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Real reason no govt wants OBC count in Census – it will reveal inconvenient truths

The 2021 Census will not have data on OBCs, even though the Modi government had earlier promised it. It’s a conspiracy of ignorance.

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What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules? This was the title of a classic book on Marxist theory by Swedish political scientist Göran Therborn. If the title was not enough, the book also carried an equally wordy subtitle: “State Apparatuses and State Power Under Feudalism, Capitalism and Socialism”.  I could never read the entire book but the mouthful of a title stayed with me.

Someone should write an Indian sequel: What Does the Ruling Caste Do When It Rules? State Apparatuses and State Power under Brahminism in a Constitutional Democracy. The book could be a study of the myriad ways in which the caste order continues to rule India, using all forms of formal and informal State power. The story of how various governments of different political hues conspired to not count Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the Census must find a place in this book.

Last week, the National Commission of Backward Classes appealed to the Narendra Modi government to count OBCs in the forthcoming 2021 Census. To be more precise, it advised the government to file an affidavit supporting the counting of OBCs in a case coming up before the Supreme Court. In all likelihood, this intervention is too little, too late. The government has already gone back on its promise to enumerate OBCs and is unlikely to retract. We may already have missed the bus, once again, for 10 more years.

Also read: We know the number of cows & pigs in India, but not those of OBCs & Brahmins

What is OBC enumeration?

Counting OBCs in the Census is a simple idea. Our decennial census, like such exercise all over the world, is not merely a headcount. It puts all persons and households in various categories. It records the age, sex, education, and occupation of each individual. It also records the language, religion, house-type and major assets of each household. As for caste, it uses three categories: Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and General. If a household falls under SC or ST, then the enumerator also records the exact caste from the official list or the schedule.

The long-standing demand for OBC count is simply this: besides SC and ST, there should also be a column for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes or the SEBC (the official nomenclature for OBC) in the Census enumeration form. As in the case of SC and ST enumeration, once someone falls in the SEBC category, their exact caste will be recorded. Mind you, this ask is different from the demand for a full-fledged caste census that entails a complicated exercise of categorising all castes, for which we do not yet have an official compendium. So, the OBC count is a fairly limited and simple exercise, because there already exists an all-India list of OBCs that qualify for reservations under the central government.

Also read: From Mandal to Modi, OBC sub-categorisation is caught up in bad politics

Why OBC enumeration?

The rationale is equally simple. A modern State cannot but count every category of citizens that it recognises for purposes of any social policy. The US, like most multi-racial societies, enumerates race in its census. Britain does it for immigrants by their origin. There could be arguments for and against OBC count before the introduction of nation-wide OBC reservations in 1990. You may like it or dislike it, but to not count the category for which you have such major affirmative action programmes is plain ridiculous.

Just look at the consequences of this information vacuum. We don’t know what is the population size of the largest social category of our citizens. The Mandal Commission used some guesstimate to arrive at the mythical figure of 52 per cent. Other claims and counter-claims of the OBC population vary from 36 per cent to 65 per cent! Besides resolving the needless mystery about the size of the OBC population, census enumeration would yield a wealth of demographic information (sex ratio, mortality rate, life expectancy), educational data (male and female literacy, ratio of school-going population, number of graduates) and policy relevant information about economic conditions (house-type, assets, occupation) of the OBCs. All this information would be available not just for OBC as a whole, but also for each caste that falls within the OBC category, for every state and district, and so on. This information can go a long way in evolving and fine-tuning evidence-based social policies. This could also bring down avoidable street fights over which caste should or should not get reservations.

Also read: How BJP is undoing three decades of Mandal gains and still getting OBC support

Conspiracy of ignorance

Over the last three decades, successive governments have come up with all kinds of ploys and pleas to defy this straightforward reasoning. Intellectuals have spread paranoia about the rise of casteism, as if closing our eyes to caste will wish it away. Bureaucracy has used the alibi of “operational difficulties”, without specifying how counting OBCs is more difficult than counting SCs, STs, or religion and language, for that matter. The latest gem of bureaucratic nonsense is the reason offered by the Modi government: OBC count will “adversely affect the integrity of Census exercise”. Whatever that means.

