Published as an editorial article in the Indian Express, 23rd August, 2010
Casting the Caste Net
The GoM under Shri Pranab Mukherjee’s chairmanship has approved collecting Caste information in Census 2011. Although Muslims are considered a casteless community, it is a diverse society and practically all are experiencing deep levels of deprivation in various social, educational and economic facets of life. In the following I discuss alternatives for collecting caste data and also highlight implications to the Muslim community within the context of inclusive development agenda of the UPA government.
Open ended question method: Given a large number of castes and caste like identities in India; whatever ‘caste name’ the informants’ report can be filled-in and codified later. A pre-coded list of castes that enumerators normally carry to ascertain the SC/ST identity will continue; and for all others it can be open ended caste reporting. Such a method will reveal the actual numbers, but from these numbers it is not possible to declare a particular caste as backward or forward. The information on socio, economic and educational indicators which will be collected in the Census 2011may not be adequate to compute the backwardness or forwardness of castes. The Muslim community will participate in this process of data collection of the open ended caste identities along with all other community groups in India. But it appears that such an open method will not be used in the 2011 census operation although the demand of cast collection of data is of this nature.
Matching of reported caste with the pre-coded Caste/Class Lists: As mentioned above the SCs and STs are so identified using a pre-coded list which is matched at the time of census taking itself. Thus, only two coded categories are extracted from the Census which are used to estimate the SCs and STs for any geographic or administrative area. Now since the demand for the caste census has been made mostly by the castes which can be grouped as the OBCs (other backward classes); it is but expected that similar procedure is used to collect the share of OBCs in the 2011 census.
Unlike in case for the SCs/STs for whom the respective lists are being compiled and updated since last six censuses in Independent India; the case for OBCs is to be undertaken for the first time in 2011. The most likely benchmark will be a list of OBCs from the Mandal Commission. It is puzzling to note that as per the Mandal Commission, ‘OBC list’ is considered a ‘class category with little sociological, cultural or economic basis to designate as such. Besides, the OBC list was prepared almost 30 years ago and that too in the absence of any dependable data. The communities were identified using some sketchy data from 1931 census of India and in many cases even by the Mandal Commission’s own view are ‘best guesses’. I am of the opinion that using the OBC list during the 2011 census to identify the size and share of OBC will be highly problematic, and it will make devising inclusive policies difficult both at the national and state level.
The Mandal Commission has guessed the percentages of both the Hindu and non-Hindu OBCs based on assumptions. For example, one notices wide variation in identifying the ‘castes’ and their shares to qualify as OBCs both in State and Central lists. For example, in case of Muslims, while almost all Muslims in Kerala are listed as OBCs, almost none (very small proportion) in West Bengal are listed as such in the Mandal Commission document. About 40% of Muslims are counted as the OBCs in Uttar Pradesh and such OBCs in Karnataka are about 5-7%. The OBC listing for the Muslims for all the respective states is just ‘guestimates’ and are not true estimates. Using such lists will do more harm to the cause of Muslims especially because a large number or proportion of Muslims will be counted as those belonging to the ‘high castes/class’ and therefore will be excluded from any scheme of affirmative action (for example, if government considers implementation of Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations or other similar inclusive policies).
It could be seen from the statement below that only about 25% of all Hindus are considered as the High Castes or socio-economically better offs; whereas, about 50% of Muslims are classified as High Castes or socio-economically better offs. This is because none from the Muslims are classified under the SCs/STs category and all such Muslims with the SC / ST identity are actually listed as the High Castes/Class which is unacceptable. This is a serious anomaly in estimates of OBCs by Mandal commission in case of Muslim community.
Mandal Commission Caste/Class Classification and Proportions of
Hindus and Muslims in India
Religion SCs+STs OBCs All Others (High Caste/Class)
Hindus 23 52 25
Muslims 0 52 48
Source: Extracts from the Mandal Commission
In view of these facts it is essential that correct estimates with respect to (a) ‘SCs/STs type Muslims’, (b) ‘OBC Muslims’ and (c) ‘all other Muslims’ are undertaken with care and sensitivity. Even if the SC/ST type of Muslims are not so listed due to certain procedural hurdles even when legally and constitutionally appropriate; such Muslims must be listed as OBCs in which case upto 80% of all Muslims will be so classified. Note that, practically all Muslims in India are converts and hardly any original Muslims who migrated from out of erstwhile Indian territory now reside in India. Further, it is historically documented that most of those converted to Islam belong to low castes such as the dalits and the tribes. The ‘Sachar Committee’ (2006) on status of Muslims in India has also clearly revealed the distressing socio-economic and educational conditions of Muslims of India.
I will be almost impossible to prepare a list of Muslim caste/class for classifying them as Muslim-OBCs. Therefore, I suggest that ‘list of exclusion’ can be prepared so as to determine the social forwardness or backwardness of a large section of Muslims in India. Such list of exclusion can be prepared for each state separately after consultations with the state level Muslim intellectuals and religious bodies. Thus, once a list of exclusion is prepared, all other Muslims who do not match with the list of exclusion can be identified as the “Muslim OBCs”.
Given the UPA governments resolve to ensure inclusive development of India, it is necessary a serious anomaly with respect to identification of the Muslims OBCs is removed before the conduct of the 2011 census, lest the discrimination so far faced by the Muslims continue for ever after.
[A rejoinder to this article can be found in this link: http://www.pasmandamuslims.com/2010/08/caste-census-and-indian-muslims_28.html]