“People who oppose caste-census are less in numbers, but are powerful and they run this country”

“People who oppose caste-census are less in numbers, but are powerful and they run this country”

An interview with Dilip Mandal Dilip Mandal, a senior journalist and writer, is currently associated with Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi.

He has been consistently writing on some of the most important socio-economic issues before our country, in newspapers and on internet. He has recently edited a book ‘Caste Census: Parliament, Society and Media’ (in Hindi). Here he is interacting with Insight members – Gurinder Singh Azad, Anup Vimal, Noopur and Anoop Kumar – on the issue of caste census. This interview is also being published in Hindi here. What is the need for holding caste-based census? Why this demand for counting people on the basis of their castes? There are many reasons for holding caste-based census in our country. Even if we discount these reasons, then also the need remains as there are many caste-based government policies. Caste has been cited for more than 25 times in our Constitution. The makers of our Constitution were aware that caste is not something that could be annihilated by mere Constitution and therefore they provided for caste-based specific policies to make some dent on caste-based hegemony of all those who have been deriving benefit from the age old caste system. The caste-based census is nothing new. Till now some castes are counted and many are not. The government has been counting scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in every census. But there is another community for which we have policies; we have OBC commission, OBC component plan, OBC Finance Commission. We have number of policies, even that of building hostels for OBC students but we don’t have their numbers. So, suppose, while implementing these government policies, the central government wants to allot some funds to different states, for example to Karnataka and Bihar. The fund allotted is not decided on the total population of OBCs in the state because nobody has the clue about its population. It is decided on the basis of the total population of the state. In such case, Bihar will be allotted much more fund due to its higher total population even if the number of OBC population is more in Karnataka than in Bihar. There are many such anomalies which need to be rectified provided we have specific data. So not having data is not an option for proper implementation of government policies. Many government agencies, from time to time, have clearly stated that we must have data on OBC population. Planning Commission has said this, Social Justice Ministry has stated about the need. Even Department of Personnel and Training has mentioned clearly that it needs such data to frame policies for carrying recruitment in different states. Supreme Court has mentioned this in its three judgments on the unavailability of such data. In fact in its latest judgment on 69 % reservations in Tamilnadu and Karnataka, the court has clearly stated the need of data, countable data. So we need authentic countable data to frame our policies. Even during the implementation of Mandal Commission Report and on 27 % OBC reservations, same questions were raised. Many anti-reservationists opposed its implementation citing the lack of specific data on the OBC population in the country. But now the same set of people is opposing the caste census. Yes, if we don’t have specific data then these questions are bound to be raised and therefore we need caste-census so that we have authentic data. It is interesting how the same people who opposed OBC reservations pointing towards the lack of data are the ones who are opposing caste-census now. Another thing in regards with OBC reservation is that during its implementation, the Indian government had decided that it would review the policy after every 10 years to see if there is any community that has been empowered and needs to be taken off the OBC list or some new communities to be added which are less empowered. How we will do such review if we don’t have any data on their total population, the number of graduates, how many of them have pucca houses etc? Unless and until you collect and correlate such data, how you will be able to figure out which community has got empowered and there is no need for any affirmative action for that community? So for all the policies for the development process of this country, for affirmative action, the caste based census is a must. The last caste-census was held in 1931 and after that the caste was stopped from being counted except in the case of SCs by even the British-India government. This is not true. It is a myth that British government stopped caste census and this is being propagated to sabotage our demand. Actually it was the Nehru government that stopped caste census from 1951 onwards, not the earlier colonial government. In 1941 census, the then British government had included caste like earlier censuses and collected the data but due to Second World War, the government refused to grant money for its tabulation and hence the data never came out. All the sociologists of this country know this fact but they will never come out with this as this will expose the brahminical ruling class of this country. That is indeed an eye-opener. So post-independence the demand for caste-census is a new one or there is a history behind this? The demand for caste census is nothing new. Right from the time of Kaka Kalekar Commission (1955) to Mandal Commission (1979), there has been persistent demand on this. Mandal Commission had clearly written that without contemporary data it is very difficult to frame policies as every time it had to refer to the data of 1931 census which might have gone through lot of changes in due course of time. So the demand is not at all new. Even if you see the questions raised in parliament, you will find that every year, whether that is census year or not, our representatives have asked this question again and again on whether the government is going to collect data on caste or not. Even before 2001 census, this demand was raised and in fact during the prime minister ship of Mr Devegowda a cabinet note was circulated on government agreeing for caste-based census. Many