Saturday, October 2, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Don’t start caste census in a hurry

Don't start caste census in a hurry
May 11th, 2010

May 10: The government's reported decision to incorporate caste in the
ongoing national census is a significant one, and one that will have
far-reaching and perhaps even unintended consequences. While it is not
an entirely new factor in census enumeration, this is the first time
that there will be an official count of the population of other
backward castes.

The OBCs, whose current number is estimated at anything between 35 to
40 per cent of the population, already enjoy a 27 per cent quota in
government jobs and educational institutions, and if you add to this
the long-standing 22.5 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes and
Tribes, there is a total quantum of reservation of 49.5 per cent. In
the last detailed census in which caste-related data were included, in
the heyday of the British Raj, it was discovered that 58 per cent of
castes had a population of less than 1,000. Also, this count had a lot
of inaccuracies as the British, for instance, lumped Marathas and
kunbis together as Marathas in the 1884 Bombay Gazetteer, while in the
Nasik Gazetteer they were shown separately. A later enumeration of
castes in 1931 was also not done on a scientific basis.
While it cannot be denied that the government does need an accurate
count of the number of OBCs and other castes in the country, in order
that the funds earmarked for their upliftment are correctly allocated,
it would be a huge mistake to conduct this caste census in a hurry.
India is so ridden with the caste factor and the issue is so complex
that the entire matter needs to be handled with a lot of care and
sensitivity. Decentralisation in data collection is an absolute must.
Even Christians and Muslims in India are nowadays demanding
reservation on the basis of caste!
Political leaders who have built up their parties and risen to power
in some states primarily on the basis of their caste identity bear a
special responsibility. It is mainly at their urging that the
government has decided to include caste in the census, something that
had not been done since Independence, and they must therefore
understand if they really want to ensure the uplift of OBCs and other
"backward" groups, a meticulously-conducted count is imperative.
Speed, in this instance, is not of the essence, but accuracy is. These
leaders should be aware, more so than some of their brethren, of the
multiplicity of sub-castes and sub-groups under the broad OBC
umbrella, which in some cases stretch into the thousands, with none
comprising even one per cent of the total. There are also substantial
area-wise variations, and all these would have to be synchronised
while compiling accurate data on a nationwide basis. It is easy for
things to go haywire: for example, between 1971 and 1981, it was
discovered that Maharashtra's Scheduled Tribe population had shot up
disproportionately. It was eventually found that this was because the
Halba tribe suddenly claimed it fell into the ST category. With no
systematic data collection methods, it is easy for similar
inaccuracies to creep in elsewhere.
For the forseeable future, there appears no alternative but for India
to live with its caste-based divisions. But no government and no
political party — and particularly those who espouse the cause of the
"backwards" — should lose sight of their ultimate responsibility to
ensure the speedy uplift of those at the bottom of the heap, so that
at some future date the need for reservations will no longer exist. To
this end, the Centre and state governments must ensure that data
enumeration is decentralised to the grassroots level, so that
policymakers in New Delhi and state capitals can have a better
understanding of ground level realities.


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