CASTE SURVEY : PURE POLITICS
Caste-based census was first conducted in British India in 1931, and the decennial census of independent India was started in 1951. It has been conducted seven times with the last one being conducted in 2011. Every census in India has published the count of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, comprising of Dalits and Adivasis along with the gamut of data including religions, languages, socio economic status etc. All the castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are counted under the General Category. It however, has never counted Other Backward Castes (OBCs), the lower and intermediate castes, which according to the Mandal Commission make up around 52% (in the 1931 census, the OBC population was 52%). The census that was to be held in 2021 was postponed due to Covid 19 pandemic, and is likely to be held this year. The census is conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act, which does not bind the Union govt. to conduct the census on a particular date or to release its data in a notified period.
The demand to include caste in the census is long pending, because there is no documented data on OBC population in India. The constitutional body National Commission for Backward Castes urged the govt. to collect the data on the population of OBCs and now various parties in the states have voiced their support for the caste census. It is also said that since the census already documents huge data including religion, language, socio economic status, SC, ST, then why not count OBC too? Experts believe that economic status of the dominant castes has improved in the last 75 years and certain castes have not benefitted as much. So, the new caste census is required to measure the economic and social wellbeing of all the castes. However, in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said that it is not feasible to collect information on Backward Class of Citizens (BCC) in the forthcoming census, hence ruling out the possibility of caste-based census as of now.
Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011. The UPA govt. approved it after discussions in the Parliament in 2010. It is different from the 2011 census and not conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act. It was conducted under the coordination of the Department of Rural Development, Govt. of India. Its findings were revealed in 2015 by the NDA govt. The SECC 11 data was criticised by a few experts as being unreliable. There is also another criticism that the caste related data is deliberately withheld. In 2017, the govt. accepted the recommendations to use SECC, instead of poverty line, as the main instrument for the identification of beneficiaries and transfer of funds for social schemes in rural areas.
Caste has historically remained a major factor in Indian politics and elections. At present, multiple political parties and party candidates indulge in collecting caste-based data in their constituencies during or prior to the elections. Those demanding cast census say that the reservation to SCs and STs was given based on their population, but not in the case of OBCs. They say the quota needs to be revised.
Bihar govt. has started Caste Census from 7th January, 2023. The project is likely to cost Rs 500 crores and this exercise is seen as having political undertones. The state’s coalition govt. comprising mainly OBC led Mandal era political parties and the BJP, are believed to be on the opposite sides of the tussle. If the caste-based data comes out before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar and Tejaswi Yadav, both spearheading caste based parties might be its biggest beneficiaries. After the data from survey, demand will be made to remove the cap on the quotas, according to which caste-based reservations are limited to 50% of the seats or jobs.
The perception is that the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) are led by and serve only the dominant Yadavas. In Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), the Jatavs have been the main beneficiary and Kurmis in the Janta Dal United (JDU).
Interestingly, the BJP in Bihar has supported Nitish Kumar in carrying out the caste census but not doing it at national level. It is also felt that the sensitive caste census data may ignite a fresh Mandal and Kamandal politics, as seen during the Mandal Commission Report implementation, across the country.
Bihar has been known for it’s political activities, like the ones led by Mahatma Gandhi in Champaran and Jai Prakash Narayan (JP) during the emergency. The contribution of the youth of Bihar in civil services is also praiseworthy. Bihar has fertile land and is rich in minerals. Despite having such resources, the state is not developing and continues to be poor. The leaders talking of the welfare of poor are seen doing the welfare of their families (Tejaswi and Akhilesh). Sushashan Babu has declared Tejaswi as his successor. What type of democracy is this? On one hand, the govt. does not have money to fill the existing vacancies and on the other it talks of reservation.
Now the big question. For how long will we continue to divide the society on the lines of caste and get votes? Can we ever have a casteless society in this way? Politicians are attempting to play with the limited opportunities and resources available. Attempts should be made to develop the state to create more opportunities for the youth. There is an urgent need to have industries, good educational institutions and good health services in the state for the benefit of all. The need of the hour is to make good developmental policies for all, beyond caste politics.
By Manoj Dubey
Delhi Public Schools
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