[Editorial Analysis] A new framework around caste and the census

Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: Socio-Economic Caste Census
Mains level: Population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.


• The Census and the Socio-Economic Caste Census and how it has been used and understood by the government and its various departments for welfare of the people.

• All types of Census and Concerns about its methodology, relevance, rigour, dissemination, transparency and privacy need to be taken seriously and engage all stakeholders of the Census and the Socio-Economic and Caste Census.

About the Census:

• The first complete census of India was conducted in 1830 by Henry Walter (father of census in India) in Dacca (now Dhaka). In this census the statistics of the population with sex, broad age group, and the houses with their amenities were collected. Second Census was conducted in 1836-37 by Fort St.

• Census beginning in 1872 under British Viceroy Lord Mayo, the first complete census was taken in 1881. Post 1949, it has been conducted by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

• The Census and the SECC have different purposes. Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas according to the SECC website,

• The all personal information given in the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.

Use of Census:

• The Indian Census is the most credible source of information on Demography (Population characteristics), Economic Activity, Literacy and Education, Housing and Household Amenities,

• It’s also use in Urbanization, Fertility and Mortality, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Language, Religion, Migration, Disability and many other social factors.

• Census has been used by the government, policy makers, academics, and others to capture the Indian population, its access to resources, and to map social change.

• The Census as both a data collection effort and a technique of governance, and social welfare schemes and planning.

• The Census may be fact produce an imagination of society, which suggests the epistemological complexities involved.

• The delimitation exercise and delimitation of state and central democratize process and election.

• Census data on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on certain parameters such as education have been collected, help in planning and welfare scheme for SC, ST.

• It’s inclusion of broader caste information as a necessity to capture contemporary Indian society and to understand and remedy inequalities,

Issue in census:

• Census is blunt instrument unsuited for specialized enquiry.

• Census not quite useful enough for a detailed and comprehensive understanding of a complex society.

• Census is the discussion around caste and its enumeration has been controversial, may discriminatory and divided the society.

• The large administrative exercise of capturing caste and its complexities is not only difficult, but also socially untenable, and may be give false figure.

• Lot of time and expensive process involve in it the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011 and took a few years to complete;

The main concerns:

• It would be disingenuous to ignore the emotive element of caste and the political and social repercussions of a caste census.

• There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities, or that caste may be context-specific, and thus difficult to measure.

• The question over whether an institution such as caste can even be captured completely by the Census.

• Whether the SECC take into account the nuances that shape caste and simultaneously the ways in which caste shapes everyday life in India.

• The Census thus provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.

A road map:

• It has been used and understood by the government and its various departments to grant or withdraw benefits, and also its utility for the important academic exercise of mapping social inequalities and social change.

• The National Sample Surveys or the National Family Health Surveys that cover issues that the Census exercises do not, such as maternal health, would be significant for a more comprehensive analysis, enabling the utilization of the large body of data that already exists.

• Census operations across the world are going through significant changes, employing methods that are precise, faster and cost effective, involving coordination between different data sources.

• Care must however be taken to ensure that digital alternatives and linking of data sources involving Census operations are inclusive and non-discriminatory, especially given the sensitive nature of the data being collected.

How is Census-2021 different from Previous Ones?

• The Census 2021 will be conducted in 18 languages out of the 22 scheduled languages (under 8th schedule) and English, while Census 2011 was in 16 of the 22 scheduled languages declared at that time.

• It is for the first time the data is collected digitally via mobile applications with a provision of working in offline mode.

• The data collected by enumerator on his/her phone will be registered with the Census authorities.

• No document will be required by the citizens to be shown as proof, and self-declaration will suffice the same

• Census Monitoring and Management Portal will act as a single source for all officers/ officials involved in Census activities to provide multi-language support.

• The latest Census will not collect caste data. While the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was conducted alongside Census 2011, the outcome of the caste Census is yet to be made public.

• The first time that information of households headed by a person from the transgender community and members living in the family will be collected. Earlier there was a column for male and female only.

• The Census data would be available by the year 2024-25 as the entire process would be conducted digitally and data crunching would be quicker.

Time lag and planning:

• Apart from themes specific to enumerating caste, there are other issues that the Census and the SECC in particular face.

• The first relates to the time lag between each Census, and the second to the delay in the release of data.

• The first of these is inherent in the way the Census exercises are planned. The second, however, also has important repercussions to understanding social change since data may remain un-released or released only in parts.
• Nearly a decade after the SECC for instance, a sizeable amount of data remains unreleased.

• While the Census authorities present documents on methodology as part of a policy of transparency,

• There are needs to be a closer and continuous engagement between functionaries of the Census and SECC, along with academics and other stakeholders concerned, since the Census and the SECC are projects of governance as well as of academic interest.


• Before another SECC is conducted, a stocktaking of the previous exercise, of what has been learnt from it, and what changes are necessary, beyond changing exclusionary criteria for beneficiaries of state support, are crucial to enable the Census to facilitate effective policy work and academic reflection.

• Concerns about methodology, relevance, rigour, dissemination, transparency and privacy need to be taken seriously care.

• These reforms are essential to ensure that the census exercise is able to fulfill its constitutional, policy and statistical obligations and also clear the ground for debates on the future of census in the digital era.

• The integrated approach should be flow for because; Census in India is the largest single source of a variety of statistical information on different characteristics of the people of India. It is a sacred democratic exercise.

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