On October 6, the Supreme Court of India will hear a case regarding the Bihar caste based census, following the petitioner's lawyer informing the court that the Bihar Government had already published the caste survey data.
The bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti will preside over the case. Ek Soch Ek Prayas and Youth for Equality, among other organizations, have questioned the legality and authority of the Bihar caste-based survey.
What is the issue?
The Bihar government has released a caste-based census 2023 which is against the constitution as conducting a census is a Union subject.
- According to the Bihar government, the caste based survey aims to collect data from an estimated 12.70 crore people across 38 districts in Bihar, covering people of all castes, sub-castes, and socioeconomic conditions.
- The recently released results of the survey show that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) make up more than 63% of Bihar's population.
- The government has reaffirmed its commitment to uplift Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs), and OBCs in accordance with constitutional provisions and applicable laws.
- But the Central Government has also filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court, emphasizing that the Census Act, 1948, grants exclusive authority to the Central Government to conduct census-related activities.
Results of Caste Survey of Bihar
- According to the Caste Survey, most of Bihar's population comprises Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), accounting for over 63%.
- The survey states that Bihar's current population is 13,07,25,310, which is higher than the 10.41 crore recorded during the 2011 census. Hindus make up 81.99% of the population, while Muslims comprise 17.72%. The population of Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and other religious groups is relatively small.
History of Census
The Rig Veda, the earliest known literature, suggests that some form of population count was maintained during 800-600 BC.
- Kautilya's Arthasastra, written between 321-296 BC, emphasized census-taking as a measure of state policy for taxation purposes.
- During the reign of Mughal king Akbar the Great, the administrative report "Ain-e-Akbari" included comprehensive data on population, industry, wealth, and other characteristics. Even in ancient Rome, census-taking was conducted for taxation purposes.
- The census history began in 1800 when England conducted its census, but the population of its dependencies was not known at that time. Following this methodology, a census was conducted in the town of Allahabad in 1824 and in the city of Banaras in 1827-28 by James Prinsep.
- The city of Dacca had its first complete census conducted by Henry Walter in 1830.
- This census collected statistics on population, sex, broad age group, houses, and their amenities.
- The quinquennial census of 1866-67 was merged into the imperial census of 1871.
- In 1866-67, a census was conducted by counting the population in most parts of the country. This is commonly known as the Census of 1872.
- The 1872 census was conducted during the tenure of Lord Mayo. In 1881, Lord Ripon had organized a regular census.
- Then, on February 17, 1881, W.C. Plowden, Census Commissioner of India, took a significant step towards a more modern and synchronized census with the Census of 1881.
After India gained independence in 1947, the Bhore Committee was established to make plans for post-war development in the field of health.
- The committee conducted a comprehensive review of the population field and recommended the appointment of a Registrar General of Vital and Population Statistics at the center, and a Superintendent at the provincial level, to improve the quality of population statistics.
- Furthermore, the Bhore Committee recommended that "The Population Problem should be the subject of Central study". As a result, the Census Act was enacted in 1948, and subsequent censuses in the post-independence era were conducted according to its provisions.
- The first census of Independent India was conducted in 1951, which was the seventh census in its continuous series.
Caste Census as SECC (Socio-Economic and Caste Census)
The SECC survey was initially conducted in 1931. Its purpose is to reach out to every Indian family in rural or urban areas and inquire about their economic status.
- This will enable the Central and State authorities to establish various indicators of deprivation and combinations that can be used to identify impoverished or deprived individuals.
- The survey aims to gather information on caste to evaluate economic status. Ultimately, SECC has the potential to provide a broader view of inequalities and facilitate the mapping of these disparities.
Significance of the Caste Census
- A caste census serves a crucial role in policy making as it brings attention to the issues faced by marginalized and deprived individuals and sheds light on their various occupations.
- Policymakers can use the exhaustive data generated by the caste census to develop better policies and implementation strategies and engage in a more rational debate on sensitive issues.
- It is important to note that caste is not only a source of disadvantage but also a source of privilege and advantage in our society. Therefore, policymakers must focus on disadvantaged groups and acknowledge the advantages certain communities have received.
- Caste is a major factor in Indian society. However, there has been no comprehensive census of all castes in India since 1931, with only Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, religions, and linguistic profiles being recorded. Inadequate data has resulted in an increased reliance on caste, leading to unequal wealth, resources, and education distribution.
- Conducting a caste census in a democratic, scientific, and objective manner can help address these prevalent inequalities.
- The Indian Constitution mandates the appointment of a commission to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes to support conducting a caste census, as per Article 340.
- This commission makes recommendations for governments to take appropriate action. Furthermore, a caste census can help debunk myths and reduce inclusion and exclusion errors. By accurately identifying the most backward castes, policymakers can ensure that those not benefited from past policies receive the support they need.
Challenges in caste census
- The issue of conducting a caste census in India is complex and sensitive. Caste has a strong emotional element, and some concerns counting caste may only further solidify identities and lead to political and social repercussions.
- As a result, despite the SECC being conducted almost a decade ago, a significant amount of its data still needs to be released or partially released.
- Caste discrimination in India is a distinct form of embedded discrimination that transcends class and cannot be replaced by class-based metrics.
- For instance, individuals with Dalit last names are often overlooked for job interviews, even if they possess equal qualifications as upper-caste candidates. They are also less likely to be accepted as tenants by landlords. These challenges make it difficult to measure the scope of caste discrimination.
- The lack of trust and clarity between different castes in India is a significant barrier to conducting a caste census. While the Supreme Court has urged the government to provide data related to castes, the non-availability of such data has made this difficult. As a result, there is mutual mistrust and misconceptions among different castes in India.
- Additionally, some concerns conducting a caste-based census may further promote caste-based political mobilization and strong sentiments for or against reservations.
NOTE: Census comes under Union List under 7 schedule Article 246 of the constitution.
The responsibility of conducting the decadal census rests with the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.