By the time OBC reservations were introduced, it was too late for the 1991 Census.  A decade later, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government simply nixed this idea for the 2001 Census despite a clear request from the Registrar General and Census Commissioner. The UPA government too dodged the issue till it was caught in an unprecedented storm in the Lok Sabha in 2010. The government was forced to concede the unanimous demand for “caste census”. Yet the caste order managed to subvert this decision by shifting caste enumeration outside the main Census operations. Smart bureaucrats came up with the idea of a Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), only to report that the caste data gathered from that huge exercise could not be classified and used. Three decades gone and no data yet.

The Modi government resorted to a U-turn. In 2018, then Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared that the country would have its first-ever OBC count. The decision changed, without any debate or public reasoning after the 2019 election. It is only when the draft schedules for Census 2021 were released that we learnt about the missing OBC column. Since then many stakeholders have made fervent appeals for reversing this decision. The National Commission for Backward Classes, now a constitutional body, has recommended it. So have the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Welfare of the OBCs and the Ministry of Social Justice. The government of Rajasthan and state assemblies in Bihar, Odisha and Maharashtra have endorsed this demand. Clearly not enough to shake the order of things.

Also read: Fear of quota claims, ‘need to save secular state’ — why caste never made it to the census

Unmasking privileges

Why is the caste order so determined to foil OBC enumeration? Not just because such a count may reveal the very large numbers of the OBCs. That is more or less known, even if not precisely. Nor because it might expose the plight of OBC communities, many of whom are worse off than the top layer of the SC communities.

Arguably, the deepest anxiety of the caste order is that such an enumeration might unmask the nature of caste privileges. Once you count SC, ST and OBC, you automatically get information on the residual category, the upper caste. Since the Census also collects information on religion, it should not be difficult to generate fine-grained data about the social, educational and economic privileges of the upper-caste Hindus. This category counts for less than 20 per cent of our population but occupies broadly 80 per cent of all positions of power and privilege. It hides under the umbrella category of General. It has good reasons to fear naming and counting of its privileges. After all, the ultimate caste privilege is to remain “caste-less” – to make its own caste privileges invisible.

This is what the ruling caste does when it rules.

Yogendra Yadav is the National President of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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  1. Most hilarious part of this whole argument by Yogendra is: On one side he says he we don’t know the count on the other side he says general category is 20%. If you know the count of general category then you already know count of OBC. While making his argument he chooses assumptions that suits him.

    P.S: I am not ‘for’ or ‘against’ the reservation. I am just analyzing this article purely on factual basis. I simply want to highlight that the author has a bias just like everyone.

  2. Caste base census is a regressive demand coming from Yogendra Yadav. When we got independence our goal was to develop into casteless secular society. We preferred psedo secularism by ignoring Art.44 of constitution. Now comes from intellectuals like Yadav for caste identity which is so demeaning. All identities should go except Indian identity and all benefits from government should be based on economic criteria. Caste based politics have ruined the social fabric and it shouldn’t be further torn by conceeding the demands of Yogendra Yadav. Sports and military are the two wings where merit is the only criteria and we could see what those wings acheived. So many Yadavs are there in cricket team. Latest bowling hero Mohammad from Hyderabad is there because of his merit and not on minority quota. We lost enough of Hargobind Khoranas, Satya Nadella, indira Nooyi, Sundar Pitchiahs to the merit recognising America. Please put an end a mirage called social justice through caste recognition. Yogendra Yadav’s suggestion is a worse remedy and lead to further fragmentation of society as every caste leader will fliat his own party as is seen in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

  3. The first few lines which posit the Brahmanas as the ruling caste is something of an obsolete cliche. Or was Yadav talking about the US a Judges and Generals tend to do? I couldn’t get past this line to swallow Yadav’s fellow OBC, Modi as PM.

  4. Reservation exists because social discrimination exists. If social discrimination is done away with , reservations would no longer be needed.
    If you look at all yhe comments posted before bashing this article you will find that most of them are from upper castes. So, they are leaving no stones unturned to justify the doing away of reservation. The fact that only the upper castes are able to write here is further evidence that only they have emjoyed the privileges of education and therefore while constituting only 20 percent of the population they enjoy 80 percent of the positions in this country. This country needs 80 percent reservation where minprities should also be included in order to do away with the venom of brahmanism.

