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Caste based Census

  Jun 27, 2022

Caste based Census

Q. Why is this in News?

A. Recently, Bihar government has announced that it will undertake a socio-economic survey of all castes and communities (SECC).

Q. What is the Difference between Census and SECC?


  • Census:
    • The origin of the Census in India goes back to the colonial exercise of 1881.
    • Census has evolved and been used by the government, policymakers, academics, and others to capture the Indian population, access resources, map social change, delimitation exercise, etc.
    • However, as early as the 1940s, W.W.M. Yeatts, Census Commissioner for India for the 1941 Census, had pointed out that “the census is a large, immensely powerful, but blunt instrument unsuited for specialized inquiry.”
  • SECC:
    • The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011 for the first time since 1931.
    • SECC is meant to canvass every Indian family, both in rural and urban India, and ask about their:
      • Economic status, so as to allow Central and State authorities to come up with a range of indicators of deprivation, permutations, and combinations of which could be used by each authority to define a poor or deprived person.
      • It is also meant to ask every person their specific caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups were economically worse off and which were better off.
    • SECC has the potential to allow for a mapping of inequalities at a broader level.

Q. What is the Difference Between Census & SECC?


  • The Census provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.
  • Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas according to the SECC website, “all the personal information given in the SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.”

Q. What are the Pros and Cons of Conducting Caste based Census?


  • Pros:
    • Helpful in Managing Social Equity Programmes:
      • India's social equality programmes cannot be a success without the data and a caste census would help fix that.
      • Due to the lack of data, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, groups within the OBCs and more.
        • The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 5% while some others have pinned the OBC population from 36 to 65%.
      • The census would 'besides resolving the needless mystery about the size of the OBC population, census enumeration would yield a wealth of demographic information (sex ratio, mortality rate, life expectancy), educational data (male and female literacy, ratio of school-going population, number of graduates) and policy relevant information about economic conditions (house-type, assets, occupation) of the OBCs'.
    • Bring a Measure of Objectivity on Reservation:
      • A caste-based census could go a long way in bringing a measure of objectivity to the debate on reservations.
      • According to the Rohini Commission, which was formed to look into equitable redistribution of the 27% quota for OBCs, noted that there are around 2,633 castes covered under the OBC reservation.
      • However, the Centre’s reservation policy from 1992 doesn’t take into account that there exists within the OBCs, a separate category of Extremely Backward Castes, who are much more marginalised.
  • Cons:
    • Repercussions of a Caste Census:
      • Caste has an emotive element and thus there exist the political and social repercussions of a caste census.
        • There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities.
        • Due to these repercussions, nearly a decade after the SECC 2011, a sizable amount of its data remains unreleased or released only in parts.
    • Caste Is Context-specific:
      • Caste has never been a proxy for class or deprivation in India, it constitutes a distinct kind of embedded discrimination that often transcends class. For example:
        • People with Dalit last names are less likely to be called for job interviews even when their qualifications are better than that of an upper-caste candidate.
        • They are also less likely to be accepted as tenants by landlords. Thus, difficult to measure.
        • Marriage to a well- educated, well-off Dalit man still sparks violent reprisals among the families of upper-caste women every day across the country.

Q. What is the Way Forward?

  • A caste census may not sit well with the goal of a casteless society, but it may serve as a means of addressing inequities in society.
  • Caste data will enable independent research not only into the question of who does and does not need affirmative action but also into the effectiveness of this measure.
    • Impartial data and subsequent research might save the bona fide attempts of the uplift of the most backward classes from the shadow of caste and class politics and be informative to people on both sides of the spectrum – for and against reservation.
    • It is not reservation that creates the current divide in our society but the misuse or the perceived misuse of reservation.