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

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Census in Colonial India and the Birth of Caste

Caste, as conceived in contemporary academic writings or within the policies of the State, is a new idea produced during the second half of the 19th century in the course of and because of the census operations. Colonial census officials, working with concepts of varna and jati, struggled unsuccessfully to define and classify these into castes on a single pan-India list, where each caste had to be discreet, homogeneous and enumerable. The history of caste enumeration in the Indian census illustrates how difficult it is to capture indigenous social hierarchies and identities under the term "caste". We embark on a new caste census without having addressed many of these challenges.

The paper has beneted from the comments made by Gautam Bhadra, Neeladri Bhattacharya, Rohan DSouza, and scholars from the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia and Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Sangeeta DasGupta has read the manuscript and suggested extensive changes. I am thankful to all of them. The usual disclaimers apply.

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