Several states in India have collected detailed caste and sub-caste (jati) data over the past few years. Bihar became the first state to publicly release such data when it tabled its caste survey report in the state assembly earlier this month. Despite some complaints about the veracity of the numbers, all political parties seem to have accepted them.
The Bihar reservation bill, based on these caste survey figures, won unanimous acceptance in the assembly. If one of India’s poorest states could pull off a caste count, what prevents other states or the Union of India from conducting a similar exercise? There are three key reasons behind the reluctance to conduct a nation-wide caste census: fear of legitimizing caste, vested interests, and concerns related to data integrity. One of the motivations behind the imperial censuses of the 19th century was to determine the relative weights of different social groups in the native population.
Nationalists saw such inquiries as part of British efforts to sow divisiveness within the country. The censuses in British India also faced criticism for miscounting caste. All caste details, barring those related to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), were left out of census questions after India won independence.
In the early years of nation-building, caste was perhaps seen as an outdated social construct that must be eradicated. Official acknowledgement of caste groups risked legitimizing a social evil. The first backward classes commission led by Kaka Kalelkar in the 1950s failed to arrive at a consensus on caste-based quotas because of such concerns.Read more on livemint.com