The importance of caste data
March 29, 2022 at 6:08:23 PM
Why in News?
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the All-India Quota seats for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET).
SC reiterated that reservations for backward classes were not an exception but an extension of the principle of equality under Article 15(1) of the Constitution.
Supreme Court Observations
The judgment highlighted how open competitive exams give the illusion of providing equal opportunity in ignorance of the widespread inequalities in educational facilities, the freedom to pursue such education, and societal prejudices.
The Court pointed out how such disparities are not limited to the issue of access to good education or financial constraints alone, but also to the psychological and social effects of inherited cultural capital (communication skills, books, accent, academic accomplishments, social networks, etc.),
○ It ensures the unconscious training of upper-caste children for highgrade performance.
○ The Constituent Assembly held a similar philosophy while introducing constitutional provisions which enable the government to make special provisions for the uplift of the “lower castes”.
● Many oppose affirmative actions like reservation. They believe that such provisions only perpetuate caste differences and they call for a “casteless society”.
○ As Justice D.Y. Chandrachud pointed out, “castelessness” is a privilege that only the upper caste can afford because their caste privilege has already translated into social, political and economic capital.
● On the other hand, individuals who belong to the lower castes must retain their caste identity in order to claim the benefits of measures such as reservation, which recognise historic harm.
Promises without Justifiable Data
● There is a trust deficit for the state’s motivations because of the caste and class politics ruling the country today.
● Political parties often promise reservation for communities on being brought to power without any credible data collection exercises to justify the decision.
● Not long ago, the Supreme Court struck down the reservation for the Maratha community in Maharashtra in excess of 50%, which was the limit set in the Indra Sawhney case.
○ It observed that “when more people aspire for backwardness instead of forwardness, the country itself stagnates which situation is not in accord with constitutional objectives”.
About Caste Census
● Caste census means inclusion of caste-wise tabulation of India’s population in the Census exercise, which is a decennial count of the Indian population.
● The last caste census data gathered and published correspond to Census 1931.
○ The last census conducted by the British colonial government in 1941 collected caste data but did not publish the figures.
○ After Independence, Census 1951, the government collected and published caste data of only SCs and STs.
● From 1951 to 2011, every census in India has published the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, comprising the Dalits and the Adivasis, along with the gamut of data including religions, languages, socio-economic status, etc.
● It, however, has never counted OBC’s, the lower and intermediate castes, which according to the Mandal commission make up around 52 per cent of the country’s population.
● All castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are counted under the general category.
● Since the Census could not be undertaken in 2021 due to the pandemic, it is set to take place in 2022.
Difference between SECC and Census:-
Importance of Caste Census
● The absence of fresh caste census data means that the caste estimates of 1931 are being projected for formulating welfare policies in 2022.
● A caste census is likely to table a fresh and updated data set for policy making.
● The NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) surveys have provided different estimates between 1999 and 2007, varying from about 36 per cent to 45 per cent for OBCs.
● Recently, the figures of the United District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) showed schooling data for each caste group.
○ The UDISE+ data show OBC children comprise 45 per cent students in primary schools, SCs 19 per cent SCs and STs 11 per cent.
○ Rest 25 per cent were from the upper caste group.
● Different data sets based on sample surveys might not be a true reflection of the current caste headcount in India.
● These data sets also differ from the Mandal Commission estimates that form the basis of caste-based reservations and policy formulation
Need for a Credible Exercise
● Restoring citizen’s faith
○ Faith of citizens cannot be restored until credible exercises of data collection are undertaken regarding caste.
● No data on OBCs
○ Even though data concerning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been included in the Census, there is no similar data on OBCs.
● Faulty SECC Data
○ The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011 has been called “faulty” and “unreliable” an “unusable”
● Unsound Mandal Commission’s Recommendations
○ Mandal Commission’s recommendations were criticized as being based merely on the “personal knowledge” of the members of the commission and sample surveys.
● Requirement of Objective Evaluation of Castes
○ In the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court held that the States must conclude the “backwardness” of a particular class of people only after proper assessment and objective evaluation.
○ It held that such a conclusion must be subject to periodic review by a permanent body of experts.
● Periodic Revisions of Caste List
○ The National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993, provides under Section 11 that the Central government may every 10 years revise lists with a view to exclude those classes which have ceased to be backward and include new backward classes.
● This exercise has not been done to date. Last year, many calls were made for the inclusion of caste data (including that of the OBCs) in the 2021 Census, and the matter reached the Supreme Court.
● Caste data will enable independent research not only into the question of who does and does not need affirmative action but also into the effectiveness of this measure.
● As long as reservation results from violent agitations and political pressures, attempts at any affirmative action will always be under the shadow of caste and class politics.
● A caste census without data integrity would be much worse. The data of caste censuses have always been disputed, probably due to the contest of several vested interests in accepting the data.
● Impartial data and subsequent research might save the bona fide attempts of the uplift of the most backward classes from the shadow of caste and class politics and be informative to people on both sides of the spectrum – for and against reservation.
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