As the government prepares to conduct the next decennial population census in 2011, Janhit Abhiyan, a voluntary organisation, has demanded caste-wise enumeration of population in the country which has not been carried out since 1931.

The demand was also raised by Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar Ansari through a special mention stressing the need to conduct caste-based enumeration. He contended that there were changes in the social, economic and educational standards of different castes, but due to the lack of any reliable and authentic data benefits of the welfare schemes failed to reach the intended segments.

Mr. Ansari pointed out that the Standing Committee on the Ministry of Social Justice had admitted, in its report in the last Lok Sabha, that the government did not have reliable data on the total population of backward castes and those living below poverty line. As a result, he said, the Ministry was not able to fulfil its obligations to the backward and poor segments through its welfare schemes.

“Caste-wise census is necessary for collecting reliable and accurate data relating to economic, social, educational, and political status of different castes. Since no such exercise has been taken in independent India, fruits of development and benefits of the government schemes are not able to reach the targeted sections. It is not a question of collecting data about the status of only backward castes but also relating to economically poorer sections among the upper castes. The government can redesign its welfare schemes based on the latest data. We have already started a debate on it among various sections of the society, including MPs, social workers and youth,” says Raj Narayan of the Janhit Abhiyan.

The demand for conducting a caste-wise census has also been voiced in the recent past by Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S. Ramadoss so that it could serve as the basis for determining the percentage of reservation.

While stating that the next population census would be conducted during February 9 to 28, 2011 with 00:00 hours of March 1, 2011 as the reference date, Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Maken said details relating to linguistic, socio-economic and religious composition would be collected during the massive exercise.

“In the decennial population census, data on various demographic, and socio-economic parameters — age, sex, Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe status, literacy, religion, mother tongue, languages known, economic activity status, migration status are collected. The cartographic depiction of data collected through census is prepared in the form of thematic maps and released in the Census Atlas,” Mr. Maken said.

Social and voluntary organisations pointed out that in the past 70 years, some caste names have changed, new ones have emerged while some castes have merged with others or have moved up or down the social hierarchy and many have become politically active.

Caste being a sensitive issue, the demand for conducting caste-based census is likely to stir up serious debate. On the other hand, several academicians argued that even if caste data were collected and became relevant, caste-wide census had full potential of being exploited by vote-bank and reservation politics.

Official sources said the government had decided not to have caste enumeration during the 2001 population census. “The census is already overloaded. Over five million tables are generated and analysed even without caste enumeration,” sources pointed out.

Citing moral arguments, those opposed to caste-wise census contend that collection of caste data would “increase casteism” and “perpetuate caste system.” On the other side, pro caste-wise census activists demolish such fears by saying that non-collection of caste data in the last 70 years had neither eliminated caste distinctions nor ended caste inequality.

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