Nod to caste-based Census: A victory of backward politics in India

By Soroor Ahmed

In a country, where over 80 per cent population––that is total number of Hindus––believe that caste has a religious sanction it took 80 long years to decide in favour of caste-based census. The Group of Ministers, headed by Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, earlier this week gave a green signal to the caste-wise census and it is up to the Cabinet to give its final nod.

In a way it is the victory of the backward caste politics as the upper caste elite have been resisting it ever since the pre-independence years. They tend to see it as an exercise which will divide the society and blamed the then British ruler for sowing a seed of discord by having one such census way back in 1931.

But the backward caste leaders, be it the Yadav triumvirate of Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad, or their counterparts in south India always favoured such exercise even at the cost of being dubbed as anti-national. It is none else but the BJP MP from Karnataka, Ananth Kumar, who accused Lalu Yadav of being anti-national when he raised the issue in Lok Sabha in the first week of May. The comment created storm and a day later the leader of opposition in the Lower House of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj, had to apologize on behalf of Ananth Kumar.

The founding fathers of India, mostly hailing from upper castes, and the successive political elite hold the British responsible for creating division in the society by embarking on such exercise. National parties like the Congress and BJP were essentially opposed to the very idea of such head-count.

But what they tend to forget is that it is the same upper caste elite, who started organizations like Kayastha Mahasabha with Allahabad as its centre way back in late 19th century. All these upper caste Kayasthas were urban, highly educated and qualified gentlemen and not the rural uncouth lot.

It was only after this development that the three backward castes of north India––Koeri, Kurmi and Yadav––started gathering under the banner of Triveni Sangh in 1920s and 1930s. The Justice Party under Periyar launched its anti-Brahmin movement in Madras Presidency way back in 1920s. So backward castes had no problem in caste-based census in 1931.

Now in the 21st century India the same upper caste elite have no problem in forming Brahmin Samaj and Patel Samaj––no not just in India but even in the United States––but when a confidential head-count is demanded on the basis of caste such exercise is being dubbed as divisive and against the unity and integrity of the country.

Just read the matrimonial advertisements of not only any Indian newspaper but also of India Abroad, which is a leading weekly published by the Indian-Americans in the United States and Canada and one would know how much divided we are on the basis of caste, not only here, but even thousands of kilometres away.

Those associated with Kayastha Mahasabha 100 or 125 years back had no problem in joining the Congress and freedom movement. None questioned their association with a caste-based organization.

However, now 63 years after independence one has to adjust to the reality and after much debate and exchange of charges and counter-charges the Centre had agreed to constitute a Group of Minister, which finally yielded to the popular demand. It was none else but the Union law minister, Veerappa Moily, originally from Karnataka, who openly came out in its favour. The issue of caste-based census divided not only the Congress but the BJP too as over the years these parties started giving more and more space to the backward castes, who were to some extent, out of their purview.

The moot question is as to why were the upper caste elite so much afraid of the caste-based census? Why is it that only they were bothered about the integrity of the society and country and not the backwards? If we can count Scheduled Castes and Tribes and Muslims––even after the partition of the country––how is it that by knowing the exact number of upper castes and backward castes the country would disintegrate?

Not only that on the basis of 1931 census everyone has a rough idea that the upper castes form just about 15-odd per cent of the country’s population. Then what is wrong if we get fresh data about it.

The truth is that the upper caste elite face immediate challenge from the backward castes, which has started asserting since 1920s. The Dalits and Tribes are too weak and even slightly less in number to challenge their authority.

With around three times more population than the upper castes the backward castes were more better placed to take over from them than other groups in the country. They have seen this in Tamil Nadu and several other south Indian states much earlier. Post-Mandal the backward castes have grown stronger in north India too.

However, with the Cabinet nod only a formality by the end of second census of 21st century everything would be quite clear. But in the process the upper caste have lost the moral right to accuse British for dividing the society.

COURTESY: TWO CIRCLES , 17th August 2010


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