Caste-based census: India in 2011

On the one hand, we zealously celebrate Independence Day each year thus paying tribute to all those who laid down there lives to attain freedom. But the decision to conduct a census based on caste, shows that we are still in the clutches of a caste based division of society. We are still chained to our identities as belonging to one community or the other. Being associated with one group in itself may not deserve condemnation, but the way politicians take advantage of the situation, it becomes a serious problem. This happens mostly due to the fact that those in power wish to retain their seats at the expense of playing divide and rule politics.

The first caste-based census took place in the year 1931. Now in 2011, it is going to be a repeat of the same. After a gap of almost 80 years we are again having a census based on caste. The decision to go the the same route came from the Lok Sabha – the first indications favouring this coming from the Prime Minister during the budget session, who stated that the appropriate decision would be taken in this regard. Finally in May, it was given the green signal.

It was Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav and their respective parties who made this demand. Other than the government, the opposition also gave their support. Earlier the same day, there were differences, P Chidambram, the Home Minister stated in parliament that members who said caste is a reality also acknowledged that caste is a divisive factor. Few hours later, the Finance Minister and the government’s chief strategist Pranab Mukherjee, told reporters outside Parliament that “caste will be included in the present census.” This is evidence of the political pressures that came from parties such as the Samajwadi Party and others.

Caste was debated at some length, when mass protests took place all over the country against the 27 percent reservation for the OBCs. The decision that has been taken now has further aggravated the gravity of the issue. Caste seems to be an inevitable reality. As commented on earlier, caste in itself might not be a source of tension. But, using it for one’s own benefit could be responsible for a myriad problems, which in turn, negatively impacts peoples’ minds. This leads to aggravating the differences among them and to increasing levels of intolerance. It instigates people into taking actions that may have serious negative consequences. In this day and age, when we strive to reach new heights in economic strength, such things appear to apply the brakes on the path to progress.

We talk at length about equality. We want everyone to get equal opportunity in every field. We want to build a space for ourselves where everybody gets an equal share based on merit. But some analysts may think differently, stating that people belonging to backward sections of society need more attention. So they should be given special treatment to ensure their not being left behind, putting their efforts on par with more privileged groups. But the criterion for segregating people based on their position in society needs to be modified. It should be done on an economic basis rather than a social basis.

The caste system has been a bone of contention for a long time. Cases, like that of Nirupama and Rizwanur, also showcase how deeply caste is rooted in our minds. These are just a couple of the many that have received a lot of media attention. There are several more like these, many of which go unreported.

The fact of the matter is that even after having moved on so far ahead, caste playa a vital and decisive role not just in domestic and social arenas,  but in political affairs too. The emphasis on caste on such a large scale, like in the census, needs to be discussed more seriously. The number of castes that have been listed under OBC/SC/ST categories need to be updated. If government is still going ahead with quotes, they need to keep a record of the progress made by the castes that come under reserved categories. It is advisable that a better way be found to improve the lot of those who fall into the different caste categories..

In this 21st century, instead of having a census based on caste, more attention should be given to education, health, technological advancement, sanitation and other welfare activities, so that our dream of being a developed nation doesn’t get blurred.

Reetie Mahobe

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