Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024 | Last Update : 06:15 AM IST

  Opinion   Edit  08 Nov 2023  AA Edit | It’s time for a consensus on national caste census

AA Edit | It’s time for a consensus on national caste census

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Nov 9, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Nov 9, 2023, 12:00 am IST

The fear is that there can be no limit on reservation once the ceiling is lifted

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar made a clarion call for raising the bar on quota, currently pegged at 50 per cent by a Supreme Court diktat but breached in states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana. (File Photo: PTI)
 Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar made a clarion call for raising the bar on quota, currently pegged at 50 per cent by a Supreme Court diktat but breached in states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana. (File Photo: PTI)

Placing the socio-economic data derived from the country’s first caste census, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar made a clarion call for raising the bar on quota, currently pegged at 50 per cent by a Supreme Court diktat but breached in states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana. The fear is that there can be no limit on reservation once the ceiling is lifted may be real, but that should not deter the gathering of data from a national caste census.

The revelations in the detailed findings of the caste census tabled in the Bihar Assembly this week should open India’s eyes on how unequal the country’s growth story has been. The state of Bihar may be one of the poorest in the country, which is why lakhs of Biharis seek employment outside the state. What the data throws light on is the real extent of poverty if 34 per cent of all households are earning less than Rs 6,000 a month.

The impact of the information gathered on income, employment, assets, and education of all 215 sub-castes is such that even the national ruling party BJP has revealed new thinking on the lines that a national caste census may be in order, even if home minister Amit Shah believes that a time for such an exercise should be carefully chosen.

Of course, there is also a need to ensure that the information gathered is genuine. Some doubts had been expressed about the accuracy of data and ideological or partisan bent given to the Bihar caste census figures. A national census would, however, be held to a higher degree of accuracy if the national population censuses conducted so far are anything to go by.

The depth of inequalities in the world’s fifth largest economy is staggering. While reservation of the type that B.R. Ambedkar helped frame led to positive discrimination, they were envisaged as a time-bound measure with a cap of 10 years thought of then and to be extended only after scrutiny. The initial setting of quotas may have been aimed only at the historically underserved minorities like SC and ST. Subsequent extensions have been a political compulsion for virtually all political parties.

In the light of what the data is showing up now, reservations have not only to stay but also be extended by breaking the limits. An index of where India stands, by the metrics of a less developed state like Bihar, is to be seen in 42 per cent of Bihar’s SC families and 42.7 per cent of ST families being poor, 33.16 per cent of OBCs being below the poverty line and 33.58 per cent among the extremely backward category.

There would have to be a national consensus among political parties that a caste census is deemed necessary as caste inequality must be measured so that welfare programmes can target the lesser served people better. Only then would the requisite majority be found to breach the limits on reservations, like the 75 per cent ceiling that Nitish Kumar seeks now.

The importance of accurate data can never be underestimated as it will also show if the benefits of reservations are being cornered, as is suspected. But first get the national caste census done. However much India would like to be a casteless society, caste identifiers exist and they can be used to bring out persisting inequalities and find ways to address them.

 

Tags: bihar, caste census, quota, inequality, poverty, reservation, socio-economic data, india, b.r. ambedkar, national consensus