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Call for first caste census

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By CITHARA PAUL
  • Published 4.01.10
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New Delhi, Jan. 3: India may next year witness its first census since Independence that refers to caste, if the Centre accepts a social justice ministry recommendation that could be politically controversial.

Officials said the ministry had asked for caste to be included as one of the criteria in the 2011 census, and recommended a differential headcount of the Other Backward Classes and reassessment of their conditions that could lead to changes in the OBC list.

The ministry’s move follows suggestions for a caste census from the National Commission for Backward Classes and various high courts. A note will be placed before the cabinet for a decision, sources said.

The last census that cited caste took place in 1931, after which caste was dropped from the exercise on the ground that it would lead to divisiveness. The country’s first home minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, had declared that a caste count would never be done in Independent India. Successive governments have since then resisted calls for such a survey, fearing controversy.

Now, armed with the fresh demands, the social justice ministry argues that such a count is necessary to assess the changes that government schemes have brought about in the social, economic and educational conditions of the various castes since 1931.

A ministry official acknowledged that the OBCs were at the heart of the proposed caste census. Ever since the Centre accepted the Mandal Commission’s recommendations on job reservations in 1990, there have been several demands for accurate OBC population figures.The ministry wants the census directorate, which is under the home ministry, to reassess the various groups’ backwardness as well.

“In the eight decades since the last caste-based census, there would have been dramatic changes in caste compositions and conditions. There are opportunities for addition and deletion. But all this will be clear only if we have correct data,’’ the official said.

He added: “The government has a number of welfare schemes on the basis of caste. Without knowing the exact figures of the various castes, how can the government plan its schemes?’’

The official said the parliamentary standing committee on the social justice ministry had in a recent report said the government did not have reliable data on the populations of the backward castes and those living below the poverty line.

Several political parties such as the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party have asked for caste surveys but the Centre has so far not responded, fearing controversy.

“We are not asking for an exclusive caste-based survey but only for caste to be added to the list of parameters. There is no reason for any controversy,’’ the official said.The 10-yearly census is normally based on socio-economic criteria such as age, sex, Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe status, literacy, religion, mother tongue or languages known, and economic and migration status.

Former social justice secretary P.S. Krishnan said a caste-based census would be a step towards eliminating caste in the long run.

“It is wrong to say that a caste census will re-affirm caste. Equal opportunity for all will eventually eliminate caste,’’ said Krishnan, now an adviser to the human resource development ministry.

He said that when B.P. Mandal, the author of the Mandal report, had been an MP, he had asked three home ministers — H.M. Patel, Y.B. Chavan and Giani Zail Singh — between 1978 and 1980 to conduct a caste-based census.

The next census will be conducted from February 9 to 28, 2011, with March 1 as the reference date.