    • I am a dalit Hindu, we have many issues but don’t ever give lesson as a Muslim on Brahminism. Should I start teaching you about ethics of your Prophet? You guys were allowed to stay even after partition in hope that you will embrace secularism but your begging for reservations as minority shows your communalism. Go to Pakistan and Bangladesh and fight for minority rights of Dalit Hindus remaining there. After Jinnah there will never be communal reservations for you people in India.

  5. Becoming relevant is the only aim of some activists. It is a given that anybody who has the progress of the Nation and its people in focus in all their activities should be encouraged to do so, as most of us get caught up in our own things and it is too late by the time we realise we can do some things for others too.

    The motivation for such social service is wholly and truly reflected in the intend. When the intend is only to bring down Governments, the acts and utterances of such activists becomes suspect. For instance I do not see such activists continually exhort the public to follow traffic rules or in these times to follow appropriate COVID behaviour. If this were done by such “popular” activists, death and hardships of a lot of Indians could have been avoided. It would have helped to hold up the economy too.

    Tailpiece: I have my complete respect and support for activism. If only they were channeled usefully!!!

  6. Yogendra Yadav is just brilliant!!!
    I am just speechless after reading his seamless opinion.

  7. Quota and votebank politics has got to a level where it is no longer possible to pander to a votebank without harming another votebank. OBC enumeration will only fracture this even further and cause more problems to the politicians than resolve any issues at ground level. The only way for the politicians as well as India as a whole to dig ourselves out of this hole, is to change the narrative and inspire pride in our individual capabilities and competence. We need a narrative which makes it a matter of pride and assertion of equality for every individual to give up reservation for themselves and their families. This should be accompanied by corresponding reduction in total reservation available. Then hopefully in the next 70 years we can become a meritocratic society

    • I love this. Exactly what should be done but no, people would rather carry crutches when they can run

  8. Do yadav caste who eat all 27 percent obc quota will settle for 3 percentage quota if it’s population found to be 3 percent in census

  9. On a rather interesting note upper castes have reservations for thousands of years. Only Brahmins could go to school etc. It’s unfair to compare India with USA because American whites are more humane compared to so called upper castes.

    • In reality American whites had a knack of advertising on newspaper “the negro named —–is scheduled to be hanged at —-at 4.00PM in the afternoon. All interested are asked to be present. – Ku Klux Klan.”
      The idea that other castes were not allowed to read is simply a lie. Anyone could read and write in ancient India, only scriptures were not allowed for lower castes…which are useless anyway, My advice is- get a book from 5th standard and really read its content. A proper education will set you free.

    • Ramayana and Mahabharata were written by OBC/SC writers, Valmiki and Ved Vyasa. Kalidasa was a shepherd (an OBC again) as per folklore.
      So your claims get nailed just like that.

  10. Finally, Yogendra Yadav turns into a full fledged castist politician, that India doesn’t needs.

  11. Let us first count the illegals in this country as part of census, for that O am sure this guy will not agree.

  12. From the perspective of academic writing, the article starts as communist write-up, moves to typical Brahmin bashing and then attempt to justify further caste division based reservation. Let’s say if 65% are labelled as OBC, 50% as SC/ST, then mathematically there is no general class. This whole reservation based on caste is political instrument. We want to unit country and some journalists are bent upon dividing it further. Now please tell us, how many Brahmin held key position in government in last 30 years? When you get to facts, such article falls apart. Please find some productive topic to write upon. We are sick and tired of this old caste story and the brahminical conspiracy theory.

  13. Failed logic by a failed politician. A caste census including OBCs might actually reveal that many of them don’t need affirmative action anymore

  14. What the author has missed due to the biased nature of his writing is that an OBC count might actually reveal the improvement in status of lot of OBCs in the middle ranks and dent the reservation politics. A failed logic from a failed leader

  15. I thought he was a farm leader. Now he seems to be an OBC leader.
    I believe the real reason for the govt’s actions is to not provide Mr. Yadav with another reason to sit on a dharna.

