Case for B.C. count

Print edition : July 02, 2010

Census work at Ramsingh Chapori village near Guwahati, Assam. The Union Cabinet on May 26 referred the matter of caste-based census to a Group of Ministers to examine and recommend the modalities.-ANUPAM NATH/AP

IT is possible to make Census 2011 meet the needs of the Backward Classes without having to face the problems many critics have raised. The method explained below will not promote caste-based divisiveness but can help destroy caste and thereby help optimal national economic progress.

The Union Cabinet on May 26 referred the matter of caste-based census to a Group of Ministers to examine and recommend the modalities. The Government of India has to complete this process expeditiously and decide and communicate to the Census Commissioner that the new element in Census 2011 is not caste census but B.C. census, in which demographic, educational, occupational, residential and economic data will be gathered in respect of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs)/Other Backward Classes (OBCs)/Backward Classes (B.Cs), hereafter referred to as B.Cs, as has been done in respect of the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs) and the Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts) in every Census since 1951. This will remove the basis for the apprehension that this is going to be a caste census in which everyone will be asked, What is your caste?

For canvassing B.C. data, enumerators in each State should be furnished with a copy of the Central List of Backward Classes for that State in the same way that they are given the list of the S.Cs and the S.Ts for each State during every Census. The Central List of B.Cs is State-wise, just like the Presidential Schedule of the S.Cs and the S.Ts for each State.

Most critics miss the point that the aggregate number of entries in the Central List of B.Cs for all States is only 1,963. Incidentally, the number of entries of S.Cs and S.Ts is 1,932 (1,234 S.Cs and 698 S.Ts). Therefore, the additional work will be manageable.

Census data are canvassed in two stages. In the first stage, questions pertain to access to drinking water, electricity, latrine, drainage, bathroom, fuel used, availability of radio, television, telephone, mobile phone, type of conveyance used, whether banking service is availed and so on in what is called the Houselisting and Housing Schedule. This is for the house and household and not for each individual. In the second, that is, the Family Schedule, the questions are on employment, literacy, industrial category, occupation, and so on of each individual.

For canvassing B.C. data, all that the enumerator has to do is ask a person who belongs to the Backward Classes as to which caste of B.C.he/she belongs to, as is done in the case of the S.Cs and the S.Ts. It is only those who say they belong to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes who are asked which caste of S.C. or tribe of S.T. they belong to. Similarly, in Census 2011 those who say they do not belong to the Backward Classes need not be, and should not be, asked which caste they belong to.

Collection process

For this, all that is required is to add B.C. in column 15 of the Housing Schedule so that it reads as:

If S.C., S.T., B.C. or Other S.C. 1 / S.T. 2 / B.C. 3 / Other 4.

Also add a new column, column 11 in the Family Schedule (which is under preparation), after the existing columns 9 and 10. The heading of column 9 reads: If belonging to Scheduled Castes, fill the name of the Scheduled Caste, from the list supplied (Scheduled Castes can be in Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions only). Column 10 similarly provides for the S.Ts. The new column 11 should read as follows:

If belonging to Backward Classes, fill the name of the backward caste/community from the Central List of B.Cs supplied (B.Cs are also called Socially and Educationally Backward Classes or Other Backward Classes; B.Cs can be in any religion).

When a person claiming to belong to the Backward Classes, in reply to the next question,mentions a caste in the Central List of B.Cs for that State to be his/her caste, appropriate entries are to be made in column 15 of the HousingSchedule and the new column 11 of the Family Schedule, as is done for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. If a person claiming to belong to the Backward Classes mentionsa caste that is not in the list,the enumerator should show/read out the Central List to that person and ask whether he/she belongs to any of those castes. This is how it should be done for the S.Cs and the S.Ts also. This will preclude the possibility of less-educated people giving the names of gotras or clans and also the consequent confusion in the post-Census sorting work.

There will then be no danger of 60,000 or even one lakh caste names being returned, as mentioned by certain critics. There is also no room for confusion on account of spelling/phonetic variants or regional names because all these have been listed under each caste entry/tribe entry in the Presidential Schedules of the S.Cs and the S.Ts and the Central List of B.Cs.

Data gathered by the Census authorities on various parameters demographic, economic, occupational, educational, residential, living conditions and facilities accessible for all people can then be assigned easily to the B.Cs, who would have been identified as per column 15 of the Housing Schedule and the new column 11 of the Family Schedule, following the procedure used for assignment of data to the S.Cs and the S.Ts from 1951.

There is no danger of advanced caste people returning themselves as B.C. people in order to get the benefit of reservation, as critics allege. The caste return in the Census is no basis for providing the benefit of reservation to an individual. To derive such benefit, each individual has to apply to the appropriate authorities, who will verify locally before issuing a certificate whether the applicant belongs to the caste mentioned and whether that caste is in the list of B.Cs. It is not easy to get a false caste certificate because the applicant will have inter aliato furnish his/her father's name. No advanced caste individual will mention falsely B.C.parentage, especially if it is known that the particulars of each applicant, including the father's name, will be publicised.

