Q) While it is said that caste was removed from census activity with a view that it promotes divisiveness, advocates of its inclusion believe that the activity will be a pro-poor exercise which will help plan better and more targeted welfare schemes in the country. Critically examine.

Why this question?

Issue of current importance.

Key demand of the Question 

To discuss in detail about the need and significance of a caste based census in India and the concerns associated with it.


Critically examine – When asked to ‘Examine’, we have to look into the topic (content words) in detail, inspect it, investigate it and establish the key facts and issues related to the topic in question. While doing so we should explain why these facts and issues are important and their implications. When ‘critically’ is suffixed or prefixed to a directive, one needs to look at the good and bad of the topic and give a fair judgment.


Start with giving an introduction about caste-based census.


In the first part, discuss the significance of such a census and its need.

In the next part, discuss the challenges associated with it.


Conclude with a way forward.

Model Answers

Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes. Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste. However, in 1941, caste-based data was collected but not published. In the absence of such a census, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, various groups within the OBCs, and others. The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%, some other estimates have been based on National Sample Survey data. Some political parties make their own estimates in states and Lok Sabha and Assembly seats during elections.

Arguments for caste census

  1. Enumerating the marginalized: A caste census would actually bring to the particular the number of people who are at the margins, or who are deprived, or the kind of occupations they pursue, or the kind of hold that institutions like caste have on them.
  2. Data for Policymaking: This information is absolutely necessary for any democratic policymaking.
  3. Judicial backing: The courts in India have often emphatically said that it is important to have adequate data with regard to the reservation.
  4. Caste offers privilege: Caste is not only a source of disadvantage; it is also a very important source of privilege and advantage in our society.
  5. Caste doesn’t marginalize: We need to do away with the idea of caste being applicable to only disadvantaged people, poor people, people who are somehow lacking.
  6. Rids away caste rigidities: Counting of caste doesn’t necessarily perpetuate caste or the caste system. Myths of caste elitisms can be debunked through a caste census.

Arguments against caste census

  1. 50% breach: It is argued that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case to breach the 50% cap on reservation and rationalize the reservation matrix in the country.
  2. Rising assertiveness: More the State ignores caste, the more is the tendency to preserve caste, protect it. This has been observed in many states.
  3. Chaos: Data gathering itself is a big problem because it can become very, very invasive. But we need to actually balance it with enabling people and asserting citizen equality.
  4. Social friction: Caste identification can lead to friction amongst various classes.

Way Forward

  • India needs to be bold and decisive in tackling caste questions through data and statistics in the way the United States (US) does to tackle race issues, by collecting data around race, class, language, inter-race marriages, among other metrics. This data provides a mirror to the State and society of the US in which they can see themselves and take decisions to do course corrections.
  • Creation of National Data Bank: The Sachar Committee Report recommended setting up a national data bank. The Justice Rohini committee was appointed in 2017 to look into the sub-categorisation of the OBC communities; however, in the absence of data, there can be no data-bank or any proper sub-categorisation.

The demand to include caste in census is long-pending. It arises from the fact that there is no documented data on OBC population in India. The demand usually comes up every time in the run up to the census exercise. The argument for the demand is that since the census already documents huge amounts of data including religions, languages, socio-economic status and Dalits and Adivasis, why not count OBCs too.