PC- Rafi Kollam

The ‘Caste Census’ is a hot topic in India nowadays. The issue was first raised this year by Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a Speech at Kolar Karnataka during Karnataka Election. In that rally, he raised this issue in the response of Bhartiya Janta Party’s allegation to him, that he has insulted OBCs by not apologizing for his previous speech which he had given at the same place in kolar Karnataka in 2018 Karnataka Assembly election campaign when he said, why all modi are thieves?

The BJP picked up the issue and said that Rahul Gandhi has insulted the OBCs as modi community is OBC. In response of that allegation of insulting OBCs, Rahul Gandhi demanded to modi government to release caste census data if modi government is serious for the upliftment of OBCs. He asked to release the data of that caste census which was conducted by earlier UPA government. He said, OBCs must be informed about their numbers.

After Karnataka Election, the issue has been started to raise by Rahul Gandhi in his public Meetings at various States including Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana. The Congress Party has also made a poll promise to conduct caste census in these states, and, in a press conference held in AICC Delhi, they reiterated their commitment to conduct caste census in India.

Meanwhile, Bihar Gov, which was conducting caste census from some months earlier, released their caste census data of Bihar Gov, which showed that around 50% people are form Backward Class.

Why Caste Census is necessary?

According to Yogendra Yadav, who is a social activist, if we want to eradicate caste from our society, then data of caste census is necessary just like an X-ray is necessary to treat any disease in human body. Caste Census is X-ray of Society, and a tool for Social Justice. We can simplify his argument as follows-

  • For the upliftment of the OBCs, SCs and STs, it is necessary that they know what are their numbers?
  • When we will know the numbers of these community, we can make provisions according to their proportion in Society.
  • These Provisions may be reservation plan in proportion of their numbers, or other benefits like schemes for their education, and others.
  • The participation of these communities in government, and jobs, will help them to achieve a respectable status in society.

Here, I want to quote what Justice Arijit Pasayat has said in Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India (2006), he said,

“Ultimately if the social status of a man goes in the higher direction because of his education, the difference in status gets obliterated. Education is a great levellor. In that sense, the ultimate object is that every Indian citizen should have the social status which is not inferior to another and that would be obliteration of the difference in status. The ultimate objective is to see that no person gets discriminated because of his caste.”

The issue of importance of the number for providing reservation was also raised in the Ashoka Kumar Case (supra). In that case, this was one of the main contention of the Petitioner that reservation has been provided to OBCs, SCs and STs, through 93rd Amendment of the Constitution, however, there is no data to identify and determine the number of OBCs.

Ashoka Kumar Thakur Case

By raising the issue of no data to fix the percentage of OBCs, the petitioner tried to show that there was no rational basis for fixing the percentage of reservation at 27% for the other backward classes. It was pointed out that the figures appear to have been culled out from some survey done more than seven decades back i.e. 1931 to be precise. Thereafter, there seems to be no definite data to know the actual percentage.

It was pointed out that in Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court had laid considerable stress on having a Commission to identify and determine the criteria for determining the socially and educationally backward classes. It was surprising, it was contended, that there had been not even a single case of exclusion but on the other hand more than 250 new castes/sub-castes have been added. This showed that there was really no serious attempt to identify the other backward classes.

On the other hand, there had been over-jealous anxiety to include more number of people so that they can get the benefits of reservations/quotas and this has been termed as “vote bank politics”. It was highlighted that even when a serious matter relating to adoption of the Act was under consideration there was hardly any discussion and every political party was exhibiting its anxiety to get the Statute passed.

The lack of seriousness of the debate exhibits that the debate was nothing but a red-herring to divert attention from the sinister, politically motivated design masked by the “tearful” faces of the people masquerading as champions of the poor and down trodden.

The court referred the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report, which said that,

“36. The committee notes that there is a major limitation on data about the social economic and educational profile of our population in general and about OBCs in particular. The last caste-based census in India was done in 1931. Accordingly there are no periodic data available on the demographic spread of OBCs and their access to amenities. Even the Mandal Commission had used the 1931 Census data. Whatever limited data are available, pertain to surveys conducted by NSSO from 1998-99 onwards, which are only ‘sample surveys’.”

In the case, the court also noted that Concrete data about the number of backward classes in the country did not appear to be available. The foundation for fixing 27% appears to be the view that 52% of the population belong to OBC. There was no supportable data for this proposition. In fact, different Commissions at different points of time had different figures.

It was the stand of the respondents that no Commission had fixed the percentage below 52% and, therefore, there is nothing wrong in fixing the percentage at 27%. The court didn’t find it the correct approach.

The court concluded in its judgement that so far as determination of backward classes is concerned, a Notification should be issued by the Union of India. This can be done only after exclusion of the creamy layer for which necessary data must be obtained by the Central Government from the State Governments and Union Territories. Such Notification is open to challenge on the ground of wrongful exclusion or inclusion. Norms must be fixed keeping in view the peculiar features in different States and Union Territories.

Thus, the court suggested the government to conduct a caste census to determine the true number of OBCs in Country. In 2011-12, UPA government conducted caste census, but, before it could release the data of caste census, the government was changed to NDA government.  

The issue of caste census is not only important for OBCs and SC/STs, but it is also beneficial for the general castes. Because, caste census will provide a clear data about the population of OBCs, and this will limit the over exclusion of the castes in OBC category. It will also help to determine to fix correct percentage of reservation according to the number of OBCs.

Written by Advocate A.H. Gangohi for TheLawmatics.