people now say that his government was toppled for precisely this reason as he was triggering caste-based census as this would have generated lot of debates which would unsettle the ruling elite class of this country. And when Advani becomes the Home Minister, he clearly states on this cabinet note that we are not going to have caste-based census. Why certain people oppose holding of caste-based census when it is very clear that we need such census for proper governance? What are their arguments? There are two faces of the opposition against caste-based census. One that is being articulated, being said on various public platforms and other which is left unsaid but is the real threat which motivates these people to oppose caste based census. Even if we analyse what they are arguing leaving behind their real intentions, you will see that none of their arguments holds merit. They claim that due to caste-based census, the casteism will increase; the caste which is a sociological identity will get perpetuated and institutionalized because the government will now ask everyone their castes. Secondly they claim that without doing caste-census, the government can get the required data through tools like NSSO and frame its policies. Then they come with a very absurd argument that with caste-census, the country will break. Such are the logic that are being forwarded against the demand and these are being articulated by big people, media, and intellectuals including those who are considered great sociologists of the country. Another argument that is being floated against the caste-census is that people will try to provide inflated figures for their respective castes and will try to provide wrong information so as to make a claim for government’s caste-based affirmative policies. Now if we analyse all these arguments, we can very easily see that none of these hold water but are just red herring against caste-based census. Take the last argument of people deliberately providing wrong information, suppose if I tell to census people that I am SC and by telling so will I automatically get SC caste certificate? Does a brahmin will get an OBC certificate if he merely claims to be from yadav caste in census? The people are conveniently forgetting that according to Census Act, 1948, no one can reveal any individual’s data in census. It is a punishable crime. You can get communities’ data, state wise data, country wise data from the census but any individual’s data cannot be revealed. So whatever I tell to census people will in no way going to help me as person, anywhere. Then people are claiming ‘country in danger’ and country will break if such happens. This is a very weird argument. If we look at our history, the country got divided only once and that too on the basis of religion. But on every 10 years, a census enumerator comes to your house and asks for your religion. Then you have no problem! More than 7-8 thousand people died in the past on the issue of language in this country. Our memories are still fresh with Khalistan movement, Tamil-Kannada riots, Tamil-Hindi riots and there is much more that has happened in the name of languages but still there is a column for language in the census. People are also talking about how a particular caste can inflate their numbers in the census. Does this argument make any sense? Now, this logic too is quite weird in itself. What would one do so as to inflate the number in the census?! It’s not possible for any particular caste to do so. For example, if kurmi decides to inflate their number in the census, what method could possibly he follow. If there are three people belonging to his caste in the village, will he be able to increase the number to six or would he be able to convince other people from his village to enumerate themselves as kurmi? It’s definitely not possible in any way and people who know census and Indian sociology know it very well that this is impossible. People have been propagating such illogical arguments just for the sake of hiding their real intentions of opposing caste census. What about the alternatives like NSSO, which some are claiming, can provide the required data? Yes, this argument is being put very strongly. But I really fail to understand how with a sample size of just few thousand people (as is done in NSSO), you can make policies for such a diverse country like ours with a one billion plus population and also for that you are ready to spend huge money but are not willing to add just one more column with ongoing census process. Also if you are willing to generate such data through NSSO, then what is your problem against generating the same through caste census which will be much more comprehensive and authentic? Moreover the census process has the legal sanctity whereas if you undertake anything based on the NSSO data, it can be challenged in the courts. The data generated through census has much legal validity and cannot be compared with the NSSO data by any means. There is one more argument that is pitched forward that why do we need to collect data of all the castes, only OBC enumeration will do? Let us just count all the OBCs. Yes, some ‘liberal’ sociologists have come out with this argument too. This is again an old trick to make caste problem appear to be only that for OBCs and SCs and rest are presumed to be ‘caste blind’ and have nothing to do with caste problem. They very conveniently create a space for themselves and ask us, “Where is caste? Everything is in proper place. I don’t know about my caste or I will not tell about my caste.” These are the people who, essentially, belong to the upper hierarchy of caste system and have reached wherever they are because of the advantages that their caste background has provided them. But such is not the case with everyone. Caste is a big disadvantage for majority of the population but for the people from higher caste hierarchy, caste has never been a problem. Whereas if you see, the same set of people will put matrimonial ads based on their castes, develop social relations, recruit people, and move around with people from same caste background. Caste operates at all levels of their personal and professional lives then why this hypocrisy? You say that people opposing the caste census are not coming forward with their real intentions or what