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Caste Census UPSC NOTE

 The Census Act, 1948

  • Census is conducted under the provisions of the Census Act, 1948.

  • The bill for this Act was piloted by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Home Minister of India

  • Census Act, 1948, guarantee that  information collected during the population Census is so confidential that it is not even accessible to the courts of law

Why a caste Census?

  • A caste Census is crucial for four reasons — one, it is a social imperative

  • Caste continues to be a foundational social construct in India. 

  • Only about 5% of Indian marriages were inter-caste as of 2011-12. 

  • The use of caste surnames and caste marks is still widespread. 

  • Residential segregation by caste persists. 

  • Choices of candidates for elections and ministers for Cabinets continue to be dictated by caste considerations.

  • Two, it is a legal imperative

  • Constitutionally-mandated policies of social justice which include reservations in electoral constituencies, education and public employment cannot be pursued effectively without detailed caste-wise data. 

  • Three, it is an administrative imperative

  • Detailed caste-wise data is necessary to avoid/correct wrongful inclusions of undeserving castes and exclusions of deserving castes, and to guard against a few dominant castes in a reserved category crowding out others. 

  • Four, it is a moral imperative

  • The absence of detailed caste-wise data has helped a coterie of elites, among upper castes and dominant Other Backward Classes (OBCs), to corner a disproportionate share of the nation’s assets, incomes, and positions of power.

  • Censuses in British India between 1881 and 1931 enumerated all castes

  • In the first Census conducted after Independence in 1951, the Government of India (GOI) ordered that caste should not be enumerated

  • However, an exception was made for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) which have been enumerated in every Census since 1951. 

  • In 1961, the GOI advised States to conduct their own surveys and draw up State-specific OBC lists if they so desired. 

  • There was no reservation for OBCs in the Centre and its undertakings then

The arguments against caste Census

  • There are multiple views against the caste Census.

  • First, that it is socially divisive

  • India’s social divisions predate Census efforts by nearly 3,000 years. 

  • The Census counts of the SCs and STs since 1951 have not led to any conflicts among these castes or tribes. 

  • Further, India’s Census enumerates religion, language, and region which are as divisive as caste, if not more. 

  • Second, that it is an administrative nightmare. 

  • Unlike race which is a fuzzy concept, but is still enumerated in many countries such as the U.S., there is little or no ambiguity about anyone’s caste. 

  • The GOI has been able to smoothly enumerate 1,234 castes in the SC category and 698 tribes in the ST category. 

  • Therefore, it is difficult to understand why the enumeration of the 4,000-odd other castes, most of which are State-specific, should pose an intractable problem.

  • Third, that it would fuel demands for increased reservations. 

  • On the contrary, the availability of caste-wise Census data would help curb arbitrary demands from caste groups and capricious decision-making by governments

The case for OBC inclusion in Census

  • Like the SCs and STs, the Constitution permits reservation for the OBCs in education (Article 15(4)) and public employment (Article 16(4))

  • After the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations, the OBCs enjoy reservations in the Central government and its undertakings as well. 

  • In the Indra Sawhney case (1992), the Supreme Court ruled that the OBC list, based on the 1931 Census, should be revised periodically.

  • The OBCs do not have reservation in electoral constituencies for MPs and MLAs like the SCs and the STs. 

  • But after the 73rd and 74th amendments (1993), the Constitution provides for reservations in electoral constituencies in panchayats and municipalities not only for SCs and STs but also for OBCs (Articles 243D(6) and 243T(6)). 

  • For this, caste-wise, area-wise Census data of the OBCs is essential. 

  • Therefore, the GOI should have enumerated the OBCs at least in the 2001 Census. But it did not.

  • While one arm of the State — the judiciary —demands caste-wise data to uphold reservations, another — the executive — has avoided enumerating the very same data.

How an attempt at caste Census failed

  • After considerable lobbying by OBC leaders, in 2010, the Parliament passed a unanimous resolution (with both Congress and BJP on board) calling for caste to be enumerated as part of the 2011 Census

  • As per the 1931 Census when caste was last enumerated, there were 4,147 castes in India apart from the depressed classes/untouchables (as they were called then). 

  • Unfortunately, the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC)-2011 was poorly designed and executed, throwing up a ludicrous figure of 46 lakh castes and the results were never released

  • The SECC-2011’s failure was because of the fact that it was not conducted under the Census Act, 1948 as the Act was not amended to include caste as a parameter. 

  • It was conducted through the Union Ministries of Rural Development and Urban Development which did not have prior experience of conducting sociological/anthropological surveys. 

  • Additionally, the questionnaire was poorly designed and asked open-ended questions about caste. 

  • The enumerators couldn’t distinguish between genuine castes, alternative caste names, larger caste groups, sub-castes, surnames, clan names, gotras, etc. 

  • Despite the unanimous Parliamentary resolution of 2010, the Central government announced in 2021 that it would not enumerate caste as part of the next Census

Way forward

  • Learning from the SECC-2011 failures, the Census Act, 1948 should be amended to make enumeration by caste mandatory instead of leaving it to the whims of the Union executive. 

  • Caste should be enumerated as part of the regular Census by the Census Commissioner only, with a few pertinent questions added to the questionnaire. 

  • Additionally, the government should enlist sociological/anthropological experts to draw up a draft list of castes specific to each State, publish the draft list online, inviting suggestions and comments from the public before finalising it, and give only that list to the enumerators. 

  • The questionnaire should be so designed as to ask the names of the sub-caste, caste, larger caste group, and the caste surname of the respondent

  • Internet-enabled hand-held devices preloaded with these details and limiting the enumerator’s role to one of choosing the correct option will make the task easy and foolproof.

  • Interested States must move the apex Court to review its 2021 judgment. 

  • It is farcical to implement OBC reservation based on 1931 Census data and EWS reservation with no empirical data. 



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Caste Census UPSC NOTE
Caste Census UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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