also visible these days.
- Socio-Economic Caste Census: Many have argued that a SECC would be the best way to rationalize reservation based on data and make a strong case for breaching this gap. Earlier governments argued that counting caste will perpetuate it.
- Focus on rational parameters: Attributes like caste and religion should be less important compared to modifiable attributes like education, occupation and other endowment linked attributes.
- Favoring one caste becomes a disfavor for others. This is an undeniable fact of Indian society.
- It seems that the caste census will happen unless something extraordinary happens in our polity.
- There are also important questions of demands coming up because of mismatches between the numbers that we come out with and the share in resources that different communities have.
- This is a kind of nightmare that all governments fear. So, they would much rather leave things vague.
- The Backward Classes are more than 50% of the population. And this dispensation knows that it cannot afford to lose the support of the Backward Classes.
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