Who is afraid of a caste census and why, asks Udit Raj and points to BJP's caste calculus

There is no harm in enumerating caste, say most experts and add that if necessary, the census form could have room for saying ‘No Caste' for those who believe in a casteless society

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

NH Web Desk

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, here is what a former BJP MP and now a Congress leader says in favour of a caste census:

Who is afraid of a caste census?

Udit Raj, Former MP

Recently when the Prime Minister expanded and reconstituted his council of ministers, both the Government and the BJP went overboard in highlighting the caste of the ministers. Caste-wise break up of the ministry was publicised widely and the mainstream media went to town with the number of Dalits, OBCs, Kurmis, Koeris, Yadavs etc. in the ministry.

Why was it done ? Didn’t it promote casteism? This was clearly done with the state assembly elections in mind. BJP speaks in different voices. When it suits them, it highlights caste. When it does not suit them, it speaks of a casteless society. The Government did not shy away from sending out the message how caste-conscious it is and how concerned about the smallest of castes. BJP’s election machinery never shies away from making caste calculations in every constituency. Why should it then shy away from a caste census?

Resources, jobs, constitutional posts are all limited. Only a caste census will show which caste is cornering what share of these resources and posts. Data are needed for projects and planning. I do not see why a caste census is seen as problematic.

Caste remains a reality. Most upper caste Hindus, if not others, do take caste into consideration while arranging marriages. So, why hide your caste and why run away from a census ?

During enrollment in schools, caste as well as the students’ economic background etc. are mandatory requirements. So, we do have tentative ideas of the caste distribution of our society. Caste census was conducted in 1931 as well as 1941 although the census details were not released because of the World War. Karnataka Government had conducted a caste census and I believe the Bhupesh Baghel-led government in Chhattisgarh is also working in this direction. So what is the fuss all about?

When we keep count of everything, when we enumerate the number of the blind, the lame and the poor, when we count wild life, trees and livestock—when we know how many horses are there in the country and how many donkeys, why should anybody have any problem with a caste census? If caste census is not held, how does one plan for their welfare?

The fact that of late people have started talking about caste census shows there is a felt need. It may not suit BJP politically but that cannot be a reason for not conducting the census. BJP cannot expect to have the cake and eat it too. In the Bengal election it made a song and dance about Matuas. The Prime Minister went to Bangladesh and campaigned there to garner support of the Matuas. It was not divisive then? But if people raise the demand for a caste census, they are being divisive? This double standard must stop.

Ignoring the demand is not a solution. The government seems to be trying to sleep over the matter and shelve it for future. This is not advisable. Turning a blind eye to the elephant in the room is not statecraft.

(As told to Ram Shiromani Shukla)

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