If the 2011 census includes a question on caste, prominent OBC leaders in Parliament can pat their backs for succeeding where even the National Advisory Council headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi failed five years ago.
The NAC had raised the issue of a caste-based census in April 2005. But it did not persist after India’s census commissioner emphasised that the caste census was not only very difficult due to the complexities involved but could also jeopardise the integrity of the population count.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram told the Lok Sabha on Friday that the ministry of social justice had pushed for incorporating a question on caste for the 2001 census. The NDA government, however, also decided against it on the advice of the then census commissioner.
“The operational difficulties involved are far too many and we apprehend that if it is insisted upon, they may jeopardise the integrity of the population count per se,” an internal note sent by the census commissioner’s office to the home ministry said.
There are fears that inclusion of caste would prompt people to project higher numbers and put the neutrality of enumerators under severe stress.
Besides, there are practical difficulties. For one, census enumerators in 2001 — tasked to put a number to the 1,885 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes — ended up with more than 18,000 entries. Many of these were surnames, clan names and even names of non-SC/ST communities. “Classifying and grouping them under the appropriate SC/ST category was a huge task,” a source said.
“Now imagine what will happen if we have to deal with nearly 6,000 castes, sub-castes, sub-groups and synonyms,” a senior government asked.
“We will end up with names of nearly 1 lakh castes and sub-castes as people use their clan, other caste names and surnames interchangeably,” he said.