DC EDIT | Caste census 1st milestone in battle for social justice
DECCAN CHRONICLE | DC Correspondent
The social justice platform Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK president M.K. Stalin has presented to the Opposition parties for them to come together and take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections appears to get further acceptance with the Congress choosing to pick one of its elements — the caste census — to give it a wider and immediate appeal. Both the senior leaders of the party in president Mallikarjun Kharge and former president Rahul Gandhi have demanded that the Union government go for a caste census immediately.
While Mr Kharge has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the topic, Mr Gandhi has demanded that the government make the 2011 data on castes public and lift the 50 per cent cap on reservation for the backwards classes.
The Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar, consisting of the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress, has already launched a two-phase caste census in the state and it is expected to be completed by May. The NCP, a key player in the opposition formulations, is already on record joining the bandwagon demanding caste census. Bharat Rashtra Samithi president and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao also voiced support for the idea years ago. The other regional parties, too, will have to take a call on the topic if the movement gains momentum.
The Opposition demand has merit in that India’s data on castes is almost 90 years old — the last caste-based census was held as far back as in 1931. Though the data, collected as part of the census, is available with the government, it has chosen to keep it secret.
The slogan of social justice and the action plan related to the caste census are sure to be a thorn in the BJP’s flesh, for it essentially seeks to reiterate the caste faultlines in Indian society and has the potential to frustrate the BJP’s Hindutva project. On record, the NDA government has opposed the idea saying it is an "administratively difficult and cumbersome exercise" but that explanation will not suffice when the question is raised politically.
Reservation for the backward classes is the biggest affirmative action in Independent India with constitutional backing. As it stands today, we have data on the population belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes based on which the quantum of reservation has been fixed. However, the Other Backward Classes who make up a substantial chunk of the population get their quotas based on a criterion proposed by the Supreme Court that the total reservation should not cross 50 per cent; though the position was diluted when it came to quota for economically weaker sections.
Reservation essentially means an arrangement to ensure adequate representation to people of all sections in power. Since this is not just an idea but a practical tool, it gets translated into numbers in terms of admissions in educational institutions and jobs in government. A caste-based census would offer a larger, clearer and sharper picture of our society which will help the government and society decide its agenda and allocate resources on a better premise.
Social justice is not a sprint item, but even marathon runs have defined routes and milestones. India as a nation must define its routes and mark the milestones if it were to achieve its social justice goals. Caste census can be a first step towards it.