ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Why We Must Count Caste

A caste census is an occasion for collective reflection on the caste question.

Taken as a whole, the media coverage of the proposed “caste census” shows us how far we have come since the Mandal crisis of 1990. Although the predictable outpourings of intemperate hostility are still around, they are now dwarfed by saner responses from a healthy variety of viewpoints. It may have taken two decades to arrive, but ever since Mandal, a “caste census” has really been a “how and when” rather than a “why” question. However, given the fears that are still expressed, it is useful to reiterate the reasons.

The most obvious reason to count caste is that it is a real and significant source of social discrimination and economic inequality in India today. The fact that there has been a long-standing consensus about “abolishing” caste only underlines the need to count it. For without monitoring its impact on society, we will never know whether we have overcome it or merely hidden it away. Finally, the most elusive – but also arguably the most important – reason to conduct a census of caste is to remind the upper castes that though they may not be “in” caste, they are still “of” it. The upper caste belief that caste has no place in their present has been the single biggest obstacle to a breakthrough on this question. At worst, a census of caste will provoke them to revisit this belief; at best, census data will help them to recognise the continuing (albeit changing) role of caste in creating and protecting their privileges.

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