A caste-based census has been a long-drawn point of discussion in Indian politics. Despite its many benefits like understanding the social and economic positions of people based on different castes, this data could be greatly beneficial for caste-centric research and policymaking.
Highlighting upon the same Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion under #WebPolicyTalk, The State of Human Dignity and Development – #InclusiveDevelopment, A Panel Discussion on “Caste Census: Why the Delay?”
The discussion had a very esteemed panel consisting of Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy, Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi who was the moderator of the session. He started the discussion with some of the essential benefits that a caste-based census will create, a data which is concentrated towards every specific caste, that will highlight their social and economic position. He posed several questions: the move of Upper caste Hindus to the private sector, because of reservations in health and education, and how should we move ahead for greater benefit? How should we address the issue of strengthening caste identities? The growth of Right-Wing Extremism and growing anger between the caste relations between the various castes? He also linked the question of caste in this neo-liberal era.
The need for caste-based census and politics
Abdul Hafiz Gandhi, National Spokesperson, Samajwadi Party took the floor of discussion. He presented a realistic picture of caste in India and his perspective on social representation in every aspect. After he highlighted the importance of the data which is being gained after a caste-based census. The realities that would be brought with them, might paint a vastly different picture than the assumptions. He pointed out various promises by the politician in the race by winning the election but after ignoring it. Rather, they only support a very minimal-based survey, but a full caste-based survey is needed. As India has affirmative action programs for the backward castes, the survey is needed to measure their impact, but it is surprising to see that the government is afraid of a survey. There are various private surveys, but they are not that expensive, rather he shows the lack of interest of the political leaders of the nation towards the survey for the benefit of the marginalized communities.
He urges to have a survey not only based on the Hindu religion but also based on other religions and their deprived castes, which are much ignored. He highlighted the fast implementation of the Economic Weaker Section (EWS) based reservation and questioned the lack of the data before its implementation. Rather, he went ahead and criticized the judiciary for its double standards on the topic of inclusion on the reservation.
Prof Sujatha Surepally, Renowned Activist and Head, Department of Sociology, Satavahana University, Telangana, explained the intention behind the reservation, and the conception of it in the upper Hindu castes. She enlightened us by her experience in the district of Telegrana, where people were facing a lot of issues in getting the caste certificate. She shared her observations about how caste and politics play such an important role, and how parties target them. The inclusion of backward castes in the primary education institutes is way less than the suggested percentages. She says before talking about caste we should talk about “annihilation of caste” and the missing that in the policy and even the constitution. She also recommended special justice methods for the backward communities because of the lack of justice among them.
Where is the actual issue?
Dr. Chandan Yadav, National Secretary, and Spokesperson, Indian National Congress highlighted the major problem which is that counting all the castes including the upper, SC, ST, and OBC, before which only SC and ST-based census were done. Along with that, the issue is that the census will not only count the heads, but also their economic prosperity, representation, and social position. He shared his views on caste and politics, and that many assertions and prejudices are spreading which are supported by no data. The major solution which will show everything clearly will be a proper census, but the government is opposed to it. He gave examples of certain communities in various states of nations which reflect a quite different picture as it was presented earlier.
He told how caste affects one’s life, and how it has historically changed, so to measure its impact in the form of service is so important. He compared the condition of backward castes in Maharashtra, Tamil Nandu where the census and data were used and implemented policies, but at the same states like UP and Bihar where the caste has taken a political turn. The major fear in the mind of the government is that if the population of backward castes increases, which is expected to, then they must increase the cap upon the reservation, which is conflicted right now too. At last, he covered the point of the growth of extreme Hindutva and how it is affects our society. Better policy initiative, change in the society, social policy, and nation-building would be some of the things that could be the outcomes of the census.
Dr. Ajay Gudavarthy brought into notice the question of the shift of the upper castes into the private structure, the less spending into affirmative action, or the state of public facilities that are reserved. He stressed on the dire state of the facilities of universal education and health care of our nation which is even bad compared to our neighbor Bangladesh.
In response to the question raised, Dr. Chandan Yadav, responded that this issue is not limited to the economic issue, but also social and emotion-based issues. The state of the backward castes has proven how this is an identity-constructed issue. He suggested that the dissolution of the social and identity crisis might increase their position.
Prof Sujatha Surepally elongated this topic by generalizing various issues and social positions that have led to many issues. She said that the importance of data of this sort by referring to the data collected in Telangana. She also recommended that connecting the option of caste with the voter ID, which everyone has, could be one of the biggest redevelopments.
Abdul Hafiz Gandhi spoke about the systematic exploitation that is being missed in the talk. Rather, he went on to say that the data that is based on caste might help give proper justice based on the caste which they lacked.
Sujatha told about how our preview of caste discrimination is very limited, rather moving the discrimination, any issue related to caste is not only for the Dalits there are thousands of castes. She asks for a reverse of the experience of both the upper and backward castes, that will give a clear lens. After she reflected on how the class and caste are too similar and are connected with every aspect. Dr. Chandan Yadav acknowledged this debate and the struggle for a better society, an ongoing process which will lead to better and more favorable distribution and representation. Following the concluding remarks and a general vote of thanks to the participants, the session ended.