Friday, May 7, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Demand for caste Census raised again

Demand for caste Census raised again
By B S Arun

The Centre's indicati-on that it is open to caste census has
emb-oldened the political parties favouring it.

The demand for caste-based census has its origin in the insistence of
internal reservation for Other Backward Classes in the Women's
Reservation Bill, which has been passed by the Rajya Sabha.

When the Bill was passed in March in the Upper House, the government
refused to entertain the demand saying that for internal reservation
to become a reality, there has to be caste census and it cannot happen
because preparations for the general Census were over.

The issue of caste census has been raised again by political parties.
OBC leaders, such as Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, raised it in
parliament and subsequently, a cabinet meeting was called to discuss
it. There was no unanimity in the cabinet regarding the issue and
prime minister Manmohan Singh was believed to have sought wider
discussion and consultation on the subject.

The Census in India was first conducted in 1881. What India is using
for various purposes now, be it reservation in education, employment,
elections, etc, the basis is the 1931 Census when the last caste-based
census was held under the then viceroy Lord Irvin.

Fear of dividing the society

Independent India never entertained caste-based enumeration as the
framers of the Constitution felt that it would only further divide the
society. Thus, whether it was the Mandal Commission or to make out
estimates of the population of OBCs and upper castes, the government
depended upon the figures arrived at by the National Sample Survey
Organisation (NSSO).

When V P Singh announced reservation for OBCs, he relied on the Mandal
Commission's recommendations, which calculated that OBCs comprised
some 52 per cent of the country's total population and used the figure
to recommend 27 per cent reservation for this category in government
jobs and educational institutions.

Many analysts believe, with growth in population, this has come to be
revised which can happen only through a new caste census. The supreme
court has ruled that reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent although
several state governments have increased quota benefits to more than
65 per cent.

The NSSO, in Round 2003, concluded that the non-Muslim OBC population
was 32 per cent while the National Family Health Survey figure pegged
it at 30. The census, of course, continues to count the Scheduled
Castes and the Scheduled Tribes population in the country.

It is in this backdrop that the Union cabinet took up the issue on May
4. The meeting saw sharp divisions with home minister P Chidambaram
and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee speaking up against caste-based
census. While both felt that census was already underway and it cannot
be disturbed, the home minister is understood to have argued that the
enumerators lacked the sociological sensitivity to record and classify
the population on the basis of caste and sub-caste.

The supporters of the caste census were said to be of the view that
caste was indeed a reality and it cannot be wished away and it was
time for the government to accept it; that caste census was required
for implementation of different schemes and employment programmes for
the OBCs. Some were of the opinion that the Census was not the 'right
mechanism' for determining the caste data.

Referring to the issue, Union law minister M Veerappa Moily said:
"After 1931, no caste-based data was prepared and the Centre also does
not have any caste-based data of its own. The government depends upon
the states for it." Though Moily acknowledges that it might be too
late to incorporate it in the Census, he argues that caste census will
not lead to divisions in society since caste system has existed for
"Before we give benefit to people, we need to find out who are the
people who should benefit. Caste system has been here for ages. Caste
system has remained even where there was no enumeration".

The government has indicated that it is open to the idea and this has
emboldened the pro-caste census parties further. As the Lok Sabha
erupted on May 3 demanding it, it was not just OBC-dominated parties
such as SP, RJD or JD(U), which sought caste census, but the BJP and
Left parties too joined the demand.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said census was
the best source to collect information on the 'poor' which will serve
as an estimate for laws like the Food Security Act. "But there is no
column for it. In fact, there is a column for nationality which will
help the intruders," she added. The Left, which lays emphasis on
'class' over 'caste,' lent its voice to the clamour. Basudeb Acharia
of CPM said as much. Gurudas Dasgupta of CPI agreed with it though he
pushed for an all-party meeting.


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