Intro: The criticism against the caste census is that it will accentuate caste divisions among Hindus and is a ruse to introduce a separate reservation quota for the Muslims.
The Karnataka Social and Economical survery more popularly known as caste census conducted by Karnataka Backward Classes Commission (KBCC) should have been completed by April 30. This will be the first caste-based survery in the State since 1931. Yet a large section of the population is yet to be surveyed. One reason for that is that the questionnaire with 55 questions is tedium for both the enumerators and the individuals whom they question.
We hear many speaking in favour of abolition of caste. One of the means they generally suggest is inter-caste marriages. What they forget is that for official purposes, the children of those marriages inherit the caste of their father. Might be it is not the case with regard to SCs and STs who get that tag even if one of the parents belongs to those categories. It is apparent that the Siddaramaiah Government does not subscribe to the idea of promoting a casteless society. It is no surprise as Siddaramaiah himself had spearheaded the AHINDA movement even when he was the deputy chief minister in a JD (S) government. AHINDA is the Kannada acronym for “Alpasan-kyatharu, Hindulida Vargagalu and Dalitaru” or in short a federation to espouse the cause of the minorities, backward classes and Dalits. Siddaramaiah had spearheaded the movement even while he was the Deputy Chief Minister of a JD(S) government. It is no surprise his government has taken up the survey as casteism with a proclaimed tilt towards the SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims is the stock in trade of the Congress Government. No doubt the government has the backing of the High Court of Karnataka which has upheld its legislative competence to conduct a social and educational survey. The Court has further upheld as “right” the Government’s right to conduct such a survey.
The major criticism against the caste census is that it will accentuate caste divisions among Hindus and is a ruse to introduce a separate reservation quota for the Muslims. In Karnataka, the Muslims are already covered by the OBC quota. Another criticism is that the survey is an exercise in futility and a waste of public funds as the government has before it enormous statistics relating to the caste composition of the population. Major fallout of the survey is that the various caste associations in Karnataka have given a call to their members to put up a united show and not to reveal their subsects or subcastes.
It is noteworthy that the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah himself told a surveyor that he did not know the subsect to which he belonged among the Kurubas (shepherd) caste.
Viewing the issue from another angle it can be said that caste considerations being a fact of everyday life in Karnataka and the country, a mere Statewide survey will not aggravate the division of the Hindus on the basis of caste. The Hindus in the country are already much divided on caste basis and the major contributors are our political parties. Caste based reservations are another contributory factor, though the courts have held that caste can be only one of the criteria for determining backwardness. An argument in favour of the ongoing survey is that nationwide figures relating to caste are outdated as they were collected for the last time in the 1931 census. In fact it was that census which brought to light the population problem faced by the then undivided India.
It is realistic enough to write that caste cannot be abolished by ignoring it at the time of a census as today there are many sections of the population thriving on caste. There are castes and denominations even among Muslims and Christians and the survey is surely going into that reality.
Another argument that is being trotted out in support of the caste census is that benefits due to backward classes or SCs and STs are being misused by making false claims with regard to caste. It could be tackled by swooping corrupt practices in obtaining caste certificate through Revenue department offices. If physical verification of the household of the person applying for a caste certificate is difficult, it should be made mandatory for the applicant to get supporting letters regarding his caste from his relatives, caste association or from his neighbours. For many years I have heard the complaint in and out of the State Assembly that some people from upper caste fraudulently obtain the certificate that they belong to the backward Maler caste, that Jangamas (who are Veerashaivas or Lingayats) get certificate as Beda Jangamas etc. I wonder if the current survey will put an end to bogus caste certificates.
But there is much force in the criticism that the statewide survey is a redundant or even wasteful exercise. The Government has before it the socio-economic surveys undertaken by three commissions on backward classes, the Havanur, Venkataswamy and Chinnappa Reddy commissions appointed over the last 40 years. Former Supreme Court judge, O Chinnappa Reddy who had headed the Third Karnataka Backward Classes Commission had this to say on the survey conducted by the T Venkataswamy or the Second Backward Classes commission “ The comprehensive house to house survey made by the Venkataswamy Commission was certainly a better method capable of yielding far superior results, almost as good as the census figures”.
Collection of vast data also creates its own problem. Justice Chinnappa Reddy has noted that the information collected with regard to children taking the SSLC examination (3.38 lakhs in 1988) was so vast and voluminous that it had not been possible even to computerise it with the limited time and resources available. From the angle of history, the old Mysore component of Karnataka is not new to such socio economic surveys. An Ethnographic Survey of Mysore was conducted way back during 1904-05 headed by HV Nanjundaiya who was later to become acting Chief Justice of the State and first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mysore. However it was part of an all India survey conducted by the British under the leadership of Sir Herbert Risley. Nanjundaiya’s painstaking work with regard to castes, subcastes and communities in Mysore has been commended and is fortunately available in some of the major public and university libraries.
A beginning should have been made to make the people to forget caste. But the caste census will act to the contrary. The time has come to eliminate certain castes which have already benefited from reservation at least in the old Mysore region where reservation was introduced way back in 1921. No major effort has been made in that direction after Lingayats and Vokkaligas were omitted from the list of OBCs. A distinction has been made to favour rural Vokkaligas even here. The Siddaramaiah Government has to take courageous action in this regard, no doubt based on the recommendation of the State’s permanent backward class commission. Thanks to the Supreme Court judgment in the Indira Sawhney case (1992), which introduced the creamy layer concept of elimination from among the OBCs, the undeserving is being kept out.
Instead of acting in isolation, the State Government could have urged the Centre to collect caste wise data in the next Census due in 2021. Six years is not too long a period for a government. Why is the hurry?
A Jairam (The writer is Bengaluru based senior journalist)