Caste census explained: Allies-opposition united, while BJP is reluctant

There has been a long-standing demand for a caste-based census in the country with explicit-detailed data and information on the ethnic groups living in India. The demand for the proposed Census was made by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and several other opposition leaders, including Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav.

On Monday, a delegation of leaders from ten parties, with BJP leader Nitish Kumar, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to emphasize the need to do a caste-based Census once. “If the Centre does not conduct the caste census in the country, then it will be considered by the government of Bihar,” Nitish said before the meeting.

After the meeting, Nitish Kumar said, “People in Bihar and the entire country are of the same opinion on this issue. We are grateful to the Prime Minister for listening to us. We urge him to take an appropriate decision.”

Members of the delegation include BJP’s Janak Ram, a state minister, RJD chief and Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav; Congress leader Ajeet Sharma, Left party leaders; and former Chief Minister and President of the Hindustani Awam Morcha Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Socio-Economic Survey (caste census) in Karnataka

The Census, named Socio-Economic Survey 2015, popularly known as the ‘caste census,’ was conducted in Karnataka and its findings are in the “safe custody” of the government. Several groups had opposed it, claiming that the state had no right to conduct such an exercise, due to which it was renamed as ‘caste census’.

There is mounting pressure on the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led Karnataka government to make public the findings of socio-economic and education survey. Chief minister Basvaraj Bommai on Sunday said that the state government is examining the growing developments around it but asserted that the issue was before the court and the Backward Class Commission.

On August 21, Congress leader Siddaramaiah had slammed the Bommai-led BJP government for not releasing the caste findings and said that BJP was against the Constitution, social justice and reservation, that’s why it was turning a deaf ear to accept the Backward classes commission report.

During the Monsoon Session of Parliament, the debate on the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021 saw wide participation with several opposition leaders raising demands for caste-based Census and removing the 50 percent ceiling on the reservation.

Importance of caste-based census

A caste-based census will allow a cross-sectional understanding of how castes interact with social, economic, cultural and demographic characteristics. It will produce abundant data and information to understand how every caste is faring in various socio-economic indices like literacy rate, child marriage, infant mortality rate, death rate, etc.

With the caste-based Census, the government will know the actual economic, social and educational status of different ethnic groups in the nation. Since 1951, every Census in independent India has data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes, especially the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), as only religious figures are published in the report. That is why there has been a demand for a census of ethnic groups for many years now. Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste.

Due to the absence of such a census in the nation, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs and various ethnic groups. While the Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%, several other quotations have been on the basis of National Sample Survey data. The political parties make their own evaluation in states, Lok Sabha and Assembly seats during polls.

In 1881, India got its first census report and since then, the exercise takes place every 10 years. After the independence of India, BR Ambedkar argued that a caste-based census would be inimical to an equitable society.

BJP hesitancy for caste census

According to Professor and Co-Director of Lokniti, Sanjay Kumar’s opinion in The Indian Express, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party’s reluctance for a caste census must be due to fear that the numbers might come up about different castes. The OBC castes, in particular, might give a new issue to the regional parties, piling up pressure on the party for revising the OBC quota in central government jobs and educational institutions.

With the BJP dominating the Indian electoral politics for the last decade, it might also result in the Mandal II situation; the professor says which may accommodate many regional parties that otherwise struggle to find a positive agenda to challenge the Centre.

It looks like there is fear that the OBC figures might open up a Hornet’s nest, which may be extremely difficult for the ruling parting to handle.

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