[UPSC] Caste based Census: Why or Why not there is a need for Caste Census ?

During the just finished Parliament session, there was a clamour to use the legislative path to lift the Supreme Court’s 50 percent reservation cap. Several political groups have called for a nationwide caste census ahead of the 2021 Census.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, on the other hand, has stated that the Government of India has chosen not to count the caste-wise population in Census 2021, save for SCs and STs.

Proponents of a caste census claim that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case for breaking the 50% reservation barrier and rationalising the country’s quota matrix. While there is some merit to this argument, the state should proceed with caution.

During colonial times, caste censuses were conducted.

• Questions about caste were added in the First Census, which was performed in 1871.

• After that, the information was used to divide and conquer India.

• It favoured Brahmins as interpreters of Indian culture before accusing them of being at the basis of caste-based tyranny and inequality.

• Anti-Brahmin movements in the twentieth century were inspired by this categorisation.

What kind of caste information is available in the post-independence Census?

• From 1951 to 2011, every census in independent India published statistics on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes.

• Prior to that, data on caste was collected in every Census till 1931. Caste-based data was obtained in 1941, but not published.

• As a result, there is no accurate estimate of the population of OBCs in the absence of such a census.

• According to the Mandal Commission, the OBC population is 52 percent. Other estimates were based on data from the National Sample Survey.

Census of Socio-Economic Caste (SECC)

In 2011, the SECC (Socio-Economic and Caste Census) was performed. It was the largest experiment in caste classification to date, and it has the potential to uncover disparities on a larger scale.

• The Ministry of Rural Development in rural areas and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation in urban areas performed the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC).

• The SECC data, which did not include caste information, was released by the two ministries in 2016.

• The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment received the raw caste data.

• For data classification and categorization, the ministry constituted an Expert Group led by former NITI Aayog Vice-Chairperson Arvind Pangaria.

• However, only the specifics of people’s economic situations in rural and urban homes were made public. The caste statistics will not be disclosed until the end of the year.

The Census is governed by the Census Act of 1948, and all information is kept private. Government departments can utilise all of the personal information provided in the SECC to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.

Why is it necessary to perform a census?

1. Justify reservations:

  • Many have suggested that an SECC would be the most effective approach to rationalise reservation based on statistics and make a compelling argument for exceeding India’s reservation cap.
  • Because job and education quotas are based on caste, evidence-based policymaking will be easier. The current regulations are based on the results of the most recent caste census, which took place in 1931.
  • Furthermore, this census can assist the government in identifying the most favoured sections of the population and reducing their part of the overall reservation to allow others to benefit.
  • Furthermore, most estimates place the OBC population at about 40%. This is far higher than the current reservation rate of 27%. The caste census will reveal the precise percentage of OBCs in the population.

2. A caste census would actually bring up a slew of concerns that any democratic government should be concerned about. For example, this census will provide information about caste-based marginalisation, deprivation, and the types of jobs that a caste pursues, among other things.

 Caste censuses will provide accurate data on the socioeconomic situation and educational status of distinct castes.

3. More precise targeting of government assistance programmes: Indian courts have repeatedly stated that having adequate data on reservation is critical. As a result, the caste census is nothing more than the gathering of data that is required for democratic decision.

4. Dispel caste myths: The caste census would expose genuine statistics on castes and dispel caste ambiguity. As an example,

 There have been allegations that the Lingayats are the most numerous caste in Karnataka. As a result, the census can expose the truth about that.

5. Sachar Committee Recommendation: The Sachar Committee was established to investigate the socioeconomic and educational state of India’s Muslim community. The committee stated in its report that the availability of religious data was helpful in emphasising the relative disadvantage of minorities. As a result, similar caste data is necessary in order to identify susceptible sections within castes.

The difficulties of conducting a caste census

1. Disputes about reservations:

Reservations will only be available to a tiny percentage of individuals who are eligible. Furthermore, there is significant controversy as to whether India’s quota policy necessarily resulted in the rise of elites within castes and tribes. As a result, the caste census, combined with reservation, may favour caste elites.

2. There’s a chance that caste-based reservations will irritate certain people and lead to requests for larger or separate quotas. Patels, Gujjars, Jats, and other castes, for example, are demanding reservations. More such demands may arise in the future as a result of the caste census.

 The caste census will reinforce caste divisions. : As India attempts to remove and reduce caste, a caste census will only strengthen caste divisions.

3. Caste data collection is difficult: Some people believe that in our country, caste is a significant source of privilege and benefit. On the other side, some people believe that disclosing caste-based information puts them at a disadvantage. In India, naming and counting castes is a challenging task. For example, in different states, the same caste is spelled differently.

Difference between SECC and Census
The Census provides a picture of the Indian populationSECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support
Census falls under the Census Act of 1948 and all data are considered confidential All the personal information given in the SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.

Suggestions for improving the status of portions that are particularly vulnerable

  • Rather than relying on caste-based censuses, the government might subclassify the Backward Classes, as in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal. The intended beneficiaries will gain from this.
  • Reservation is just one of several factors that influence candidate competition. As a result, the 50 percent limit can be extended to the share of the people in our country who belongs to the lower social groups.
  • Caste Census is Required
  • Benefit in Policy Making: A caste census would bring to the fore a wide number of concerns that any democratic government needs to address, particularly the number of individuals who are on the edges, or who are deprived, or the types of vocations they follow.
  • While census data has been collected for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, religions, and linguistic profiles since 1931, there has been no profiling of all castes in India.
  • Since then, caste has come to play a larger role in our lives, and our reliance on incomplete data has grown as well.
  • To Address Pervasive Inequalities: The majority of Indians suffer from a severe lack of purchasing power due to unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and education.
  • Our constitution, too, encourages the conduct of a caste census. Article 340 calls for the creation of a commission to evaluate the conditions of the socially and educationally disadvantaged and offer recommendations to governments on what steps should be done.
  • To Dispel Myths: There are many myths that deny a great number of people, especially those on the periphery.
  • Consider the state of Karnataka. For a long time, there have been allegations that the Lingayats are the most populous of the castes.
  • However, many other studies have shown that this is not the case, and these kinds of myths lead to the notion that because this is a large caste, it must be appeased on a regular basis. A caste census can be used to dispel these beliefs.
  • Reduce Inclusion and Exclusion Errors: Most backward castes may be identified with precise caste data.

Associated Caste Census Challenges

  • As a result of these ramifications, nearly a decade after the SECC, a significant portion of the data remains unreleased or just partially released.
  • Caste Is Context-Dependent: In India, caste has never been a proxy for class or deprivation; it is a different form of ingrained discrimination that frequently transcends class. Consider the following scenario:
  • Even if their qualifications are superior to those of an upper-caste candidate, people with Dalit last names are less likely to be contacted for job interviews.
  • Landlords are also less inclined to accept them as tenants. As a result, it is difficult to quantify.
  • Every day across the country, marriage to a well-educated, well-off Dalit guy still results in violent retaliation from upper-caste women’s families.


A caste census with skewed data would be far worse. The data from caste censuses has always been contested, owing to the competing interests of numerous entrenched interests in the data’s acceptance.

However, the government must go beyond caste and seek to improve the lives of illiterate, marginalised, and underprivileged people. Economic division, education, and health should all be prioritised by the government.

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