MUMBAI – The clamour for a caste-based Census has once again come to haunt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre, which is treating the sensitive issue with kid-gloves, with the general elections barely a year away.
The Imperial Census, first conducted by the British Government in 1871-72 for the entire population, and later periodically undertaken, has always included general questions based on caste-religions.
However, the first loose Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was taken up by the British in 1881 — over 140 years ago, followed by a similar one in 1931.
In 2011, India had conducted a SECC but mostly to ascertain the number of people living below poverty line (BPL) and design targeted welfare measures or schemes for that group.
Maharashtra Congress President Nana Patole raised the issue of a Caste-based Census in Dec. 2021, and soon the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena (UBT) also joined the chorus.
“The decision for a Caste Census was taken unanimously (by Maha Vikas Aghadi), but after that the new government is reluctant to take it up,” said Patole recently.
Congress Chief Spokesperson Atul Londhe said that the state government has brought the proposal to a standstill “with nothing moving ahead now”, and demanded that it should be immediately revived.
NCP President Sharad Pawar has made a strong plea for Caste Census owing to “strong sentiments linking it with social justice”, to create targeted development plans for various caste groups and help achieve an all-inclusive overall national growth.
Party’s Chief Spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said that the government’s reluctance is confusing as with passing time, increasing population and aspirations, even welfare measures and policies need to be modified to suit the current situation.
According to Shiv Sena (UBT) National Spokesperson Kishore Tiwari, the BJP government is worried about a Caste Census ahead of the 2024 elections as it would “reveal a lot and expose them”.
“There are a lot of caste imbalances, those who are less in number are enjoying the maximum fruits of developments, while the huge majority of the deprived at the lower levels of society in all castes-communities, continue to be ignored and their economic status keeps degrading,” said Tiwari.
Tapase feels that a Caste Census will throw up exhaustive, scientific data that can enable policy-makers to formulate special policies, reservations and implementation for each equitable representation to each caste or community, depending on their actual needs.
Presently India is largely relying on the data thrown up in the 1931 Caste Census, but the socio-economic situation has undergone a sea-change in the past 90 years compelling the need to ‘refresh’ the figures and caste components in the 21st century.
Replying to the demands, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis last month stated that the government will send a team to study the Bihar pattern where a caste-census is being carried out.
Admitting that there is a near-consensus on a Caste-based Census in the state, Fadnavis also cautioned for care as such an exercise could potentially create caste conflicts, and hence the need to analyse the Bihar experience on this count before taking a final decision here.
Urging for a well-researched scientific approach, Fadnavis referred to the 2011 SECC and claimed that the data was not made public owing to several issues, errors and discrepancies, and adopting such wrong statistics could lead to a fresh social crisis as all communities would object.
Stressing the need for a proper Caste Census, Janata Dal (U) MLC Kapil Patil said it would help determine not only the OBC population in the state but also provide data of all communities in Maharashtra.
Tapase said that when the latest authentic data is available, the government can ensure that welfare schemes reach the intended sections and remove the existing glaring socio-economic disparities.
Incidentally, Maharashtra announced in the Budget 2023-2024 that it will set up caste-wise development corporations for Lingayat, Gurav, Vadar and Ramoshi communities in the state, further spurring the demand for a Caste Census.
A couple of years ago the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC) had given the finishing touches to the empirical data collection format and norms for a proposed SECC, estimated to cost around Rs 435-crore, but as state Opposition leaders rue, nothing has moved ahead. -IANS