ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste Census: The Road Ahead

Can we expect to see a greater clarity of purpose and firmness of resolve in counting caste?

Having announced that caste will indeed be counted in the Census of 2011, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is busy demonstrating once again the crucial difference between taking a decision and acting decisively. The sudden agreement arrived at in the Lok Sabha in early May was followed by prolonged conflicts that seemed more vehement within parties than across them. The Group of Ministers (GoM) formed to resolve the matter decided to include caste, but undermined its own decision by linking caste enumeration with the National Population Register (NPR) process at its biometric data capture stage. Vigorous opposition has since forced the GoM to backtrack and pass the buck to the Union Cabinet. In short, the GoM has wasted three precious months in prolonged indecision. The biggest loser here is the Congress Party, which looks like it lacks both direction and determination.

On this issue, direction is useless without determination because there is no middle ground – one either counts caste or refuses to count it. Given the tight schedule for the Census of 2011, time favours the opponents of caste enumeration, who only have to delay and dissimulate in order to ensure victory. The proposal to club the collection of caste data with that of biometric data under the NPR was precisely this sort of backdoor sabotage because it was a non-starter as a genuine option. It “orphaned” caste data by delinking it from other census data on literacy, occupation, household assets, etc; it was vulnerable to uncertainties of coverage and long delays; and it risked compromising the anonymity of the census. There is still time – but barely enough – to salvage things; further delays or decoys will surely kill the project.

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