The ongoing Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) survey would promote caste majoritarianism leading to a situation in which numerically smaller communities could be oppressed and it might also provide legitimacy or secular recognition of caste as “the cultural manifesto of the State”, observed a forum of Dalit activists and writers and intellectuals.
Gathering under the banner of ‘Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA)' here recently to discuss the survey being done under the Ministry of Rural Development, they said what was going on was not a caste-based census, but an exercise to enumerate Other Backward Classes (OBCs) or intermediate castes, since data collection on SC/STs was carried out during every census.
They noted that the current exercise was not undertaken by the Census of India. “This survey is a response to cases filed against OBC reservation in Central government employment and educational institutions; also the 69 per cent reservation policy of Tamil Nadu and Parliament approval of the same.”
While hearing these cases, the court asked the State to justify the quantum of reservation by producing data on OBCs, they noted. The survey was contrary to the Constitution because it legitimised and rationalised the caste-based social structure. It was, therefore, antithetical to the concept of social justice by supporting numerical caste majoritarianism. The ICDA also raised concerns over the definition of ‘backwardness.'Although castes were described as Backward Classes, as they were socially and educationally deprived, many of those registered as MBCs and BCs were economically, socially and politically dominant or powerful.
There was, therefore, a need to redefine and re-classify ‘backwardness'. If the survey was carried out using existing categorisation, it would only benefit currently powerful communities.
Moreover, there was no space in the survey for people to register themselves as Dalit Christians or Dalit Muslims or to say that they had no caste. This negated attempts to escape or eradicate caste through conversion, mixed marriage or radical politics.
Further, the forum expressed anguish over non-implementation of SC/ST reservation and emancipation of the most under-privileged sections of society over the past 65 years. It questioned how the current survey addressed this predicament or furthered the annihilation of caste.
It observed that the survey paved the way for the establishment of Hindu majoritarianism, because the caste-based forums and leaders, who upheld rather than negated their Hindu identity, were in favour of this exercise.
C. Lakshmanan, Assistant Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies and Hugo Gorringe, Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh and author of ‘Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu' participated as special invitees. Stalin Rajangam, prominent Dalit writer; J.Balasubramanian, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Science Communication, Madurai Kamaraj University; Anbu Selvam, independent researcher, Puducherry; Paari Chelian, founder, Iyothee Thassar Research Centre; A.Jaganathan PhD scholar, Guru Nanak Study Centre, Madurai Kamaraj University, participated.