  16. Constitution calls for affirmative action for social and educationally backward class NOT caste. SC must review it’s judgement wherein it accepted caste and class as synonym. Thereafter, criteria to define other backward class should be decided. Criteria based class definition will be caste neutral and stop the mad rush of more and more caste as OBC just to corner the benefits meant for real needy. Obviously, criteria based class will be dynamic and number will change every year and hence a separate online register should be made so that just like aadhar people can directly get themselves registered as OBC and renew every year so that those advanced to general category can be removed.

  17. How long will you keep on thrusting all governmental failure on general caste. Today generation upper caste is a myth. Take any minor upper caste kid and ask him to name 10 caste in the country, I bet he won’t be able to name even 5. But you want to keep the devide and keep on bashing upper caste. Today’s upper caste is cleaning roads, selling chat pakodi at stalls , I Don’t consider any work as small but you still want to portray them as ruling class when the reality is opposite.
    Today a general class candidate gets a govt. Job at the average age of 30 yrs whereas so-called lower caste candidate gets at 23 and on top of it so called lower caste gets promotions in jobs too.
    If you just want to wipe out so-called upper caste from the face of India just say it. Don’t give unrealistic and illogical arguments.

  18. Some people are ‘caste-less’ because they are more ‘educated’ and progressive in their mindsets. In that sense they are really ‘privileged’. Author is an Indian advocate of cancel culture.

  19. The caste cencus will lead to more identity based politics and that is simply what this failed politician cum intellectual wants. But the people of India do not want it, neither are they sold to the lie that India is ruled by Brahmins or upper caste. India is mostly ruled by middle class many of whom have caste reservations. There is more social mobility in this country than the author of this article would acknowledge.

  20. It’s very big conspiracy ignoring the basic human rights of OBCs by the dominant upper castes who remain in political and judiciary also.OBCs are cruelly degraded and divided to meet their selfish goals.It’s really not a democracy,in fact a demon cracy.

  21. Mr. Yadav, I have millionaire OBC friends all around me. A few park their swanky cars in front of my house and I cant afford that. It is irony that people like you are not letting India rise above the caste system. And still wants to focus more on castes by including in census and your dirty politics. Brahmins are not ruling country now. OBCs are ruling the country. That is a fact. I can show you thousands of brahmins who are unable to get 2 times meal in India. Please stop reminding people of their caste. Let affirmative actions be based upon economic status instead of social status.

  22. First thing Hindus should do is to boycott this Yogendra Yadav , physically and morally, please some body do it .

  23. I wonder ask why use a pre classified OBC category, rather ask exact caste. With a clear acceptance of not disclosed / casteless / unknown to responder as an option. This would help to reclassify all Indians properly into caste and link assets, education according to caste groups. I am sure data mining of electronically entered data would help to get answers in fair amount of time. This would help to:
    1. Realign caste categories on recent and relevant data
    2. Assess whether subcategories can be made for more equitable distribution.
    3. Know what proportion of Indians do not have castes (let us assume some of them are upper castes, but people should have an option of choose if they have a caste, and what religion they follow)
    4. It mismatch is there in caste and religious following, then we have deeper understanding of how religions in India have caste orders (theoretically such a thing should be absent)
    5. Allow provision to automatically generate verifiable caste certificates online based upon the census enumeration.
    Some practical issues
    What if parents have been from different castes – the child is of which caste (simply paternal? that is simply anti feminist)
    Whether options of caste should be pre built or open ended (it is likely that some castes are left out by brahminical or cozily empowered other caste beauraucrats, so give an option of all other castes to be enumerated as well)
    Whether the numerical data be closed or open to everyone to take a look. Transparency mandates everyone should have access to the data, inferences may differ.

  24. These cheap and sold out writers want to increase the reservation quota but they never talk about the consequences of these policies on the real deserved talents, never gonna speak about increasing the no of seats in every sector but can freely speak about the so called “Cruel ruling of Brahmins ” though accepting the fact at the same time that even if brahmins are just 20%, but are still carrying on cruelty on others. I mean can you believe that a minority group is being cruel on the majority community which is about 80% according to them. Can there be a better joke than this😂😂

    • Britishers in India were minority (population wise).
      Anyway, you gotta know the definition of the word minority first. Population is just one of the many aspects that are used to determine whether a group is minority or not.