they see as real threats. Why are these people so scared about the caste census? What are the real threats to them? Their real fear stems from the fact that if such caste data are generated and are correlated with socio, economic and educational indicators then a true picture in this country of each caste will emerge. Then we will be able to get some very curious data and might be able to find out, for example, that even after 60 years of independence, there is one caste that is just 2-3 % of the total population but is occupying more than 50 % of the seats in media, bureaucracy and judiciary. We might get such data. There is every possibility. It might also happen that we come across a community that is 12-15 % of the population but does not have even access to 1 % of total country’s resources. All such data can trigger for a demand of proper diversity in every field, equal access to resources and resentment against the monopoly of few castes that are garnering all the resources. This is where their real fears are coming from. Castes that are small in number but holding huge chunk of the country’s resources are scared as this census will raise many debates. It will not just affect the public sector but the private sector as well. The repercussions will also be seen in the academia too as the domination of particular kind in the academics will also then be questioned. A caste-census is a direct threat to their monopoly over country’s resources and I am sure that the ruling caste elites of this country will never allow caste-census to happen if we are not able to create a very strong mass-based movement demanding caste-census. They are very well aware that the caste census will take us towards the new phase of Indian polity and economy and is going to have much bigger impact than Mandal – I or II. Another argument is that the OBC will become too powerful, too politicised and well organised once they come to know about their large numbers through caste-census. This argument is being propagated by those who claim to be pro-Dalit and argue that the oppression of Dalits will increase as the post caste-census OBCs will wield too much political power. Given the history of caste atrocities perpetuated by dominant OBC castes on Dalits, what you have to say on this? One thing is clear that for these people OBC means only either jat or reddys or kurmis but they conveniently forget that the majority of OBC constitutes castes that are socially, politically and economically marginalised like that of weavers, barbers, blacksmith etc. Also see, everyone calls Western UP as Jat land but I feel that once the caste-census happen, we will come out with the data that the largest community in this area is jatav (a Dalit sub-caste). This is my belief as I have covered this area during my reporting on elections. All such myths will get shattered with caste-census. Jats are powerful in this area not because of their numerical strength and the caste census is in no way going to add on its power. They are powerful because they control everything there. Democracy is all about numbers and caste-census can open new vistas and their monopoly over resources, then, can more easily be challenged. Regarding OBCs voting as a bloc, if such was the case then VP Singh would never have lost the election. OBC is a very large collection of varied castes and if we see their political manifestation one can find many internal contradictions. Take an example of Bihar, look at yadav and mallah (boatmen). Do you think that given their respective places in rural economy, they will go together? Those who feel threatened about OBC domination after the caste census must be told that such threat is there even without the census. No one needs the census to tell that OBC is the biggest voting bloc. All the OBCs are already aware of this fact. The figure of 51 % and OBCs being in majority is there since 1931 census and the current percentage will not vary much from 1931. So the caste census is not going to bring some new fact that is going to change the voting patterns of OBCs overnight. OBC as one voting bloc can never work in India. This is too diverse a bloc. Many of our political and social commentators are also saying that our caste-enumerators are not informed people and they will not be able to classify people according to their castes and will lead to lot of confusion. This is anyways not the job of caste enumerators. His/her work is just to ask people about their castes and write it down in the form. After that only people can be put into different categories according to the SC/ST/OBC lists provided by state and central government. About enumerators not being informed enough, one must know before arguing such thing that the enumerator is most often the teacher of that area and is definitely much more informed about castes in that area than India’s best sociologists. Then there is another argument forwarded by many about what will be the caste of children from intercaste marriages? In last census, more than 7 lakh people told that they did not believe in any religion. They were enumerated separately. So, such options can be included for those who say that they don’t have any caste. They can be counted separately. Even for children born out of inter-caste marriages, there is a clear cut legal provision that the child will carry father’s caste. Let there be choice of inter-caste column too. America comes out with data on inter-racial marriages taking place there, every year. For example, 17.8 % of the total marriages in USA were inter-racial in 2008-09. They do not stop with this data only. They go further within inter-racial marriages and have exact data on how many such marriages have been between Blacks and Hispanics, Hispanics and Asians and all such combination. Earlier in USA, they used to have columns like black, white or mixed, now they have gone a step further. They ask for the racial identities of the parents of mixed race people. Such data is freely made available on the internet and is collected every year. However in India, such data on intercaste marriages is impossible to get. We don’t even know whether it is Bengal or Kerala or any other state which leads in intercaste marriages and hence we might never be able to capture the factors that are responsible for more inter-caste marriages