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Caste Census is not Casteism

Vidya Bhushan Rawat Vidya Bhushan Rawat
30 Aug 2021
Weekly Magazine In India

Political parties are now waking up to the reality of growing pressure from the Bahujan communities to ask the government include caste as one of important criteria for enumeration. During the pre-independence days, there was Census which enumerated caste data and is being used by experts even today. After 1941, India entered into a new phase where the Census data contained religious identity but no caste. It was the same period when India was entering into a new phase of governance as the British were planning to leave when the new Census focussed on religious identities and other issues. If we look at the process of discussions in Parliament and laws that were made subsequently, all those who were not Muslims and Christians became ‘Hindus’. Thus, the biggest camouflage of the enumeration exercise started from the very beginning of our independence as it not only ‘created’ the binary based on religion and entire political debate got impacted with that. 

Census enumeration is not an exercise for doing politics. It gives an opportunity to find out the status of communities, their access to natural resources. Though the government continued to enumerate SC-ST separately, but that has been the biggest ‘constitutional’ conversion in India as all of them were counted as Hindus. Even when we know that the demand for Caste Census is mostly emerging from the OBC quarters, it is important that other communities should demand it so that a real picture emerges. 

The demand for caste in Census has increased as it would be helpful in understanding the status of communities and government planning for their benefits. But the power structure of Indian governance knows it very well that caste Census is not mere enumeration of castes but it would ultimately open up a Pandora’s box which would threaten the Brahmanical hegemony as Mandal has done. This is the sole reason for their persistent opposition to it and dodging up the issue.

In the UPA-II years after 2009, the Congress Party gave some hints but as we all know the Brahmanical experts in the party were ready to thwart it and came with the ‘idea’ of Socio-Economic Census in 2011. The results were out in 2015 and the government presented a report in Parliament but it has numerous errors. Many of these errors have not yet been rectified. Till date, the government can’t tell us the exact number of manual scavenging community people in the country. In Parliament, it shamelessly said that there have been no deaths in the five years due to manual scavenging, just like it spoke blatant lie that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen in Delhi.

Why leaders become apprehensive of a report needs to be understood. Those who are crying about caste Census, for political purposes, will turn hostile if things don’t go according to them. I will give two examples. A socio-economic survey of various castes was ordered by Siddharammaiya government in Karnataka in 2014. A Newsminute report said:  The then government had said that the survey was being conducted to enable the state government to decide reservations and quotas in the OBC category as per the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill. The survey was conducted in April-May 2015 reportedly by a total of 1.6 lakh personnel, surveying 1.3 crore households. The state spent Rs 169 crore for conducting the survey.

It is reported that the survey report is ‘ready’ but the findings have created a ‘turmoil’ in the minds of the top leaders of Lingayat and Vokalinga castes who give the impression that they are the ‘majority’ community of the state and their powerful lobby is scuttling it. The Newsminute report says that according to the survey, the biggest ‘caste’ in Karnataka is Scheduled Castes, followed by Muslims which puncture the agenda of parties like BJP and JD(S) who have sole monopoly of Lingayat and Vokalinga voters. 

In 2007, Nitish Kumar appointed a Committee under D Bandhopadhyay to study the status of landlessness in communities and give recommendations to the state government so that land reforms take place and rural poor get benefit out of it. After several extensions, the report was submitted to the Chief Minister in 2009. It was presented in the State Assembly in an extremely shameful way as the MLAs were provided the e-copies of the report in the form CDR, those days. Nobody could read it; Opposition and ruling parties were united in burying the report because, if implemented, it would have caused deep resentment among the landed OBCs for fear of losing their land.

RJD leader Tejasvi Yadav wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and later met him along with other political leaders led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Disturbingly, the entire debate on OBCs and Census revolves around a Brahmanical pattern which makes as if caste Census is an internal matter of ‘Hindu community’. This is dangerous. The fact of the matter is that Census should include details of all castes. 

Secondly, when the enumerators and political leaders make it (caste Census) a Hindu issue then you deny justice to OBCs among Muslims, Christians and Sikhs as provided by the Mandal report. The government and its officials have used different tricks to deny people from Muslim and Christian communities access to reservation, particularly the Dalits, as it fears that once they get it, there will be a wave of conversion.

I have been speaking for years that South Asian dialogues need to revolve around caste identities not to humiliate others but to bring a greater unity of all the oppressed forces as religious right wing is using Census enumerations based on religious identity to build up their ‘majoritarian’ hate agenda. When we demand caste in Census, we must demand that it has to be done for Muslims, Christians and Sikhs too so that people know the truth. It will help build an egalitarian society. 

Census enumeration is not an exercise for writing fake history books but to help planners address the issues of the people. Of course, in today’s time, it will also reveal who have grabbed our capital and resources during the last many years. It is the fear of losing face and political repercussions that the Brahmanical elite is manipulating the issue and building up the narratives that suits them. If there is tremendous political pressure under which they agree to do it, they will do everything to thwart it or put it under different categories. I can say firmly that ‘experts’ will be doing their hard work how to counter this entire exercise without being seen as opposing it. 

Finally, for people like us, caste Census has all the caste fitted into it individually and their socio-economic status in society including land, property and jobs. In the meantime, researchers can do their own survey to find which caste dominates the ‘Dalal Street’ in Mumbai; how many Dalits, OBCs, etc. are in the media as well as in judiciary? I don’t think our dispensation has honesty to do this honestly as it will only expose those who have ‘disproportionate assets’ due to their caste privileges. You cannot run away from it. It is a reality. We have to face it and make an honest effort so that the government can make schemes as per the needs of the population. Every state can have specific agenda and programmes as per the Census reports and can order their own as done by Karnataka but if politicians want to use it for political purposes then it will boomerang though nobody denies the fact that the issue is political and will have repercussions. Let us see how the government, which is advertising its ‘love’ for ‘OBCs’  play with it before the Uttar Pradesh elections 

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