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Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 4, 2007

Say no to caste Census

The UPA Government's pernicious policy of introducing 27 per cent quota for OBCs in institutions of higher learning that has been stayed by the Supreme Court for the moment, has led to an equally insidious demand for a caste Census. What is unfortunate is that this demand has found support from many across the political spectrum, including nationalist parties that are opposed to dividing society along caste and communal lines. What is now being proposed is the proverbial thin edge of the wedge: The very idea of a caste Census is so shocking that it ought to outrage the sensitivities of every right-thinking Indian. It is entirely antithetical to all the principles on which our republic is founded, especially those of unity, equality and fraternity. The stalwarts who participated in the Constituent Assembly debates and launched free India on its journey along the path of democracy, dreamt of an inclusive society free of discrimination of any kind. The outdated and discriminatory social hierarchy dictated by caste identity was rightly rejected as a social evil and a barrier to national integration. India's struggle for freedom was not only directed against the British; social reform was integral to the movement against colonial rule. It is, therefore, not surprising that the enlightened political leadership of those times, with Jawaharlal Nehru leading the way, should have vehemently and unwaveringly opposed the idea of continuing with the practice of enumerating caste as part of the decennial Census exercise, as was the case till 1941. It was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who, as Home Minister, took an even stronger stand by deciding against such Census; he was of the firm view that caste enumeration as part of Census would have a divisive impact on society instead of uniting the people. That logic continues to be as relevant today as it was in 1951. Indeed, with the mushrooming of parties that pander to caste-based vote-banks, a caste Census can only strengthen those who wish to splinter India's society for electoral gains; it may benefit a few unscrupulous politicians, but it shall harm India's social unity and integrity.

Even otherwise, a caste Census can hardly be said to be practical. Caste is not an objective category like education or gender but is, to a large extent, subject to manipulation. In the pre-Independence era, those who belonged to the so-called 'lower' castes would often tell enumerators that they belong to the 'upper' castes. This was done to break free of the limitations imposed by their caste identity. Today, we could see the reverse of that process with members of the 'upward' castes, tempted by the possibility of Government patronage, claiming they belong to the 'backward' castes. It can be safely assumed that no caste Census can accurately reflect the real strength of any one caste. What we will have is a grossly distorted picture and a set of statistics that will lend themselves to abuse by politicians. We must, therefore, ask ourselves: Must we let politicians inflict further damage?

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