there. Such marriages are necessary for the annihilation of caste but we have no clue about this phenomenon as we are not yet ready to generate the required data. But there is one fear that is plaguing our minds also regarding caste-census. The census enumerators are basically primary school teachers and other government officials, who go to each household to fill up the census forms but majority of them, especially in states like UP and Bihar, belong to either brahmin or other ‘upper’ caste groups. There is a strong feeling that these enumerators avoid going to Dalit and Muslim’s colonies and fill up their forms from their homes/offices and hence giving deflated data on population of both these groups. In case of caste-based census, this threat increases manifold given its high political overtones. Yes, this threat has always been there. Such things do happen in census and are often done very deliberately with a purpose. Take the example of Scheduled Tribes that are almost 100 million in this country. These do not belong to any caste-hierarchy of Hinduism. Tribals have their own gods, rituals, social systems, culture and traditions and they don’t even marry according to Hinduism but have been clubbed within Hinduism through census only so that the number of Hindus increases in this country. Similarly there is a long debate on whether Dalits, being outcaste or out of Hindu castes hierarchy, are part of Hinduism or not. Throughout Dalit movement’s history, people have strongly contested against Dalits being Hindus. So there have always been efforts to show higher numbers of Hindus in this country and in the context of counting OBC population also, there are chances of deliberate mistakes. So, I agree that there are such threats given the caste biases of enumerators, still let us go ahead with our demand on caste-census. The Census Act has strong legal provisions against supplying wrong information and there are provisions for scrutiny and cross check. And if such needs arise we must demand that and challenge the data. The government has yet to formulate how they are going to do caste census after that only we can see how this threat can be minimised. There has been lot of churning among the Indian intelligentsia but not much is coming out officially from the Indian government side. How has the Indian government manifested itself in this whole debate of caste census? Government has tried every trick and has given every excuse not to have the caste-census. When this question was raised in the parliament and when even the Planning Commission specifically asked for caste-based data, then government made Registrar General of India to come out with a statement that this is not possible. He said there are too many OBCs, how would we count! Then many in government said that this will result in institutionalisation of caste. They also came up with an excuse that now it is very late to add caste column for 2011 census. Suddenly government changed the track and said, ‘let us only count OBCs’ in this census. Then it said that no, we will do it with UID, in the biometric phase during the collection of finger prints etc that is supposed to complete in 15-20 years. Now the government has come up with something much more hideous. It wants to delink the counting of caste from the census and wants to hold it separately. The government is ready to spent 2000 crores for this but is not agreeing to add just one more column for caste in the census form. So you see how our system works in conspiracies and is trying hard to deny any chance of holding caste census and if that is not possible then they want this to get delinked with census. Till now the Indian government has no intention to hold it. It is just trying to waste as much time as possible so that in the end, it can very easily say that such is not possible in 2011, due to lack of preparation or time constraints. The parliament, which is the largest democratic body of the country, every political party has agreed to caste-census then also the Indian govt formed a Group of Ministers (GOM) to ask for the views of political groups. They wasted two months on this. When all the political parties again reiterated the need of caste census before GOM, the government came out with a proposal to do that together with UID and went back to all the political groups again to take their views on the methodology to be involved! When pressurised, now the government has come up with counting caste in a separate process which is utter waste of resources and nothing but an eyewash. Why you are opposing the recent government proposal of delinking caste-counting from census and doing it separately? Why you are calling it an eyewash? Recently government has come out with a cabinet note. Three things are to be noted from this. First, that the caste census will be done separate from the census, second that a separate legal framework will be formulated for this and third that an expert committee will be appointed in order to analyze and tabulate the data. My main contention is if castes are counted through census by including just one more column, then together with castes’ numbers we will also get their socio-economic status after correlating with different socio-economic indicators that are included in every census. And that is what exactly the kind of data we require for better governance of this country, equitable distribution of resources and for the correct picture of Indian society to emerge. But the Indian government and the ruling class of this country don’t want such data to come in public knowledge so they are going to spend 2000 crore for just asking castes of people in a separate process. You will just get the numbers devoid of any socio-economic mapping of castes. So you will know the numbers of yadavs, balmikis, thakurs but not how they fare socio-economically in this country and their relative accesses to national resources. I feel this 2000 crore are not for revealing facts but government is spending to hide the facts. However let me tell you something, even these numbers are not going to come easily for us. The government is talking about formation of an expert committee that will undertake a study on each caste, case by case and decide which caste to go in which groupings and then only to come out with data. Why do we