In a historic decision Friday, India decided to include caste in its 2011 census. A caste-based census was last carried out in 1931. After India gained independence in 1947, our leaders had wanted to eliminate caste from the census in order to move to a ‘casteless’ society, except for consolidated figures for the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes. Nirupama Pathak’s example shows us that’s really not worked. I’m not sure the converse would be more adversarial, that including these numbers in the census will further seed prejudices that already exist. But, it’s the reported reasons for a turnaround in government speak (Home Minister P. Chidambaram had cited numerous logistical and practical difficulties in collecting such data) which should worry us more. It was hard bargaining by regional, caste-based leaders like Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav that has reportedly pushed Congress President Sonia Gandhi to give in.
A Times Of India article this weekend said:
‘Inclusion of caste in the census would mark a watershed in independent India. As the census is the most authentic exercise in national headcount and profiling, results of OBC enumeration will carry weight which extrapolation of backwards on the basis of 1931 figures as done by the Mandal commission lacks. It has triggered speculation on the implications of the country getting a relatively authentic figure of OBC share in national population. While the argument is that the figure is required to make proportional financial allocations for OBC welfare, there’s a strong belief that it may lead to a demand for hiking OBC quota in jobs and education in the ratio of population. The figure of 52 percent as given by Mandal is highly disputed, but it’s fairly safe to assume that OBC population will always be higher than 27 percent quota given to them.’