C071710_Caste_and_Sonalde_Desai

C071710_Caste_and_Sonalde_Desai - COMMENTARY Caste and...

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COMMENTARY july 17, 2010 vol xlv no 29 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 10 Caste and Census: A Forward Looking Strategy Sonalde Desai In modern India, vast quantities of research have documented caste-based inequalities in many dimensions of well-being. If these inequalities are not simply imagined but reflect social processes that deserve public policy attention, incorporating questions about caste in the census is imperative. However, there is a need to devise an accounting framework that has clarity of purpose since there are many complexities involved in collecting caste data. O pponents of inclusion of caste in the census argue that for a society which seeks to abolish caste- based inequalities, a census that inquires about caste identities is a retrogressive step since it is more likely to solidify caste- based divisions than to obliterate it. Fol- lowing Benedict Anderson’s argument that censuses played an important role in crea- tion of imagined communities that tran- scend face-to-face associations ( Anderson 1983), many scholars have argued persua- sively that colonial censuses created caste as enumerated communities (Das 2003) and solidified hitherto fluid identities (Dirks 2001). Resistance to this reification of social difference often emerges in the form of reluctance to collect caste data. In many ways, this reluctance is similar to that observed in collection of racial statis- tics in other cultures (Zuberi 2001). While there is some justification to this argument, we are now living with the a ftermath of these political processes. In modern India, vast quantities of research have documented caste-based inequalities in many dimensions of well-being, includ- ing income, education, health and access to employment (Govinda 2002; Thorat and Newman 2009; Desai et al 2010; Desh- pande 2000). If these inequalities are not simply imagined but reflect social processes that deserve public policy attention, then incorporating questions about caste in cen- sus is imperative. However, it is easier to suggest that caste be counted (e g, the EPW editorial of 22 May 2010), than to devise an accounting framework. Much of the diffi- culty emerges from lack of clarification re- garding the purpose of this accounting. Why Collect Caste Data? The most recent demand for a count of the Other Backward Classes ( OBC s) has come from a powerful OBC lobby that hopes for an increase in OBC reservations if the count turns out to be higher than expect- ed. The 27% reservation for OBC s is based on the estimate by the Mandal Commis- sion that OBC s form about 52% of the pop- ulation and since all OBC families are not poor or “backward”, a quota limit set at about half the estimated population makes sense. However, the Mandal Com- mission’s claim of 52% of the population being OBC was based on somewhat flimsy empirical evidence and if the Census 2011 identifies more than 52% of the popula- tion as being OBC , this would bolster the claims for higher representation. Succes- sive rounds of National Sample Survey ( NSS ) have documented the number of in-
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This note was uploaded on 07/31/2010 for the course FIN 201 taught by Professor Hcverma during the Summer '10 term at IIT Kanpur.

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C071710_Caste_and_Sonalde_Desai - COMMENTARY Caste and...

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