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HVK Archives: Cast(e) out of census

Cast(e) out of census - The Hindustan Times

Editorial ()
June 16, 1998

Title: Cast(e) out of census
Author: Editorial
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: June 16, 1998

Union Home Minister L. K. Advani has done well to scotch any
further speculation by rejecting the suggestion that the next
decennial census should include caste for purposes of
enumeration. The proposal, which had been mooted by the Census
Commission's office, had been premised on the argument that it
would yield a wealth of micro data on the overall caste situation
in the country - after all, caste considerations have, for better
or worse, become so much a part of the national political
discourse! But since the proposal was made public at a
preliminary meeting called to discuss the plans for the 2001
census, over seven weeks ago, a number of academics and analysts
had drawn attention to the various negative consequences such an
initiative would lead to. The last time caste had featured in
such an enumeration was in the 1941 census, but the practice had
been discontinued following a decision of the Union Cabinet soon
after Independence. Even the 1941 census data was known to have
been somewhat distorted by deliberate over-enumeration by certain
castes, and therefore, the 1931 caste-based figures had continued
to be treated as the more reliable data.

While there is some merit in the argument that more detailed
information on any particular aspect of contemporary Indian
society should enrich the census data and improve its usefulness,
the revival would be retrogressive. As the British debated the
issue before introducing the caste column for the first time in
the 1901 census, they had found the number of castes and
subcastes simply mind-boggling. Nobody, not even the
Anthropological Survey of India, had a complete list of the total
number which in any case ran into thousands. Moreover, since the
caste configuration had become a potent element in contemporary
Indian politics, there is a far greater chance of certain castes
or subcastes deliberately distorting the actual position with an
eye on the reservation bonanza. The new data could also unleash
new demands and casteist pressures based on demographic changes.
It was best, therefore, to let things rest as they were. As the
experience of the past several years had shown, the Indian
society could do with less of caste-based politics; and the first
decennial census of the 21st century could do- without reopening
the issue which had well-advisedly been closed by the government
half a century earlier.

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