Demand for Caste Census

Bihar has set a national agenda by releasing caste census and it is being debated all over the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is worried about shifting of debate from Hindutva to anti-caste. Historically it saw a threat from anti-caste movements because of their emphasis on equality and social justice. The political Hindutva believes in inequality and renewal of graded hierarchy to celebrate the supremacist politics of upper castes.

The resistance to caste census in modern times goes back to 19th century when British India initiated caste census in 1872. There was a growing opposition to caste census particularly in 1891 to 1931. In fact it created proliferation of caste organisations during this period questioning the social precedence one over the other. In fact it had given rise to new consciousness among several castes and they started claiming for Kshatriya status. The claims of caste associations for higher social status dislocated the perception of hierarchy and it greatly disturbed the traditional castes for disturbing the textual basis of castes in social hierarchy. In truth the independence movement, in a way, also a product of British India’s caste census to resist caste assertions.

In its very first caste census in 1951 the Congress headed government has successfully removed the collection of data on caste in its decennial census but continued for SCs and STs and also religious census. The same stand is continued till this day in the thinking of the Upper Caste led policies of India.

Janata Dal headed government had decided in 1997 to go for decennial caste census. The Socialists headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav along with several others have insisted for caste census in 2001. However, the demand got rejected by Vajpayee-Advani led BJP government. Strangely the same BJP joined socialists in demanding for caste census in 2011. The Congress-led UPA government agreed to include in the caste in census but it got diluted by Pranab Mukharjee and Chidambaram as they kept caste out of the census but assigned caste survey to a government organisation.

Once again in 2018, the BJP government through Home Minister, Rajnath Singh made the statement that they would hold caste census in 2021. When there was an increased demand for caste census by the opposition parties and civil societal groups and also a case filed by Shiva Sena headed government in Maharashtra in the Supreme Court, the government was asked by the court to state its view on the caste census. In its affidavit to the court the union government stated that they are opposed to the caste census. It argued that they support the decision taken in 1951as considered view to not to conduct caste census. Further they said it is highly cumbersome and difficult to collect caste figures and process them through computers. And also said administratively it was not feasible.

The Bihar caste census exposed the myth created around caste census by BJP. Entire nation particularly the OBCs are excited and happy to see the reality and engaged in a big way demanding union government to take up caste census immediately. Almost all political parties hailed it for putting facts before the nation. The BJP all along tried to mask the entire exercise with dubious arguments. They continue to oppose even today and call it divisive.

Caste census helps the state to frame policy for planning and development. In fact the two Backward Classes Commissions at the national level, Kaka Kalelkar in 1953-55 and B P Mandal in 1979-80, have recommended for caste census.

Unfortunately several individuals/organisations at the behest of hidden politics went to High Courts and also the Supreme Court to stop the survey that was initiated by Bihar Government. But courts refused to give credence to their pleas.

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Vol 56, No. 21, Nov 19 - 25, 2023