The demand
for a caste census in India has existed over decades with various caste groups
and regional political parties that claim to represent certain caste groups seeking
caste be counted in th country’s census.  Bihar’s top political rivals — Chief Minister
Nitish Kumar and opposition’s RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav — joined cause and met
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek a caste census on Monday. However, both
BJP and Congress, the two parties that have been in power at the Centre the
longest since India’s independence have been reluctant to count people
according to caste.

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Why is
there a demand for a caste census?

While the
Indian census does count people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes as such, people in the ‘intermediate’ castes, that is those between the
Brahmins and other ‘upper’ castes and the Dalits, are not counted according to
caste. Basically, those who fall under the legislative bracket of “Other
Backward Classes” don’t see their castes featured on the census.

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For long,
people belonging to these intermediate castes have wanted themselves to be
counted caste-wise. This, according to political parties representing these
castes, will enable the government to track the socio-economic status of these
caste-groups and make policies tailored to them.

The OBCs
constitute over 50% of the Indian population.

Why is
the ruling party opposed to a caste census?

says that it will not do a caste census as a “matter of policy”. But critics
say with elections due in India’s biggest state — Uttar Pradesh — soon, the BJP
does not want to stir issues that may come as unwelcome surprises. Caste plays
a crucial role in Indian elections and many political parties depend on a coalition
of caste interests while going into polls. A caste count could cause fissures in
the vote count of various political parties.

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India need a caste census?

The Indian
census records a gamut of data, from religion to language to socio-economic
status. The census also records Dalits and Adivasis. Economists and policymakers
say that counting OBCs can improve government programmes and efforts since they
are targets of India’s biggest affirmative action programmes including quotas
in government jobs and colleges.