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Across groups, the case for a caste census

Suraj Yengde writes: We need to know the numbers of the beneficiaries of the caste system as well. Without this, the SC, ST census is akin to counting the protected species in a jungle.

Written by Suraj Yengde |
Updated: September 20, 2021 8:54:18 am
An employee collects data during the last census in New Delhi (Express Archive)

The issue of caste census has received the anticipated stormy response from various quarters of India, especially the ruling elite — the ‘rationalised’ idea of ‘granting support to the weaker population’ continues to be the tune of Hindustan’s radio.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of India have been historically oppressed and it is upon us to “uplift” them, is the refrain among liberal emancipators.

In the oppression of Dalits, no one is the lesser sinner. The ones who would like to work within the conundrums of Hindu liberalism find reasons to hate a Dalit, who can be anyone: their servant, colleague, or bosses. Even the one who is writing this column. Then, to advocate “redistribution” and “representation” is an act of refined courage.

Many Brahmin commentators have unilaterally reasoned the difficulty in gathering a caste census. One of the pushbacks comes from the idea that doing a census for groups who are actually marginalised would not be easy, and that instead, it would strengthen the caste system. How could one differ between castes and the caste system? Through the standards of representation, the entire gamut of castes would realise their importance in the playbook of dignity. Many backward castes, formerly Shudras, find refuge in the Hindu order which somehow puts them above Dalit, Adivasis, and lower-caste Muslims.

Apart from this deigned dignity, no Hindu materialism comes to their rescue.

That is reserved for the lords of the Shudras — the Brahmin and allied castes. It is here where spiritual Shudras are increasingly realising their true place, which is non-existent. The process of identifying castes and subcastes in the New India model would reconfigure the original purpose of the nation-state — to serve the citizens as communities, and not as individuals.

One can keep arguing for Shudra consensus, which goes beyond religious identity that the Hindu liberals would like to retain. However, counting people for a perfect policy is the kernel of any successful State.

We should be cautious that the focus of the census is not limited to redistribution. It also needs to take into account over-representation. Thus, by universalising the counting process, we could cover India by accounting for various castes and their representation in nation-building.

For too long, Brahmins have protected their narrative — creating ideologies of Left, Right, Centre, to initiate shallow fights. A caste census would be an opportunity to find out where we have gone wrong as a nation, what needs to be fixed, and where should the New India project begin.

Without having an econometric understanding, we cannot initiate policies or even parliamentary dialogues. The Department of Personnel and Training has no data of Brahmin, Baniya, Kshatriya in their hiring, and promotions. The 1931 Census under the British administration is the closest we have.

We need to know the numbers of the beneficiaries of the caste system as well. Without this, the SC, ST census is akin to counting the protected species in a jungle.

The claimants of reservation or quota policy cannot remain mute on the question of redistribution to other groups — the backward classes whose constitutional validity was birthed during the formation of the Republic in 1950 constitute half the population. But this was ignored by the ‘Pandit’ of Hindustan, Jawaharlal Nehru. From the Kaka Kalelkar Commission recommendation that advised incorporation of castes lower in the Brahminical hierarchy, to the B P Mandal report granting reservation to the marginalised, savarna fiefdom has not recognised potential of backward classes.

Drawing on the British-era Census, Dr Ambedkar had listed over 1,550 sub-castes among Brahmins. The poor among them also need to be the focus. We cannot allow them to be exploited and manipulated by the upper, ruling caste.

The EWS policy and its applicability needs to be assessed. Until we focus on status of the EWS policy, the Shudra/middle-caste chief ministers who flaunt policies for Brahmin upliftment may well get a ticket to swarga. Perhaps with this there can be a common consensus amongst the country’s paupers, who could join forces and advocate for social justice; and, one would hope, for annihilation of castes as well.

Suraj Yengde, the author of Caste Matters, curates the fortnightly ‘Dalitality’ column

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