need this expert committee now when we already have central and state lists of SC, ST and OBC? This committee has been approved by the Indian cabinet now. The data collected on caste from February till September next year will be then given to this expert committee to decide on the placing of these castes in different groups. Now this is a great potential situation for disaster. Just imagine how many court cases would be filed, how many agitations will surface and there is bound to be total chaos. People would say, we are from this caste, why we are not been included in OBC? Gujjars would say, put us in ST. There will be similar situation in almost every state and believe me in such situation, forget about any data for at least next ten years. Compare this scenario with a situation when caste counts happen together with census where you not only get the caste numbers but also the socio-economic status of each caste. Once such data is available, the government can undertake any number of groupings and regroupings of castes. That is much more scientific way to go about than appointing an expert committee to do so with no authentic socio-economic data. The census process is constitutional, is a serious affair, and has the capability to organize 25 lakh enumerators in just one notice. This would be difficult if the caste counting is done separately. Then another question arises whether government is going to spend 2000 crore and more every ten year to conduct the caste count separately? Actually the government doesn’t want socio-economic data of each caste to be generated and therefore trying everything that can derail this, create controversies and consume time. And the worst part is they are going to spend crores of your, mine and our money for doing so. Given such scenario, do you see any chance of caste-census happening in near future? The people who oppose caste-census are very less in number, but they are very powerful and they run this country. They will not let this happen so easily unless there is a strong demand that comes from within the society. Our people have to understand that if this country belongs to them, then they have equal rights towards all the resources of the country. For the all round growth of the country just few castes cannot be allowed to keep on monopolising the country’s resources. What you do with the data is a secondary issue but if you see sociologically, not having the data is not an option. Take the case of voter list, which is a tool to further the democratic process but from the same list one can clearly deduce other’s identity and misuse it in communal riots. This has happened in recent past. But does it means that you will never come out with authentic voter list? Can democracy function then? Not having data on its population is not a healthy sign for any modern democratic country. Every major democratic country be it South Africa or any European country, every kind of data is collected there. Countries are collecting data on micro level but here in our country, people are so afraid of data. They are afraid because they know that if such data comes, you will become aware of the truth of this country and raise uncomfortable questions. Knowing all the debates that are going on caste census and on other issues of social justice, we feel that we have to tread a very long path. Unfortunately, in last 20 years, we witness a severe backlash from the upper caste dominated institutions like academia and media on such issues that are supposed to be liberal and progressive. Yes I agree. No matter what opinions we have for the politicians of this country but the truth is, in our country, Politics and Parliament remain the only democratic process and institution. The elites in our country claim to be apolitical and hate politics. They never lose any opportunity to strongly assert that ‘politics is bad’ and ‘politicians are evil’ just because the strongest voice for the empowerment of marginalized communities comes via politics only in this country. Just look at Indian media and compare with our political system and the way it deals with the issue of social justice. According to a recent survey of all the newspapers, channels and magazines, one can clearly find out that our media is essentially an ‘upper’ caste Hindu male media. I have collected 15 editorials from the major Indian newspapers and one can clearly see how they have a consensus among themselves to not let the caste-census happen. So we come across a scenario where in the Parliament there is a consensus in favour of caste census but Indian media being run and controlled by ‘upper’ caste Hindus totally oppose it. ‘Upper’ caste scholars and intellectuals should become little liberal and sensitive. They should learn from the American society that has manifested itself very democratically on the issue of racial discrimination by electing Obama as their President. He could never win without the support of whites there. But here in India one can clearly see that the people who are against caste based reservations, they are the ones against the caste census too and at the same time support women reservation but without sub-quota for women from backward communities! So it’s very unfortunate to not have liberal voices from the ‘upper’ castes. Our aim is to build a better society with equality and no where we are asking for hating ‘upper’ castes. We are just claiming for our rights of having an equal share. They must understand that due to monopoly of resources in the hands of few castes, our country is not developing. We are ranked 134 in Human Development Index, below even to many Sub-Saharan countries. If our country could develop in the hands of a few people, it would have developed long back. This should be an issue of concern for all those who claim to be patriotic. Look at the condition of common wealth games. We are not able to even organize this properly in one city whereas South Africa within 2 decades of ending apartheid organized FIFA World Cup, the largest event on earth, hoisted in 9 cities. Cleary, this country isn’t safe in the hands of the people who claim to be ‘meritorious’. [You can write to Dilip Mandal at dilipcmandal@gmail.com. Anup Vimal and Noopur are doing their MSW (IInd Year) from TISS, Mumbai.]

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