Sunday, July 4, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Why are we afraid of the caste census? (Opinion)

Published: July 3, 2010 16:50 IST | Updated: July 3, 2010 16:50 IST
July 3, 2010

Why are we afraid of the caste census?

The entire debate is centred on removing the caste column in the
census questionnaire while the real problem is caste itself. Why is no
one talking about annihilating caste?

In rural India, even today, the first words uttered by way of
introduction when two persons meet are — "what is your caste….?"; a
piece of information people seem most enthusiastic to elicit from each
other before anything else. Political parties have caste-based cells
and caste arithmetic becomes the basis on which tickets are allotted.
Every caste recognises jati panchayats, has its mahasabhas and often,
caste-based armed forces (senas) are constituted. Thousands of
publications are brought out across the country to invoke caste
sentiments in people. Whether Haridwar or Pushkar, the bathing ghats
are segregated on the lines of caste. Who can offer archana in
temples, bridegrooms of which caste can sit on the horse — caste
governs even such specifics practised till date in our country. Even
today, khap panchayats based on castes, sub-castes and further,
gotras,flourish and decree inhuman decisions.

In our country, caste hounds us from the moment we are born to our
death. Whether birth, marriage or last rites, caste dictates how all
these rituals should be conducted. Every government document asks us
our caste category. People are instated on jobs and reserved seats
during elections based on their caste identity certificates. People's
names are complete only with their caste names. Even the so-called big
people hang on to their caste pride; making their achievements look

In simple words, there is no escaping the fact that castes exist in
our society today, and if they exist, what is wrong in counting them
and bringing to light the true figures in front of the whole country?
Just as there are houses, land, roads, schools, cows, forests, there
are also castes – and just as how they are counted, so will be castes.

Great opportunity

Around 25 lakh employees are undertaking this massive exercise of our
15th Census. This is a historic opportunity and they will easily be
able to collect information on caste along with other information from
our entire population. Then these figures can be analysed to tell us
what is the population of each caste and who has control to what
extent over the country's resources?

This very straightforward attempt has generated much noise across the
country. Everyone from ministers in the ruling government to the media
houses and intellectuals seem to be divided on the issue. Right-wing
thinkers have put it down to a "ploy to deface the Hindu society"
while some elites feel a caste-based census will halt India in the
tracks of becoming a global superpower. Many others are being eaten up
by the worry that this will lead to social fragmentation and increase
caste enmities. The upper echelons of Indian society, which like to
pretend that caste doesn't exist, are suddenly gripped with
nationalistic fervour. They fear the demand for quota-based
reservations will catch momentum and castes will get legal

Reality is different

There is another group which has started a campaign "Meri Jati
Hindustani" of which prominent persons like Arif Mohammad Khan, J.C.
Sharma, Ved Pratap Vaidik, Shravan Garg, Amitabh Bachchan, Alka Madhok
and Ram Jethmalani among others are a part. These people are in favour
of declaring their caste in the census as "Hindustani". It is true it
sounds good, like an ideal situation, but the country is not running
on ideals but on realities. If they are indeed so proud to be
"Hindustani" why have they not yet removed their caste names and
replaced them with "Hindustani" instead?.

Now let's talk about those fears revolving around the caste census and
see how many of them are real. Was there never any discord between
castes in the country before and if so what do we have to say about
the dalit genocides at Gohana, Jhajjar, Mirchipur, Lakshmanpur Bathe,
Kumher, Khairlanji and Kambalapalli? What about the thousands of cases
of caste-based discrimination and crimes that are reported or never
come to light in our country year after year? It is being touted as
though the minute the caste column is introduced in the census the
problems will explode. Then why is it that when the whole country has
been partitioned on the basis of religion, we never forget to ask the
question "which religion" in every single official paper or document,
and there seems no opposition to this? Why are we not able to
comprehend that the true problem is caste itself and not a census of
castes, and if caste is annihilated, caste-based problems will
self-resolve. But instead of searching out the deeper malaise, we are
sweeping the dirt under the carpet to make a show of cleanliness which
is illusionary.

A good part of the academic intelligentsia feel that enumerating caste
presents 'practical' and 'operational' difficulties. The presence of
thousands of castes and sub-castes have suddenly sent some of them in
a tizzy, while others deem the enumerators as being incapable of
collecting such data. In India, to ask a person his/her caste name is
as simple as asking the person his/her name. Obviously the enumerators
should only record and not be expected to classify caste names at the
time of the survey. In other words, these academicians seem to confuse
data collection and data analysis. The latter can be done at a later
stage with much careful thought and after wide consultations whereas
the first step of data collection can be done without problems with
trained enumerators. To doubt their capacity to elicit a caste name
would implicitly throw doubt on their capacity to do the entire census

Some have even gone to the extent of saying that it is "too costly" to
enumerate castes. Maybe they should try to quantify the 'cost' of the
disrespect, the lack of opportunities, identities, the untouchability,
the rapes, the killings and the atrocities borne by the dalits and
so-called lower castes in our society over all the years since
Independence. Then it may not seem so costly after all.

The truth is that if such a caste census provides figures on caste and
these are analysed objectively, the hypocrisy of India's upper castes
and their disproportionate claim over the country's resources will
stand exposed. Whether this will or not lead to a demand for more
reservation, it will certainly spark a people's campaign for an
equitable stake in resources and entitlements.

A caste census would, on the one hand, bring forward anthropological
facts, and on the other, provide the basis for framing sound
development policies required for social justice.

Necessary data

A caste census is also important because there are hundreds of such
castes which are nomadic and even today, deprived of an identity and
development. Obtaining factual information about them would make it
possible to design programmes for their security and growth. The
country will also come to know about those castes which have profited
a lot already and those which our so-called development hasn't even
been able to touch.

The opposition to the caste census is not only from the Hindus;
Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are also scared, since there exist
castes even in these communities and the dalit Muslim, the dalit
Christian and the dalit Sikh are catching up on the fight for their

Many people have linked the caste census to the mindset of the British
era of "Divide and Rule", but are they aware that some 200 years
before British rule, between 1658 and 1664, the Home Minister Munhata
Nainsi of the Marwar kingdom ruled by Maharaja Jaswant Singh Rathod
conducted the first caste census? So how does it become the design of
a foreign mind?

It is unfortunate that all the arguments are centred around removing
the caste column in the census questionnaire. The whole debate is on
whether or not there should be a caste census when we should actually
be debating about whether or not we need castes in this country. The
day caste is obliterated, untouchability, discrimination, inequality,
casteist hatred, caste genocides and the fight for reservations will
automatically get wiped out and nor will politicians be able to play
politics on the basis of caste. There are campaigns to say 'hide your
caste, don't tell your caste in the census' but how many of us are
saying, 'let's do away with caste'?


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