No doubt there are a few collusively produced false caste certificates. Even these can be exposed if each applicant's name, father's name, and name of the caste as in the application are publicised in public offices from the panchayat upwards and in widely circulated print media. In any case, self-declaration as B.C.by a non-B.C. person or as S.C. by a non-S.C. person or as S.T. by a non-S.T. person will not get him/her reservation in jobs or educational institutions.

Reservation

Some persons are worried about the reservation-related consequences of the data on B.Cs collected in the Census. It is impossible that B.Cs will turn out to be 80 per cent or more, as mentioned by certain critics, when 24.4 per cent have been counted in 2001 as belonging to the S.Cs and the S.Ts, and well-known advanced castes are likely to be anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent. So B.Cs can only be anywhere between 45 and 55 per cent with State-wise variations and perhaps not very different from the Mandal's all-India estimate of 52 per cent (including B.Cs of Muslims and Christians). Whatever be the percentage of the B.C. population emerging from the Census, it will have no bearing on the percentage of reservation so long as the Supreme Court's cap of 50 per cent for the S.Cs, the S.Ts plus the B.Cs remains.

Critics have looked at the whole issue only from the reservation-focussed point of view of the advanced castes. A persistent theme in every writ petition against reservation for the B.Cs has been that there is no population data for the B.Cs. Now, when there is the possibility of getting such data, it is self-contradictory to oppose it. But, it must be noted that the Census data have many uses other than those related to reservation. An opinion has been expressed that for addressing the discrimination against Dalits, designing remedial measures and empowering them with education, resources, food security, economic resources, political participation and so on, a census is not required. This view ignores the fact that without the census of the S.Cs and the S.Ts it would not have been possible to provide population-equivalent reservation for them in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, as mandated by Articles 330 and 332 of the Constitution.

A basic principle of the Special Component Plan for the S.Cs and the Tribal sub-Plan for the S.Ts is that the population-equivalent percentage of the Plan budgetary resources and physical benefits should be set apart for them. How could this have been done if there were no population census of the S.Cs and the S.Ts? The data on the B.Cs in the Census will help improve the allocation of budgetary resources and benefits for the B.Cs. Will counting caste reduce inequality, some critics have asked. The simple answer is thatno census, no statistic can reduce inequality. They can provide authentic data for those who want to plan sincerely to enable the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs to reach the level of equality with the advanced castes.

Today, India's rise to its fullest potential eludes it because the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs have been and are being prevented from making their full contribution, and much of the valuable energies of the advanced castes are being frittered away in checkmating the Constitution-mandated progress of these categories. Those who sincerely abhor the caste system must support the cause of social justice for the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs and also the collection of caste data of the B.Cs as a long and wrongly denied aid to design and implement plans to achieve this.

Members of advanced castes who occupy the commanding heights of decision-making and opinion-shaping must ponder over whether it is desirable to have the dichotomy where the B.Cs are denied the development-related statistical visibility available to the S.Cs and the S.Ts while the advanced castes, with rare exceptions, oppose it. This dichotomy also prevailed when long-denied recognition and reservation at the Central level became available for the B.Cs in 1990. Passions were whipped up by eminent advanced caste leaders, including in the media, some of whom are now active against the B.C. census.

In 1990, the media screams drove some ill-informed young people to commit self-immolation. The dire consequences predicted by the media in 1990 have not materialised. On the other hand, the advanced castes have benefited by the extension of reservation to the B.Cs, again after a lot of delay, in 2006, to government and aided educational institutions.

Before a single B.C. candidate got admission through reservation, teachers, almost entirely of the advanced castes, got age-extension of service. The number of seats were so expanded that the number of general seats did not fall while providing reservation for the B.Cs (reservation for the S.Cs and the S.Ts already existed). Higher education, which had stagnated formany decades, began to expand, resulting in more seats for the advanced castes along withthe S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs. If the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs are given their due place and space in all spheres and at all levels, the consequent social harmony dividend will unshackle the chains which keep back India's economy from reaching the full heights of its potential.

It is in the interest not only of the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs but of the advanced castes and the nation as a whole to stop the policy of opposing everything that is done for the B.Cs (from Champakam Dorairajan and Venkataramana cases of 1951 tothe Ashoka Kumar Thakur case, 2006-08 the S.Cs got a respite after attention turned to the B.Cs from 1990) even though it is in accordance with the constitutional mandate.

P.S. Krishnan is former Secretary, Government of India; former Member, National Commission for S.Cs and S.Ts; and former Member-Secretary, National Commission for Backward Classes.

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