The demand for caste census is catching up. Almost all regional parties have agreed to it. This is because some regional parties have already collected caste-wise data for internal usage. For example, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) collected caste data with individual enumeration the moment it came to power in 2014. Though it was named Samagra Kutumba Survey, it also collected caste details. It took up a massive exercise by asking the migrant Telanganites to be in the state even if they were in other countries on 19 August 2014. Many from the gulf countries, the United States and faraway places travelled back to their villages to enumerate themselves on given dates. Telangana villages saw new faces on the streets. Parents of many children who were born and grew up in their migrated homes wanted them to be enumerated back in their villages.
The ‘Telangana All family Census 2014’ reminded me of Joseph and Mary (the parents of Jesus Christ) travelling to Bethlehem from Nazareth to get counted in their own place. According to the Bible (Luke 2:1-7), “Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem is undertaken in order to satisfy an imperial command that all individuals return to their ancestral towns… Since Mary was pregnant with Jesus at the time the command had to be carried out”. So it was a census that led to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, in a shepherd shed.
Israel has a history of counting individuals through the census from the days of Moses.
Caste census in India
India, despite having one of the greatest civilisations of Harappa, did not have that sort of an individual counting system. Fortunately, like the imperial command of Israel from Jesus’ time, the British colonial government conducted a census with its own tax collection interest, between 1865 and 1872. But the first synchronous census was held in 1881. From the census of 1872, they enumerated people on the basis of caste.
The Dwija pundits, mainly Brahmins, opposed the idea of the census, especially caste census, because they were the interlocutors between the British rulers and Indian masses. They did not want the world to know that they were a small minority in the Indian population that represented India as a whole in every higher sphere of governance. They were not a part of the production fields and urban working-class population. The Dwijas — Brahmins, Banias, Ksatriyas, Kayasthas and Khatris — who constituted a small minority, were the only Sanskrit, Persian and English-educated people. The Kshatriyas were still holding their princely power and constituted a very small number of the Indian population but controlled huge amounts of landed property and had financial clout. They all opposed the census in general, and the caste census in particular.
Now, too, the intelligentsia from the same five Dwija communities are opposing the caste census. The same intelligentsia opposed the implementation of the Mandal reservation.
Actually, many liberal intellectuals like Pratap Bhanu Mehta and others argued strongly against the caste census. During the Mandal movement, many argued that caste is/was a British creation through caste census in the 1800s and after. They tried to infer that the collection of caste census was the beginning of the caste system in India. What was strange for many of us who supported the Mandal movement was that all the Dwija intellectuals, irrespective of ideology — Left, liberal and conservative — argued as if the caste system was created by the British colonialists themselves. They did not think about what came into existence as varna/caste division of the society through the process of composing of Vedas — particularly, Rigveda — writing of Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Manu’s Dharmashastra. Many nationalist scholars praised Manusmriti as a great ancient legal text. The Indian Communist Dwija thinkers and academics also did not dispute that argument, and went along with it.
The Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis hardly had any foreign or university-educated scholars or leaders like P.V. Kane, K. P. Jayaswal, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, to put forth an opposing view on caste and Indian civilisation until B.R. Ambedkar emerged as a thinker and expert in many subjects of social sciences and challenged them on many fronts.
The 1931 caste census enumeration was dropped from the census because of the world war and famine situation in India till 1951. In that census, even Nehru and his team of intellectuals supposedly did not want to enumerate caste. One of the meaningless theories espoused was that caste census would open caste wounds in society. Nehru seems to have gone along with such views on both caste census and OBC reservation as he refused to implement the Kaka Kalelkar report too.
When Nehru himself opposed caste enumeration, even Ambedkar could not do anything, though he was in Nehru’s cabinet by 1951.
Lack of Shudra/OBC intellectuals
The Communist Dwija intellectuals like P.C. Joshi, Sripad Dange, B.T. Ranadive and all Bengali bhadralok intellectuals of the Left-wing also seemed to have silently agreed with the Nehruvians. Of course, this view was very much acceptable to the top Hindutva intellectuals like K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar.
Once the British went away, the entire intellectual, administrative and political structures were in the hands of the Dwija intelligentsia. There was no Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi intellectual or conscious political force in the high-end structures of the administration. People like Sardar Patel were at the top of the Nehruvian system but were cautiously working with the Nehruvian network because there was no top intellectual network of Shudras around to convince them that caste census would be useful for democratic welfarism.
Ambedkar did not fight much because both Dalits and Muslims got the right to be enumerated as separate categories. Dalit reservations, in principle, came into existence in 1947 itself. The Nehru administration, because of Partition problems, satisfied the Muslims by continuing the minority census and including the top-class English-educated Muslims in the administration. But the Shudra/OBCs had no lobby to fight for the caste census or reservations.
Why are Dwijas still opposing it?
Why are the Dwijas opposing the caste census when the majority of Shudras support it even now? They know that despite reservations for OBCs, all structures of administration in top institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, the Indian Institute of Management, and the central universities are under their control. The New Delhi administration, including the embassies located in foreign countries, are virtually run by them. Once the official data of the caste gets released, even the Shudra ‘upper’ castes like Jats, Gujjars, Patels, Mahisyas (West Bengal) and communities like that in the North and in the South will realise that they do not exist in any of the major administrative structures that run the country from Delhi.
The caste census will radically change the idea of democracy in India. Cutting across party lines, Bihar regional leaders met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ask for a caste census — they have the example of K. Chandrashekar Rao’s caste-wise data collection. Both Rao and Siddaramaiah used that data to work out their own welfare agendas based on caste numbers. Rao, for example, identified the Gollas-Kurumas and Mudirajs as the first and second-largest communities in Telangana, and by the next election, started two independent welfare schemes — the sheep distribution programme for Gollas-Kurumas, who are traditionally shepherds, and fish economic growth for Mudirajas, which is their traditional occupation. In return, he reaped the votes from them in the 2018 Telangana election.
Regional parties have such plans and the masses have their own benefits with the caste census. National parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Communist Party are sensitive to their Dwija networks that are opposed to counting them as castes.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. He is the author of ‘God As Political Philosopher’ and ‘Buffalo Nationalism’. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)