[Editorial Analysis] Complex count

Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: Socio-Economic Caste Census
Mains level: Significance of Socio-Economic Caste Census


• The issue of conducting a Socio-Economic Caste Census(SECC) which enumerates the caste identities of the citizens.

About Census exercise in India:

• India has been conducting a synchronous decennial Census from 1881, going back to colonial times. It has evolved over time and has been used by the government, policymakers, academics, and others to capture the Indian population, its access to resources, and to map social change.

• The last census conducted was Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) of 2011.

• It was conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) and the then Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) in rural and urban areas respectively.

• Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes. Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste.

Importance of a Census:

• Justified affirmative actions: it will be useful to establish statistical justification for preserving caste-based affirmative action programmes. It may also be a legal imperative, considering that courts want ‘quantifiable data’ to support the existing levels of reservation.

• An important Socio-anthropological study: Important in its inclusion of broader caste information as a necessity to capture contemporary Indian society and to understand and remedy inequalities. For example, the SECC 2011 data contained 46 lakh different caste names, and if sub-castes were considered, the ultimate number may be exponentially high.

• Captures educational status: Since Independence, aggregated Census data on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on certain parameters such as education have been collected.

• Captures economic inequalities objectively: It has the potential to allow for a mapping of inequalities at a broader level. For example, regional inequality, urban-rural divide, caste and religion wise distribution etc.

• Used for Planning: It helps the government in understanding the development deficits in the society and to helps in mending them. For example, identifying the districts with worst sex ratio.

• Captures the population trends: Such as population growth, migrations, family structure etc. This helps the sociological studies and helps the government planning accordingly.

• Administrative uses: for example, It forms a preliminary background for a delimitation exercise.

Limitations of the Census:

• Against Caste-less society: The idea of a national caste census might be abhorrent when the stated policy is to strive for a casteless society.

• Leads to Vote-bank politics: Political parties with their base in particular social groups may find a caste enumeration useful, if their favoured groups are established as dominant in specific geographies; or they may find the outcome inconvenient if the precise count turns out to be lower and has a negative bearing on perceptions about their electoral importance.

• Not comprehensive: It is not quite useful enough for a detailed and comprehensive understanding of a complex society, which can be captured better with randomized control trials.

• Administratively difficult and cumbersome: It consumes a lot of time and effort – SECC-2011 took years to complete;

• Time Lag: Nearly a decade after the SECC for instance, a sizeable amount of data remains unreleased.

• Solidifies Identities: It may help solidify or harden identities. Many critics view it as a step against a casteless society.

• Inaccurate: The Government has said data from the 2011 SECC were not acted upon because of “several infirmities” that rendered them unusable. Even in the Censuses up to 1931, when caste details were collected, they were wanting in completeness and accuracy.

• There are alternatives: A preliminary socio-anthropological study can be done at the State and district levels to establish all sects and sub-castes present in the population. These can be tabulated under caste names that have wider recognition based on synonymity and equivalence among the appellations that people use to denote themselves.

Government’s Stance:

• In this backdrop, the Union government has asserted in the Supreme Court that a census of the backward castes is “administratively difficult and cumbersome”. There are two components to the Government’s stand.

• It asserts that it is a policy decision not to have caste as part of the regular census and that, administratively, the enumeration would be rendered so complex that it may jeopardise the decennial census itself.

• It cites the difficulties and complexities inherent in getting an accurate count of castes, given the mind-boggling numbers of castes and sub-castes, with phonetic variations and similarities, that people returned as their caste in the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011.

Way Forward:

• However, these limitations need not mean that an enumeration of the social groups in the country is impossible. A caste census need not necessarily mean caste in the census.

• Is ultimate goal is not for political or electoral purposes, but for equity in distribution of opportunities.

• A caste census may not sit well with the goal of a casteless society, but it may serve, in the interim, as a useful, even if not entirely flawless, means of addressing inequities in society.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), consider the following statements:

1. It is an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia that consists of selected post-Soviet states.

2. It was formed in 2005 and has 6 members: Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

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