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

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Caste Census and Its ‘Consciousness’


It has been the general perception forwarded by the opponents of the caste-based census that such an exercise is likely to perpetuate what the former terms as regressive social consciousness, should it happen in reality. This kind of perception, however, leaves unexplained a wide range of causal relationships that can explain the perpetuation of caste consciousness. For example, it leaves out exploitative structures that underlie and renew forms of caste consciousness. If one takes this kind of argument seriously, then one is led to believe that it is the administrative exercise, such as the caste census, that is likely to perpetuate caste consciousness. This argument is similar to the postcolonial argument which also claims that caste enumeration carried out by the colonial state did create a caste consciousness. This argument and perception continue to find resonance even in post-independence India. It thus suggests the following: the demand for opportunity sharing that is proportionate to the numbers of a caste is likely to stick to their caste consciousness, but it would also increase the people’s dependence on the state which has control over the redistributive mechanisms. But such an approach does not answer the central question, namely what else would enable the historically marginalised and deprived castes groups to acquire a consciousness of their relative deprivation except a caste census?

When the universal language of expression such as class or gender, in the last half of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, was nearly absent or emergent, the deprived were bound to find caste descriptions given in the census as the most useful medium through which they discovered who they are, where they are, and why they are there at the margin. Arguably, it is the caste census that cognitively empowers the lower castes to pose such questions that have a bearing on the ability to compare themselves vis-à-vis the privileged others, that is, the upper castes.

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Updated On : 18th Jun, 2022
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