Raising the pitch against inclusion of caste in the 2011 census, a group of "concerned citizens" joined hands today in a country-wide campaign to dissuade the government from going ahead with the proposal.
The campaign initiators, cutting across political lines, said they believed such a population count that seeks to know the caste of citizens will augment differences in the country and will be tantamount to taking a step backward.
"We need to mitigate, rather than augment divisions in our country and we therefore oppose a caste-based census," Ved Pratap Vaidik, convenor of the 'Meri Jaati Hindustani' (My caste is Indian) campaign, told reporters here.
He said many people from political, cultural as well as religious backgrounds had already offered their support to this campaign, which will only grow with time.
Vaidik said he had also spoken to the Prime Minister on the issue and thanked him for making a move to "re-open" debate on the issue that appeared to be closed some time back.
"The Prime Minister appears to be under pressure over the issue, but he has still invited a delegation from our side to listen to our point of view and that gives us hope," he said.
"This (measure) will further harm the deprived sections by aggravating caste divisions and intensifying the race for reservations," he added.
Also supporting the campaign are present and former political figures like Somnath Chaterjee, Sitaram Yechury, Balram Jakhar, Ram Jethmalani and Vasant Sathe among others, he said.
Besides, cultural figures like Sonal Mansingh, Amjad Ali Khan, Uma Sharma and Shyam Bengeal, and religious figures like Baba Ramdev, Ram Naresh Acharya of Ramanuj Sampraday and Acharya Satyanarayan Goenka are part of the campaign.
"We want to make it clear that we are not against affirmative action, but we believe that it should be done on economic rather than caste grounds," he said.
Former Minister Arif Mohammad Khan said the issue is not only about the census, but about social behaviour, which needs to change.
"Our Constitution recognises only an individual but we individuals are tied up in the consciousness of castes and communities. The census, if on caste grounds, I believe will further aggravate this consciousness and this should not happen," Khan said.
Jagdish Chandra Sharma, former MEA Secretary, said the group will also take the issue to former Army officers and gallantry award winners and rope them in for the campaign.
He said the people who are part of the campaign will drum up support at the grassroot level, organise mass rallies, campaigns and protest marches and also reach out to people with the message though SMS and television campaigns.