Demand for caste census driven by politics and electoral agenda, argues Badri Narayan
While the clamour for a caste census is growing, the director of Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad argues vehemently against it
Social scientists contend that caste is an ‘evolving’ and dynamic reality in India. In pre-colonial times, they point out, Rajputs and other castes would claim to be Brahmins. There was also a fusion of castes. Even today certain castes are deemed to be OBCs in some states and upper caste or even Dalits in others.
There is no harm in enumerating caste, they say and add that if necessary, the census form could have room for saying ‘No Caste’. Those who do not believe in the caste system can opt for it and it would be known how many Indians do not believe in caste. The real question, they say, is not whether we should have caste census; because in some form or the other caste data are still collected. Or else, on what basis has the Government declared a 10% quota for the Economically Weaker Sections among the general cetegories? Census data are also used by the Government to disburse welfare benefits under Ujjwala, Ayushman Bharat or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
Another argument forwarded is that if a census can be conducted on religion, why not caste? Both religion and caste have shaped the politics of the country and politics in turn have shaped caste identities. But upward mobility does not obliterate caste identity. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, despite his exalted position cannot help if temple authorities purify premises after his visit. Supreme Court Justice Jeevan Reddy in a judgment had made a similar point when he cited the example of a carpenter who migrated to Dubai and earned a lot of money. But although he was now better off than the upper caste men in his village, it did nothing to elevate him in their esteem. Amidst the raging debate on whether we should have a caste census, we bring to you two voices highlighting two different perspectives to the debate.
No popular support for caste census
Badri Narayan, Director, GB Pant Social Science Institute
The timing for raising the demand for a caste census shows that the design is to reap political benefits. There are certain caste leaders and opinion makers belonging to certain castes who are in the forefront of this demand. Such demands are raised everytime caste is politicised. But they are unlikely to succeed or get any political benefit this time.
When the British Government held a caste census, it was not the demand made by the community. The colonial rulers conducted it on their own and to serve their own interests. But after all these years we find that certain castes are demanding a caste census. When and how did this need arise?
There are 66 castes in Uttar Pradesh but almost 40 of them possibly do not even know what a census is. Even if the demand is supported by political parties, it is unlikely to fetch them votes in the election. Those who are feeling hopeful that supporting a caste census will give them any political dividend then they are mistaken.
But it may energise caste-based parties like Samajwadi Party and RJD. Because the dominant castes which support them may get charged and rally round them. If dormant and demoralised at the moment, they may get energised. But it is unlikely to give electoral dividend to others including the Left.
The poorest and the most marginalised among the Dalits, if you talk to them, would say they have no interest in any caste census. They are indifferent. Tell them that the Government wants to know their caste identity, what would they say ? They will tell you they are not interested. Only a small microscopic minority of vocal caste leaders among the Dalits is pushing the demand, which does not have any support on the ground.
The census has not led to equitable distribution of wealth. Reservation has only benefitted a handful of dominant sub-castes. In Uttar Pradesh, among the Dalits, only Pasis, Chamars, Dhobis and Koris are known to people. Ignorance of sub castes and communities is pervasive even within the community. What then can a caste census yield?
Caste census therefore cannot trigger a political or mass movement. Nor can it become an electoral issue. And if perchance the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) feels it is likely to give political dividend, then trust me, it will take the lead and walk away with all the benefits.
(As told to Ram Shiromani Shukla)