Caste census: Why's government hiding OBC numbers?

The reasons for withholding this data can only be political.

 |  4-minute read |   04-07-2015
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The government says it has put the economic data from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census, 2011, because it is economic backwardness it is concerned with. The headlines say that caste data has been withheld. That is incorrect. Caste data for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes has been put out.

You can see here how many households, state by state, have a salaried employee or earn more than five thousand rupees a month, or own land or motor vehicles. You can see this data separately, state by state, for "All Household", "SC Household", "ST Household", "Other Household" (that is, everybody except SC and ST), and then for "Female-Headed Household", and "Disabled Member Household".

So it's only caste data for the Other Backward Classes and the upper castes which has been withheld, defeating the purpose of the caste census.

Data on economic indicators, with special enumeration of SCs and STs, is done by the regular census as well. The caste census was commissioned because many parties wanted similar numbers for the OBCs. The government says these numbers will be tabled in Parliament, as if it is a budget document that has to be made public in parliament first. That is not the case. The obvious issue is that the government wants to avoid a debate on the OBC numbers and reservations at this time, ahead of the Bihar elections.

The reasons for withholding this data can only be political. One newspaper headline says that the data has been withheld to avoid "social upheaval". This makes it sound as though there are going to be riots on the streets. Far from it. Caste data from census, which comes with the truth claim of numbers, should separate the wheat from the chaff in the debate on the OBC reservations and welfare, and indeed, Mandal politics. Why are we afraid of the truth? When we can have the SC and the ST numbers, why be afraid of the OBC and the upper caste numbers?

We need these numbers urgently to refine the OBC reservations policy. Since the national commission for backward classes (NCBC) and various state commissions have been outright neglecting of their job to regularly conduct surveys to determine whether a community should still be in the OBC category, we need this all-India census data to tell us. Let us all know whether Jats in Rajasthan are really economically backward enough to need reservations. Let us know which the OBC community needs more welfare than others. Since poverty and economic progress in India is so linked to caste, why are we being coy with data about the largest caste group, the OBCs?

Whenever we've had a national debate on the OBC reservations - the last time was in 2006, when these reservations were extended to central educational institutions - we've been arguing about it in the absence of data. The Mandal commission data extrapolated from the 1931 census, finding that OBCs were 52 per cent of the population. Then there's been data from the National Sample Survey Organisation that the OBCs are today 41 per cent or thereabout of the population.

It is not the OBCs who are afraid of the data. The ones who are afraid of the OBC data are the upper castes, because we'll all be able to see what a minority India's ruling class is in. Once we know how many OBC there exactly are, the OBCs will ask, why don't they get proportionate representation through reservations? If the reserved seats for the SCs and the STs are the same percentage as their population, why is this logic not applied to the OBCs? Since we don't have an answer to the question, let us not reveal the numbers.

Those who don't want the OBC data to become public, are afraid of doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani, because we'll know how much water the government uses to dilute its policies for the upliftment of the OBCs.

The Supreme Court has capped the total reservations at 50 per cent, which has no logic. The Supreme Court has constantly asked for numbers, numbers and numbers about the OBCs. But the government of India, which after decades of reluctance conducted a caste census, does not want to reveal the numbers. The truth must be bitter if the government wants to hide it. But it won't be able to hide them for long. As for the Bihar elections, this is bound to become an election issue either way, whether or not the government releases the data.


Shivam Vij Shivam Vij @dillidurast

Shivam Vij is a journalist in Delhi.

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