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The Indian Constitution after independence was written with a vision and aspiration to have a casteless society. In support of the goal, many post-independence leaders and thinkers used to shun to have caste-identities attached to their names. That being the case, after seventy-five years of freedom caste identity has become more and more pronounced now. Though social identities are malleable i.e., subject to change in this day and time, some political leaders want their perpetuation. Regional political leaders, especially from Bihar (C.M Nitish Kumar and RJD’’s Tejaswi Yadav) are seeking the caste-wise census in the case of OBCs, in the coming General Population Census (of 2021). India’s Census happens every 10-years. In the 2011 census, when this proposal came forward from political leaders, the then Congress Party in power had not paid heed to it.
In fact, it was the British colonial masters that exercised this cumbersome operation of population census for India from 1872 to 1931, especially to elicit details caste-wise. They came out with a piece of amorphous information. To them, all those caste identities were bewildering. In any case, while implementing the Mandal Commission recommendation of 27% reservations to Backward Classes, the 1931 census of the British was followed. Independent India did not go for determining caste-identities overtly in Census (other than the SC & ST) considering it to be a divisive one and goes against the national interest. So, since 1951, India’s census only counted Dalits referred to as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes following the British labelling.
In any case, the British were the past masters of categorisation. According to a section of Hindu intellectuals, this ‘Caste-System’ in India was planted by the British colonial rulers to divide people. To them, in the pre-British era, all lived harmoniously. There is some merit to their argument. WR Cornish, who supervised census operations in 1871 stated that regarding the origin of caste, they could place no reliance upon the statements in the Hindu sacred writings. Hence, the argument is – that the colonisers invented social identities. As a result, the Scheduled Castes/Tribes categories arose. The Indian Constitution ratified them as disadvantaged sections and gave SCs (15%) and STs (7%) reservations in education and employment. However, it is nobody’s case to argue now against their privileges by being cynical of British policy.
Historical wrongs are always corrected, as time progresses all over the world. Look back, how slavery thrived in America, for over a hundred-odd years, until the sixteenth U.S President Abraham Lincoln abolished it with great difficulty. Similarly, apartheid in South Africa was legally sanctioned, but the struggle was made to remove it from the statute. Backward Classes in India are socially and economically disadvantaged. Of course, they need affirmative action. But parity with their population ratio, as is done in SC & ST case, is going overboard.
The proponents of Caste-Census cite economic reasons: to better inform and take forward Govt. Programmes and efforts to OBCs. They also pep up their argument by giving an international dimension: the US counts people by race and the U.K enumerates country of origin for their immigrant- population. It is anyone’s guess that any divisive enumeration is a politically expedient tool. In the US Presidential election 2020, realising the Indian diaspora to be the second largest after the Mexican, both Democrats and Republicans tried their best to garner votes by promising policies. The U.K is no less in its appeal to the Indian diaspora while on Brexit-vote and other general elections. Everything boils down to politics! If economic benefits are to be given to OBCs, the state governments are empowered by the recently passed 127th Constitution Amendment Bill for states to decide by their own means of OBC identification.
In a true sense, B.C means Backward Classes (BCs) not Backward Castes, as per the Constitution. There are sections of Muslims and Christians too among BCs, who are also beneficiaries of the “reservation” policy in education and employment. This is more in southern states. So, the Left-oriented-intellectuals seeking OBC-caste-wise census would also want minorities to be dissected by sects, as sought by them in the case of Hindu-OBC caste division, is the question. It’s myopic to think that this division is good for OBC-development. It will only perpetuate aggressive caste identities, which our founding fathers of the Constitution did not ask for.
Though “reservations” started as a temporary measure to uplift the SC, ST and later OBCs, their continuation was justified by all, as these sections needed support to reach the level. However, the advocates of the OBC break-up Caste-wise Census are asking for parity i.e., in commensurate with the percentage of OBC population. If OBCs happen to be 52%, they should be given the same per cent of reservation, is a non sequitur. For, reservation to a section of population meant denying equal opportunity to another section (be it upper caste). 27% is reserved already for OBCs. In the other 50% that is ‘open’ to all, the forwards among the Backward Classes, SC, STs could compete and get. After all, “merit” is not the preserve of ‘one’ community. Here, one needs to remind the advocates of Caste-Census that “equality and equal opportunity to all”, is enshrined in the Constitution of India.
On the whole, the Caste-Census of OBCs seems to be a strategy of regional political leaders, to appeal to voters, whose hearts they could not otherwise win with their work. Hence, the Central Government, in the larger interest of the nation should take up the matter seriously before taking a decision, as regional parties have no larger national goal.