August 17, 2010

caste: casting india in outdated mould

The seal has been affixed: caste will be counted in the 2011 census.

The GoM under the Finance Minister has recommended to the cabinet that every citizen be asked about his/her caste. The caste enumeration will be done at biometric phase, covering photographing, fingerprinting and iris mapping of all citizens over the age of 15 for the National Population Register.

For months, the issue of inclusion or not of caste in the census has been hotly debated within and outside parliament. Spearheaded by OBC leaders, this issue had parties, even union cabinet, divided. But the fear of losing votes of OBCs who feel that they will benefit from caste census as their numbers will swell, made all parties agree for it. Logic, even of the Home Minister, against caste enumeration just sank in the caste din.

What caste enumeration does to India will be worth watching. It may remain a numerical - statistical dud exercise, with no clear data emerging due to enormous sub-division of castes. It might become a farce exercise also due to the population dynamics of caste [not cast politics]. It may raise feelings like the Mandal Commission report did. It may benefit or harm some castes, though harm is most unlikely.  It may be the nemesis of Indian society, dividing it vertically into fiercely zingoistic identities. It might, though not very likely, make caste irrelevant by showing economic paparmeters more important than caste. Etc, etc. It is claimed that the data so generated will help in pinpointing the socially backward and channelising the benefits to them in a better way, but hardly ever has such data helped in wise social-economic decision making.

Going by sheer logic and national interest, one would perhaps go 70:30 in favour of not having the cast census since the possible hazards far outweigh any benefits. But have logic and pure public interest [as distinct from sectoral interests ] ever prevailed in competitive democracy?

Let's wait. By the way, is there any other option?

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