2011 Census-I

Identity and Caste Identity


Ever since the first census was taken in 1881, the caste identity of every person, along with his other identities (land or property, education, occupation etc) was recorded till 1931. Nirmal Kumar Bose's celebrated book 'Hindu Samajer Garan' (The Structure of Hindu Society), published by Viswa-Bharati in 1948, was based on the Census Reports of 1931. In that book, the author recorded the population figures of various castes of Bengal, along with literacy rates and occupational structures among them.

Eight decades have rolled by since then. It is important for not only researchers, but policy makers and administrators also, to be informed about the changes in literacy and occupation among various castes. But there is no way of getting this information. The reason is that in the first census taken after independence (1951), the process of recording the caste status was stopped, and only the recording of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes was maintained. In consequence, an idea could be formed of the changes regarding education, occupation and social empowerment of the SCs and STs, but this was impossible for the upper and middle castes. Hence the census data failed to provide knowledge about the changes in caste-based power structure. Organizations of backward castes protested against it ever since 1951, but the Government of India turned a deaf ear. In 1953, the first Backward Classes Commission (Kaka Kalelkar Commission) was formed and in its report submitted to the Government of India, reservation for the OBCs was recommended. But the Governmnt of India did not accept it. This continued till 1977. After the defeat of the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls in 1977, the demand for the backward castes gained importance at the national level and the second Backward Classes Commision (Mandal Commission) was formed. When the report of the Mandal Commission, which had recommended 27% reservations for the OBCs, was submitted, Indira Gandhi had come back to power. She sent the report to the cold storage. But by then, large-scale turmoils had taken place in the Indian society. As a result, the Mandal Commission returned through V P Singh and 27 % reservations were introduced in the all-India sphere. In the decade of the 1990s, strong demands were raised for reintroduction of caste-based census. As a matter of fact, V P Singh took initiative for scrutinizing caste-based socio-economic conditions. Those who wanted to preserve the caste system felt alarmed. The RSS and the BJP, the main force of feudal ideology and Hindutva, tactfully brought the issue of Ram Mandir to the fore and dislodged V P Singh from power. In consequence, a survey of caste-based socio-economic conditions could not be undertaken.

Finally, it was decided to undertake a caste-based survey in the 2011 Census. But the Congress Government at the center, true to its nature, practiced double standards. In the original census, caste identities were not recorded and a separate survey was made. This survey, conducted from 2011 to 2013, was titled SEEC, meaning socio-economic and caste-based survey. Recently the Government of India has published its results, but not entirely. The results of the caste-based survey has been withheld. As excuses, Arun Jaitley and Rao Virendar Singh have argued that since these data are to be used by the government for implementation of its programmes, they need not be brought out in public. The motive is clear. The publication of the results would reveal the real conditions of the dalits, adivasis, OBCs and Muslims. Hence it is necessary to withhold their publication for the sake of preserving the dominance and control of the upper castes over the Indian society.

The BJP is now arranging a nationwide worship of Ambedkar, ostensibly in order to use his popularity. But Ambedkar wanted annihilation of caste, while the BJP has been working for its preservation. E Sudarshan Rao has been appointed Head of the ICHR, although he is little known as a historian. But some time ago, he wrote a piece, defending the caste system of India. He tried to prove that this system has done much good to India, and that some persons have mistakenly described it as an exploitative system.

The BJP has been trying to restructure the economic system so as to evict vast numbers of peasants from land and are forced to work as agricultural labourers. Attempts are afoot to reform the labour laws accordingly. The Modi government has started cancelling the small-scale social security measures introduced under the earlier regime. Its objection to the publication of the caste-based survey is part of this neo-liberal onslaught. Important political parties like JD(U), Rastriya Janata Dal, DMK, Socialist Party and the CPI(M) have decried this attitude of the Modi Government and demanded publication of the results. Whatever the dilatory tactics of the Congress earlier, it is also now demanding the same. It appears that the Modi Government, as in the case of its Land Ordinance or Reforming Labour laws, will be faced with all-out opposition in this case also.
[courtesy : Sramajibi Bhasa, August 2015]

Vol. 48, No. 10, Sep 13 - 19, 2015