'Caste inclusion in census will be a disaster'
June 29, 2010
Professor *P Radhakrishnan* is a social scientist of repute and an expert on
caste and reservation in India [
Images<http://search.rediff.com/imgsrch/default.php?MT=india>]. He was
with the Madras Institute of Development Studies till recently. In
this interview with *Shobha Warrier* he talks about the dangers of including
caste in the census.
*Caste is a reality in India. Political parties are formed on caste.
Reservation is based on caste. What more harm can the inclusion of caste in
the census cause to the society?*
No doubt, caste is a reality in India. But in many places it is not the same
reality as it existed traditionally. As an institution that has survived for
about 3,000 years, caste has undergone many changes. There were many
agitations too against the caste system as it is intrinsically divisive,
discriminatory, and oppressive. The Indian Constitution was framed against
the background of the full knowledge of the persistence of this evil
allowing it to gradually wither away or have a natural death. As a result,
the traditional caste has, to a large extent, been driven underground over
the years after India became a secular democratic republic.
If caste is included in the census, it will come back venomously with the
vengeance of its suppression for about 60 years, which will be a disaster.
Caste was in the public domain during the British administration mainly
because of its divide and rule policy and partly because of its patronage
politics. India's independence brought about a major policy shift in the
State's approach to caste. That is evident from the Constitution.
*Reservation at present is based on data collected years ago. So, won't a
caste-based census help identify those in need of reservation?*
The general perception that reservation should be caste-based and castes are
entitled to reservation is fallacious. From the perspective of the
Constitution, and of related Indian jurisprudence till recently, reservation
should not actually be caste-based -- except in the case of Scheduled Castes
-- though for purposes of identifying backwardness caste groups and
corresponding groups in non-Hindu religious communities are subjected to the
*How will the government then proceed with reservations?*
The government can do it in at least two ways: By following the
constitutional provisions for the purpose (Article 340); and by evolving
neutral criteria which might have existed as negative attributes of the
traditional caste system whose persistence, as I said earlier, may be
disabling, discriminatory and debilitating to individuals from certain
castes and communities.
In fact, each state has plenty of rich data on social backwardness. If the
states are not willing to process and publish these data it is for fear that
the creamy layers which now gobble up the benefits of reservation will be
affected and the benefits will go to the really needy.
*Why did the British think of stopping caste-based census after 1931?*
It became an unwanted burden on the officials to collect enormous data on
hundreds of castes at exorbitant cost to the government. The British also
realised that caste-based census did more harm than good as the data
collected was not reliable, and the census reports caused a lot caste-spite
and encouraged 'caste patriotism'.
*As a sociologist, do you think with economic development, social
development will follow?*
It will, if there is proper distributive justice. Even in the absence of the
desired distributive justice, if you look at the profile of individuals, you
will see that social development is already happening, though rather slowly.
*Caste has come into the forefront with more vigour now with each political
party using caste and reservation to garner votes. Do you hold politicians
responsible for the current situation? *
By the time the Constitution came into being, every caste group had become
aware of the importance of caste and numbers in a democracy. India was the
only country in the world that introduced universal adult franchise at one
go. More than two-thirds of the population was illiterate at that time. At
the time of elections, different groups of cognate castes came together,
formed what may be called a 'horizontal stretch' and started exercising
their numerical power. So, despite illiteracy adult franchise gave a new
lease of life to caste groups.
In 1953, the first backward commission -- the Kaka [
commission -- was appointed. The commission submitted its report
in 1956. At the last minute, the chairman of the commission himself felt
that the recommendations of the commission would go against the well being
and future of the nation; and wrote as much in his forwarding letter. The
government saw wisdom in his letter. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
[ Images <http://search.rediff.com/imgsrch/default.php?MT=jawaharlal+nehru>]
and Home Minister Sardar Patel were vehemently opposed to have
do with caste in any state policy other than in the case of the Scheduled
After considerable debate at the Centre, the government wrote to all state
governments that while they were free to introduce reservation preferably
using economic criteria, the Centre was not acting on the recommendations of
the report. Then the states started appointing backward class commissions
and introducing reservations. This led to violent caste clashes in states
like Bihar and Gujarat.
What is envisaged in the Constitution is not caste-based reservation as such
but ameliorative measures for the advancement of individuals from
traditional caste groups who continued to be victims of the persistence of
the traditional disabling, discriminatory and debilitating attributes of the
caste system. Obviously the problem, the reality was too complex to
perceive, let alone address.
*But the reality has been made different by politicians. Have they not used
reservation for vote bank politics? *
Caste-based reservation came handy for vote bank politics; and politicians
have been mobilising various caste groups using reservation as a rallying
point. In the process of mobilising caste groups, they make promises. Caste
groups also demand many things, caste-backwardness became a convenient tool
in the context of reservations and nobody is willing to look into the
Caste gained a new impetus after Prime Minister V P Singh [
played the Mandal card, apparently for political gains.
*What will the United Progressive Alliance [
government gain by introducing caste in the census other than
some political parties?*
It is not the government alone that is accountable. Here, the role of
judiciary is crucial. If the reservation issue has been derailed over the
years, become messy and politicised, it is primarily because of the
judiciary. The response of the judiciary has been one of knee-jerk,
particularly after the Supreme Court rulings of November 16, 1992, in the
Mandal case, which I thought were pragmatic.
If caste was excluded from the census since 1951 it was obviously for
well-conceived policy reasons. These reasons are available in different
documents of the home ministry. It is deplorable that neither the judiciary
nor the home ministry has shown any historical sensitivity to the
'caste-in-the-census' conundrum. In fact, the home ministry should have come
out with a white paper on the whole issue from 1951 to 1991 covering the
views of Nehru, Patel, Indira Gandhi [
Rajiv Gandhi [
Images <http://search.rediff.com/imgsrch/default.php?MT=rajiv+gandhi> ], and
If you have closely follow the caste-in-the-census debate what you see is
the Yadav trio holding the nation to ransom, stating that if caste is not
included in the census the UPA ministry will collapse.
*So do you think the Group of Ministers' decision on the caste census is yet
another cat-and-mouse game in Indian politics?*
My 'gut-level' assessment is that there will be no caste census. Phase 1 of
the census is already in progress. Though the Group of Ministers reportedly
decided to have caste enumeration in the second phase of the census along
with UID (Unique Identification) number project that may not happen. The
government is under pressure to stop this project as there are apprehensions
that the data collected can be misused. That apart, the project cannot be a
one-time affair; it has to be a continuous process. If the fate of the voter
ID cards project is any indication, the UID project may be a non-starter;
and even if data collection is possible the data can transmogrify India's
demographic characteristics. Let us admit that we are way behind
e-governance, and India is not Infosys [ Get
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