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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Census 2021: Count OBCs as a separate category | Analysis

It will provide information about their numbers, economic status, and could be the basis for a 3rd OBC commission

analysis Updated: Sep 05, 2019 20:35 IST
Tejas Harad
Tejas Harad
India’s decennial census collects data on SCs and STs. If an OBC census is conducted on similar lines, a wealth of information will be available about those communities too
India’s decennial census collects data on SCs and STs. If an OBC census is conducted on similar lines, a wealth of information will be available about those communities too(HT PHOTO)

In August, news reports quoting officials of the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) suggested that Census 2021 will not count the number of people who fall under the category of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Following this announcement, around 100 gram panchayats (village councils) in the Thane and Palghar districts of Maharashtra reportedly passed a resolution to boycott the enumeration process, unless the OBC population is counted.

India’s decennial census collects data on Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). It captures their population share, sex ratio, the total number of SC and ST households, and other household-level indicators, giving us a clear picture of the living conditions of these two categories. If an OBC census is conducted on similar lines, a wealth of information will be available about those communities too. It will also settle the question of the OBC population, which is now varyingly estimated, depending on the estimator’s whims and fancies, to be between 35% and 65%.

In 1953, the Union government had set up the Kaka Kalelkar Commission to look into the condition of OBCs. However, the commission’s recommendation that a caste-wise enumeration of the population should be undertaken in the 1961 census was not followed. When the government set up the second Backward Classes Commission (BCC) in 1979, the panel had to rely on the 1931 census caste data.

In 1990, the VP Singh government introduced 27% reservations for OBCs in government jobs, recognising them as an administrative category at the national level for the first time. However, when the government’s decision was challenged, the Supreme Court inserted the “creamy layer” provision, which restricted OBC reservations only to the “poor” households. Thus, according to the SC judgment, the social and educational backwardness of the OBCs was not enough. An OBC household had to prove that it was economically backward too. Upper caste judges, policymakers, scholars, and media have also looked at the backwardness of the OBC communities with suspicion. For instance, the official website of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner published an advertorial that said, “While Yadavs and Kurmis are said to be ruling the North, OBC Marathas are the beneficiaries in Maharashtra and likewise a few other castes in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Kerala.” If the government conducts a caste-wise census, it can throw light on the “dominance” of the “dominant” castes. But we do not see the upper castes showing much enthusiasm for such a census.

The government conducted the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) in 2011, but only partially released its findings, withholding caste-related data. The SECC threw up hundreds of thousands of entries for the caste column, and officials had a tough time sifting through them. If the government decides to collect caste data in 2021 census, it should avoid the mistakes as the SECC. Enumerators should not follow the practice of asking respondents to state their caste names and then noting them down. Instead, they should go to citizens with prepared caste lists, since it already has lists of SCs, STs, and OBCs. It should draw up a provisional list of general category for the census. The enumerators can ask the respondents to choose a caste name from these four lists. If a respondent doesn’t have a caste/know their caste/want to respond, or the caste name doesn’t match with any of the names on the lists, they can be added to a fifth group (“Others”).

An OBC census will also give massive data, cutting across religions. For example, Christian and Muslim communities aren’t included in the SC list, but a majority of them are part of the OBC lists. Also, as the census would give separate data about SCs, STs, and OBCs, the remaining general category can safely be assumed to be a proxy for the forward castes, making robust comparisons between upper castes and lower castes possible.

Once the Census 2021 makes data about OBCs available, the government should institute the third OBC commission. This panel can use the 2021 census data to assess the situation of the OBCs and give new recommendations. The OBCs can also be given reservations, corresponding to their population share, just as SCs and the STs currently have.

Tejas Harad is a copy editor with the Economic and Political Weekly, and a regular commentator on social movements and politics
The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 05, 2019 20:35 IST