      • In democracy, majority group always prevails, but not in aristocracy, dictatorship or imperialism. Powerful rules. And electoral democracy, by design, bestows power in majority, which often, but not always, coincides with the largest section of society of a particular caste, religion, race, colour, language etc.

        And majority/ minority classification is fundamentally related to pure number according to the above mentioned criteria.

  25. In US and UK, race is self-declaratory. People there are not going around with ‘race’ certificates nor they receive any kind of special treatment when it comes to govt. jobs and education.
    “The US, like most multi-racial societies, enumerates race in its census. Britain does it for immigrants by their origin.”
    Yogendra Yadav you are far worse than any of the governments you are talking about.

  26. Hey man , what happened to farmers protests ? You left that now trying to cobble up another protests in the name of caste?

  27. Why not ask people to update/mention their caste in their adhar cards. We will have realtime data about cast/religion about population. No need to wait 10 years for that.

  28. The problem is the Phds. in this country are mostly cut paste artists. So quote “Swedish political scientist Göran Therborn with the title “State Apparatuses and State Power Under Feudalism, Capitalism and Socialism”. and try to hammer a square peg in a round hole by giving it a spin “What Does the Ruling Caste Do When It Rules? State Apparatuses and State Power under Brahminism in a Constitutional Democracy.”
    The lack of originality is the hallmark of the majority of Indian intellegencia in non-objective fields. Brahman bashing sells so write about it. The majority rulers since independence have been non-brahmins, but the bashing goes on.
    They can’t the quote some thing more relevant from our old scriptures possibly for the fear that the originators could be brahmin and of course the cut-paste will ne be easy .

  29. What happened to the agitation of the rich farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP? Their great leader, Shri Yogendra Yadav seems to abandoned them in the summer heat. He is now moved on to teaching this government how to spell “liberal”, OBC in 2021 census etc.

    • Umm it is called working on a few things simultaneously… but perhaps that is a bit too much for your pea sized brain to comprehend..which is only used to focusing on one thing at a time…

      Stop becoming personal against people who write..try to engage the article instead.

      • I don’r see he or his party with the stolen name “Swaraj” is doing anything to help them. He has abandoned them when their protests lost steam and is trying to stay relevant.

  30. Whether the so called upper caste is 20% and how much they own is not the real issue. The fact is that the “affirmative action” is a farce played out on all of us and now hijacked by all political parties. As the writer claims that it will give us a far higher number of OBCs, it may also give us another reality that the 3rd generation beneficiaries of “affirmative action” either dont deserve it anymore or its not helping them any way. But political parties want reservations which is the worst joke on deserving talent, irrespective of the caste. For someone like Yogendra Yadav to ignore this basic fact proves, he too, is now just another politician like them all, making arguments to meet his political ends.

  31. Yes please count the castes, but OBCs can’t be counted because so many castes clamour for OBC status but are not included in it, you know this better – I recall Jats, Marathas, Gujjars etc.
    After counting castes, stop generation to generation reservation, define creamy layer realistically at income less than Rs 2.0 lakh per annum for family to get the benefit of reservation.
    Do you think SC/ST and OBC elites are ready for these changes?

    • Creamy layer as 2 lakhs when EWS is 8 lakhs? Such a hypocrite.
      Understand reservation. Reservation is to provide fair representation to all sections. A brahmin doctor will not attend to a dalit. If a daily is a doctor he will care for his people. By having doctors in all sections, each sections health need is taken care. This is the principle of reservation.
      Currently upper castes control 80% of the beurocracy which they have retained control by sucking up to the mughals and british.

  32. Till when can readers at this website allow Mr Yogendra Yadav to masquerade as an independent coloumnist? Mr yadav is a failed politician. He is anti-bjp in his ideology. Everything that he writes is tainted by his ideological bias towards BJP and RSS. At this website non partisan coloumns are needed. This kind of politicking by a failed politician is unacceptable.

    • I think he is a paid columnist. This to say he pays to The Print for his columns to get printed. Why else, as a non employee, he has the maximum number of articles printed here?

    • How is this anti bjp…..did you even read the article….or are you just butt hurt because your Supreme leaders name was mentioned without accompanying the now seemingly mandatory accompaniments of brown nosing …

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