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Monday, August 30 2021


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India is very important for the region and we want trade and economic relations with it. We expect the relationship will continue like before.

That’s Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Stanekzai making the first public comment that indicates the group wants to maintain a relationship with New Delhi. One reason for this welcoming stance: India is now the president of the UN Security Council. We have not issued a response yet. The Hindu has more on the significance of the statement.

 
Big Story

The controversy over the caste census

The TLDR: Everyone knows that caste counts in India, but we don’t count caste in our national census—except for scheduled castes and tribes. Why is that? And why have successive governments—including the current one—opposed a caste census? And why are anti-caste activists the biggest supporters for a detailed enumeration of caste identities? We answer these and other puzzling questions.

 

Some surprising background

Here are some facts you may not be aware of when it comes to castes and numbers in India.

 

Fact #1: We have not counted the number of castes or the people who belong to each of them in independent India. The Indian Census under British rule included all castes, but the first census in free India only counted members of scheduled castes and tribes. Everyone else is thrown under the ‘general’ category. And that has remained the norm ever since. 

 

Fact #2: This means we do not know the caste of three-fourths of all Indians. We don’t even have an official list of all castes in India. 

 

Fact #3: We also have no clue about the number of people who fall under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category—the vast swathe of lower and intermediate castes that lie between the upper castes and Dalits. Therefore, our affirmative action schemes for these castes are arbitrary—and have zero basis on actual demographics. 

 

Example: The Mandal Commission in the 1990s estimated OBCs as comprising 52% of the population—based on 1931 British-era data! And the government then randomly assigned a 27% quota to OBCs.

 

Fact #4: In 1992, the Supreme Court placed a cap of 50% on all reservations—which was not based on any demographic data. And in 1993, it ordered the government to ensure that the “creamy layer” of any backward caste be excluded from reservations—since “seats and posts reserved for backward classes are snatched away by the more fortunate among them.” Again, since there is no socio-economic data for OBCs, this ruling too was made in the absence of any hard data backing up its claim.

 

Fact #5: In 2011, an under-pressure UPA government reluctantly conducted the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC 2011). But the details were never released because it was apparently riddled with “crores of errors.” Also: “The number of castes ran into lakhs.” OTOH, the unpublished data has been used by government schemes to identify beneficiaries ever since. 

 

Fact #6: There are however regular national surveys—based on samples not actual counts—that offer some indication of caste in India. For example: the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) and National Sample Surveys (NSS). And these typically reveal what we already suspect:

 

“It is seen that a majority proportion of ‘upper’ caste households report their principal occupation in public services/white-collar jobs category, while the majority of STs in agriculture/fisheries, SCs in manual labour, and OBCs in blue-collar jobs. It is ironic that even after years of Independence, the occupational profile of the population still coincides, to a large extent, with the unjust division of labour as prescribed in the archaic Varna system.”

 

Why should we count caste?

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