Let’s see how many say ‘no caste’.
The Narendra Modi government has made the bold decision to count the middle castes, or the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), in the 2021 Census. Nobody seems opposed to the move, not even the upper castes who were dead against it before the 2011 Census.
The Manmohan Singh government, after much dithering, had decided to carry out a separate Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) to meet the demand of the OBCs. However, the OBC data from that census has not been made public till date.
Some see conspiracy in it, but the Modi government says the data is not intelligible. People were asked to provide whatever caste name they wanted, which resulted in several different caste names getting listed, and the government found it difficult to categorise them.
The British who started categorising and counting caste were better at this.
Now, the Modi government has decided that OBCs will be counted in the census. There will be a fixed list of OBC caste names, and people will have to choose from that. This will make counting and tabulation easier.
In a few years, we might finally know what percentage of Hindus are OBCs. In 2007, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) said their number was around 41 per cent of the total population but that’s just a survey, and OBC groups say it under-estimates their number. When the 2021 Census releases the first official OBC numbers since the 1931 Census, it may give OBC politics the next big push.
When it is known that OBCs comprise 40-50 per cent of the population, OBC communities will be louder in asking for more reservations. Dalits and tribals get reservations according to their population, why shouldn’t the OBCs get the same?
The answer will be ‘what about merit?’ and ‘reservations should only be for the poor regardless of caste’. This is why it’s still unlikely that the census will ask everyone their caste, except the upper castes.
The Census of India must not only count OBCs, but all castes. Just as census data is used to find out how many Scheduled Caste households have a TV or a two-wheeler, we could do with such data for everyone, including upper castes. Let the economic status of everyone be known – let’s see how many Brahmins are poor, and how poor.
Let us also see how many Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas, and Khatris and Marwaris are there. This will help us see the upper caste domination of Indian society and institutions versus their actual population. It will help us ask: how come all the ‘merit’ resides in the upper castes?
Not counting caste in census has been part of a calculated silence over upper caste domination in India. We are perhaps the only country where a minority of Hindu upper castes rules over the rest, pretending to be the majority and defining what ‘mainstream’ is.
The upper castes pretend they are casteless, while silently promoting people of their own castes. They also refuse to acknowledge that kinship is about caste. When someone gets a job thanks to their uncle, it is a caste group whose welfare is being perpetuated because uncle and nephew belong to the same caste. Yes, most Indians still marry within their caste, even non-Hindu Indians.
The upper caste hegemony of Indian society is perpetuated by silencing all conversation on caste. It is the upper castes who will claim not to know their caste. It is the upper castes who will say that counting caste, talking caste, asking someone their caste only perpetuates casteism. The elephant in the room needs to be acknowledged.
The upper castes who object to counting caste in the census never object to identifying religion. The identification of religion in the census promotes communal politics but nobody ever seems to have a problem with that. The upper castes have a problem with counting caste because it will reveal they are a hegemonic minority. They like the counting of religion because it helps them know just how big a majority they are a part of.
Let the census also ask every non-Hindu their caste. Let us see how many non-Hindus claim to be as casteless as their religious scriptures.
The census allows you to say you don’t have any religion. Yet, in the 2011 census, only 33,000 people listed themselves as atheist.
Let the census ask everyone their caste, and then let us know how many people list themselves casteless. That will expose the hypocrisy of the “meritorious” upper castes who claim to not have a caste.