MA071010_Counting_Castes_Anand_Teltumbde - M ARGIN SPEAK...

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MARGIN SPEAK july 10, 2010 vol xlv no 28 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 10 Counting Castes: Advantage the Ruling Class Anand Teltumbde Anand Teltumbde ( [email protected] ) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai. T he debate over whether caste should be included in the decennial census 2011, which has actually begun, has provoked the government to constitute a Group of Ministers ( GoM ), the magical invention that yields decisions on any vexatious issue. The shrill arguments, both in favour of and against the proposi- tion, with an amazing degree of embed- ded confusion, coming from all conceiva- ble quarters (caste, class, individuals, par- ties, and so on) are making it d ifficult to guess what the decision of the GoM would be. But if it comes out in favour of enumer- ation of castes in the census, it will be the second biggest blow to the emancipation project of the oppressed people, the first being the Mandal reservations. Colonial Census of Castes It is well known that the institution of the census (with enumeration of castes) came as a part of the measures that were taken by the British colonialists after the upris- ing of 1857. The uprising made the govern- ment officials painfully realise that they were woefully ignorant of local Indian customs and more. The knowledge of the natives would enable them to find local allies to provide insurance against the possibility of a future uprising and, more importantly, use internal divisions among them for playing groups against one another. 1 The inclusion of questions about caste in the census was thus not just for the sake of “intellectual curiosity”. There were political reasons for the intensifica- tion of British interest in the institution of caste. “District-level manuals and gazet- teers began to devote whole chapters to the ethnography of caste and custom; imperial surveys made caste into a central object of investigation; and, by the time of the first decennial census of 1872, caste had become the primary subject of social classification and knowledge… By 1901, when the census commissioner H H Risley announced his ambition for an ethnographic survey of India, it was clear that caste had attained its colo- nial apotheosis.” 2 Notwithstanding the crude formulation of Hindutva nationalists, relying on some smart American historians that castes were a colonial creation, it cannot be denied that the introduction of the census, in particular “transformed previously ‘fuzzy’ into ‘enumerated’ communities”. 3 As Cohn points out, “what was entailed in the construction of census operations was the creation of social categories by which India was ordered for administrative p urposes”. 4 The census objectified reli- gious, social and cultural difference. This objectification later catalysed the lower caste movement but its unintended by- product, which could not be confused with the primary aim of the colonialists, was to preserve their rule.
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MA071010_Counting_Castes_Anand_Teltumbde - M ARGIN SPEAK...

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