I am thinking of putting out a board in front of our two-room apartment in Delhi saying that we are four members-My wife my two children aged 8 and 4 respectively and I. We will enumerate ourselves as Indians and not the castes to which we belong. Lest it sound arrogant to our policy makers that I am refusing to follow their diktat. On caste enumeration I have a question to ask them: Which caste we would belong?
My details are: I am a Kayastha married to a Kashmiri Pandit. I do not know which caste my children belong to since the court has also recognised the rights of mothers. I did not feel feudal enough to ask my wife to drop her maiden name despite objections to it by my father. As a result my two sons identify themselves as either a Bihari or a Kashmiri depending on their company and at times Indians. I have never seen them reacting as caste members. I have never taken them to a Chitragupta puja to help them identify with the caste I was born into.
I have always made it a point to help them identify with the national flag and the national anthem. The first festival they know is Independence Day. I do not know what to tell the enumerators when they come knocking at the door. My children may not understand what we tell the enumerators but I am scared they would ask this question when they grow old enough to understand the importance of caste. They may like to know what caste we identified ourselves with and them. What is the caste I should tell the enumerators, my dear policy makers?
I thought of another contradiction in our family. Since we, husband and wife, belong to different castes, we have not been able to identify with one caste or the other. Our families have been particular that the caste identities are not spoken about even in private talks. They may have an opinion about us, but that has failed to bring caste into our relations. Is it the time to celebrate now that the government wants to know our castes.
After 10 years my eldest child will be 18 and will have the right to vote. There will be another census then. He will need to mention his caste then. What will happen to him? That will also be the time when he would come to know that his closet friend was a Dalit or a Yadav and they are not from his caste stock. Will he then behave with them in the same way?
There are many people like me who would think of all these questions when the enumerators come to them. They had no role in chosing their caste. They became a Brahmin or a Kayastha by default. Likewise, their children too did not have the choice of being born casteless unless one identity was completely merged into the other. What should these people do then now?
They have one clear option the way I have decided: Call yourselves Indians and send a strong message that we disagree. This is democracy. Let those who want to benefit from caste enumeration list their castes. We do not want to benefit even if you are thinking of reservation to so-called forward castes in identity dominated politics.
I am yet to figure out how enumeration of castes will benefit social justice. Will it now be reservation based on proportion in population something that was talked about by Kanshi Ram. Will it then mean legislation to delimit the upper limit fixed till now? If this is not the reason then what is the purpose of caste enumeration. Let economic criteria dominate government doles and not castes or this would change the definition of development.
Those who talk of caste enumeration cite caste realities and identity politics to justify their arguments. What is the harm in having the real figures then, they say. But hold! There are many other issues that are as much a reality as caste. One such thing is corruption. The other is the age-old and well-known institution of prostitution. People have been trying to fight these issues and to lift the country and society out of complete degradation. Why do we not think of legalising these? At least it would help the children of destitute prostitutes in most by-lanes of India ’s metros and historic towns.
Politics is supposed to be the instrument of social change more so as we are embracing modernisation in terms of economy and development. But when politics becomes a means to achieve power, it loses its moral values. In the rat race of manipulating caste data to political advantage, politicians today are silent accomplices to the retrograde steps. We will not move an inch closer to modernism but move backwards to from where we started: The Manusmriti. The next step would be more such khap panchayats to prevent inter-caste marriage since this would affect the numbers and destabilise political equations.
My question needs an answer, my dear policy makers. Remember I am not alone.
(The author is a senior journalist Political Analyst and CEO ORSAA)