The demand for ascertaining proportion of castes in the population of India has gathered momentum. This has been a longstanding demand of the organizations fighting for social justice. A number of ruling class parties have also demanded that enumeration of castes should be included in 2021 Census exercise. However, the Central Govt. has been refusing to include caste enumeration in census exercise. At present only members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are counted separately. Hence the issue is to enumerate the members of backwards who constitute the biggest part of the society in the country.
Caste oppression including attacks and atrocities, partiality against oppressed castes, their social and educational backwardness and their inadequate representation in the services under the State are a reality in India. Despite Constitutional provisions against these, these inequities are thriving in India. This is largely because of inequality in society among the social groups with means of productions disproportionately in the hands of upper castes and because of the higher echelons of the state machinery including bureaucracy and judiciary being dominated by those belonging to upper castes. This machinery is responsible for giving effect to the directions in the Constitution against the caste inequities. The role of this machinery is important for the fact that provisions for oppressed castes and tribals are not implemented properly. Even the reservations meant for them are scantily implemented and proportion of their members in higher grades of services is much lower than even the percentages allotted to them.
Efforts at affirmative action are derided for undermining merit; these efforts are questioned on the ground that there is no data about the proportion of backward castes in the population. This is in fact intriguing that on the one hand lack of such data is used to argue against affirmative action and on the other hand demands for collecting such data are stubbornly refused. Last Census in which caste data was collected was held in 1931 and Mandal Commission had to rely on data of that Census to come to the proportion of backward castes in society.
However, the demand for conducting caste census has been growing. UPA II was forced to conduct Socio Economic and Caste Census in 2011-12 after having refused enumeration of castes in regular census. But the data related to population of castes was not released while data on some other aspects was released. It was said that the said data had discrepancies and was therefore unreliable. However, it is inexplicable while data related to other aspects was considered reliable, that relating to proportions of castes was deemed unreliable! At that time Congress and its UPA allies were in power and they had refused to release the data then but many of them are now supporting this demand.
Ruling classes and their state machinery dominated by upper castes have been opposed to conducting caste census as they fear that the real numbers of castes among the population will unmask the reality that Indian state machinery and services under the state, higher education and higher echelons of services are dominated by sections which are far fewer in number. This will undercut their logic of perpetuation of their monopoly of state services and resources.
Even the higher judiciary has been instrumental in perpetuating domination of upper castes in services and higher education. They have arbitrarily put a ceiling of 50% on the reservations permissible under the Constitution (This ceiling has been a judicial exercise and not provided in the Constitution.) and have been generally staying the quotas given by the states in services and higher education in excess of that. However, when 10% quota was earmarked for the economically weaker sections of upper castes, the Supreme Court refused to stay the quota. In fact the way the reservation has been implemented it has in practice become a reservation of 50% for the upper castes. Recently, the Supreme Court had taken out even preparation of the list of OBCs from the purview of state govts. which has sought to be overcome by an amendment to the Constitution.
RSS-BJP Govt.’s Hindutva rule is characterized by growing attacks against minorities, dalits and women, and increasing denial of rights of tribals and oppressed castes. Their rule is however coming under pressure of the growing people’s struggles and ongoing farmers’ movement has opened the democratic space for building of such struggles. Govt. has been forced to carry out the Constitution amendment relating to states’ rights to prepare list of OBCs and announce 27% reservation for OBCs in the All India seats for medical colleges. It is part of their attempt to deflect anger of oppressed caste groups especially in view of coming elections in some states.
This should be mentioned that increasing privatization is reducing the number of employment available in public sector and seats for higher education in the Govt. institutions besides reservation not been implemented properly in them. Ruling classes’ drive towards privatization undermines the very affirmative action. Demand has been growing that reservation should be implemented in the private sector as well. Govt. has been refusing to implement though it is not difficult to do so.
While RSS-BJP ruling establishment is opposed to include enumerating castes in Census exercise, a number of their NDA allies and also some BJP MPs from OBCs have openly supported carrying out such an exercise. Opposition to collection of this data is illogical and meant to artificially maintain monopoly of upper castes. Collection of such data will help in framing policies to help the large social groups who are suffering from deprivation and social & educational backwardness. It will help in targeting the Govt. schemes for the uplifting the sections seen to be lagging behind.
Conducting caste census will be useful in not only framing of proper policies but also to overcome resistance to such policies. It will help to bring out the real situation of various social groups and thereby help to educate the broad spectrum of people to see the necessity of affirmative action.
However, Govt. policies only address the caste inequities partially. For the elimination of caste system and oppression of the basis of caste, a more thoroughgoing struggle for equitable distribution of means of production among different social groups is crucial. This affects the large masses of these social groups and hence will pave the way for larger equality in society which is so critical for eliminating the caste by removing material basis for it. In this the question of land distribution among the landless is of utmost importance as they overwhelmingly belong to oppressed castes. Even today, over two third of Indian people are dependent on agriculture directly (more than half) or indirectly. Hence, allotment and ownership of agricultural land to landless Dalits and members of other oppressed castes is of vital importance in addressing the caste question in India.
Economic equality on a large scale and across social groups through giving equal space in all its aspects will help remove the caste question from base of the social structure and will play an important role in eliminating from the sphere of superstructure. Enumeration of castes in Census will not eliminate the caste inequities but will be helpful in building struggles for their removal at least on some aspects. This may be useful for a comprehensive struggle against caste oppression, in fact the caste system itself.
CPI (ML)-New Democracy demands that Caste data should be collected in the ensuing Census exercise and the same should be published.
CPI (ML)-New Democracy