Maharashtra commission makes way for caste-based census
The Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC) has cleared the decks for a Socio Economic and Caste Census in Maharashtra covering the entire population of the state, almost a century after it was last undertaken.
Although it is being conducted to collect empirical data and restore political reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local self-government body elections, activists and observers claim the results may shake up the established socio-political order. The Maharashtra Assembly has approved a resolution seeking a caste-based census. However, the Centre has refused to enumerate caste-wise population other than Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the 2021 Census. The MSCBC has now recommended census by the state government.
Though Marathas dominate Maharashtra’s politics, the OBCs, who are spread across religion, classes and castes, are considered to be the largest social bloc at over 52% of the population. However, this figure in the BP Mandal Commission report is based on the 1931 data and there is no scientific measurement of their numbers. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) has estimated this at a lower 41%.
With people voting their caste, accurate data about the OBC population may sharpen their class identity and pit them against dominant sections like the Marathas. The Supreme Court (SC) has scrapped the state’s quota for Marathas in jobs and education, leading to Maratha groups seeking inclusion in the OBC category. This demand is resented by OBCs.
In March, the SC struck down the state’s 27% quota for OBCs in local bodies due to lack of empirical data about their backwardness. It said the state government can give these reservations after setting up a backward class commission to conduct an empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of their backwardness.
This has created a crisis for the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) regime, with the OBCs getting restive due to the impending loss of political reservations in municipal corporations, councils, zilla parishads and gram panchayats. As such, moves are afoot in the ruling coalition to begin the process to restore political reservation for OBCs. Caste-based census could help the same.
Hari Narke, former member of the MSCBC, said in the Indra Sawhney (1992) case, the SC had ruled that an expert commission be set up to identify backward communities. The MSCBC had been established in Maharashtra according to it. “After the Central government refused to part with the 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data, 12 states including BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh have taken a position for a caste census in their states, which will begin soon.... States like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have already completed this survey, while Odisha has launched it,” he explained.
MSCBC member and lawyer BL Sagar Killarikar said while this census would be conducted by the state, the commission would decide the format and details to be collected and also analyse these datasets
Killarikar said depending on the Covid situation and if the state deputed one enumerator per 100 households, data collection would be completed within three months, after which the commission could begin the analysis.
“A caste census will affect the traditional model of Maratha dominance of politics,” said Shravan Deore of the OBC Seva Sangh, adding that OBC numbers could be higher than 52%. He added that while the Marathas were said to be 31.5 per cent, it also included the OBC Kunbis, who formed substantial numbers in Vidarbha and Konkan.
“The census will lead to a new wave of awareness and unification among the OBCs, who will demand their share of power and resources,” said former Lok Sabha MP and Shiv Sena leader Haribhau Rathod. He supported the mandate of the G Rohini Commission that is looking at an equitable distribution of the OBC quota.
Pravin Gaikwad of the Maratha organization Sambhaji Brigade said: “A census to determine the number of OBCs may certainly affect the dominance of Marathas over Maharashtra’s politics.” Gaikwad pointed to how the Mandal report led to the gradual development of the OBC identity in the 1990s. This, and anger over the dynastic politics of established families in the Congress, led to a chunk of the backward vote migrating to the Shiv Sena and BJP.
Writer and activist Sanjay Sonawani raised questions about the likelihood of “misreporting by respondents and the misunderstanding of data collectors.” He pointed to how some Mahadeo Koli tribals in Ahmednagar had identified themselves as Kunbis in the census conducted in the 1870s, while the Dhangars in Baramati claimed to be ‘Sagar Rajputs.’ “While communities were then trying to Sanskritise themselves, now they may try to regress in the caste ladder for quota benefits. How will the authenticity of these claims be checked,” he asked.
Shabbir Ahmed Ansari of the All India Muslim OBC Organisation, called for the Central Government to undertake a comprehensive caste-census.
Prakash Pawar, professor of political science at the Shivaji University, Kolhapur, said the census results could affect the political framework. Considering the substantial in-migration of non-Marathi speakers who were OBCs or SCs from other states, the politics of linguistic polarisation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and urban centres like Pune and Nagpur, could also change. Similarly, the tensions between the OBCs and those from the open category like Marathas, Brahmins, Lingayats and Jains could also rise.
Vijay Wadettiwar, minister, OBC and VJNT welfare, said the survey was meant to collect empirical data and added the state government would provide all necessary support to the Commission to undertake this. The terms of reference (TOR) will be finalised by the commission, he added.
PREVIOUS CENSUS IN 1931
The last caste census was conducted in 1931 during the British rule in India
Only data about SCs and STs is collected in the census
OBCs are expected to be around 53% of Maharashtra’s population (43.70% Hindus and 8.40% non-Hindus).
OBCs in Maharashtra are divided in the OBC category with around 350 Hindu and non-Hindu classes (19% reservations) and Vimukta Jati and Nomadic Tribes (VJ&NT), which covers about 50 groups (11% quotas).
However, this exercise, which will map the contours of the nature of backwardness of the OBCs, is being internally referred to as survey as conducting a census is the prerogative of the Centre.
The references to a caste census are found in the Rigveda and Kautilya Arthashastra.
Emperor Akbar’s minister Abul Fazal mentions a comprehensive caste-based census.
The SC’s decision to scrap political reservations for OBCs will affect 57,000 seats in local self-government bodies reserved for them.
The elections to 18 municipal corporations including Mumbai are scheduled next year, while the term of three corporations has already ended. polls to138 municipal councils also due in 2022.