Caste Based Census in India

2023 OCT 9

Mains   > Social justice   >   Government Policies   >   Backward class movements


  • Bihar releasing the findings of its caste survey has once again renewed the demand for a caste-based census at the national level.


  • Census or enumeration of people living in the country is done in India every 10 years.
  • A systematic and modern population census, in its present form was conducted non synchronously between 1865 and 1872 in different parts of the country.
  • However, the first synchronous census in India was held in 1881. Since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten years.
  • The 2021 census is delayed due to the pandemic. Now, it is expected that provisional data would be released by 2023-24.


  • Development planning purposes:
    • Census is the source of primary data pertaining to demographic, social and economic characteristics of the population. It is essential for effective planning and formulation of policies at all levels.
  • Assess national progress:
    • Census is the basis for reviewing the country's progress in the past decade, monitoring the ongoing schemes of the Government and planning for the future.
  • Learning about special population groups:
    • Census provides information on specific population groups like children, youth, women, disabled etc., which can help in designing programs and policies for their welfare.
  • Use for research purposes:
    • Census provides a rich source of information for carrying out demographic, social and economic surveys and is widely used by national and international agencies, scholars, industrialists, journalists and many more.
  • Delimitation of constituencies:
    • The delimitation and reservation of Constituencies at various levels is done on the basis of the demographic data provided by the Census.


  • The British conducted and published caste census data till 1931. Caste data were collected for Census-1941 but not published.
  • After Independence, only the data related to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were collected and published.
  • The Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011. The data, excluding caste data was finalized and published in 2016. However, the caste data has not been released.
  • States are free to conduct an OBC census. Karnataka has already conducted a caste-based census at the state level.


  • Step towards casteless society:
    • In order to abolish caste, it is essential to first abolish caste-derived privileges. To do that, the state must first map castes and their socio-economic status privileges/deprivations, which is what a caste census seeks to do.
  • Absence of empirical data:
    • Till date, there is no clarity over the population of OBCs. While the Mandal Commission had estimated the figure to be 52%, school enrolment data suggests it to be 45% and the NSSO survey of 2007 puts it at 41%.
  • Incoherence in reservation:
    • On the basis of Census data, the SCs form about 15% of India’s population and the STs about 7-8%. This figure is also the basis of reservation: 15 % for SCs and 7.5% for STs. However, such a basis is absent in case of OBC reservations.
  • Address rising inequality:
    • According to the World Inequality Report 2022, India stands out as a “poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite”, where the top 10% holds 57% of the total national income, while the bottom 50% holds just 13% in 2021. Such an unequal distribution of wealth demands a greater understanding of Indian society.
  • Rationalise welfare efforts:
    • The panel on subcategorization of OBCs in 2017 had found that less than 1 % OBC communities have cornered 50% of the reservation benefits, while 20% of OBC communities did not get any quota benefit between 2014 and 2018. Counting the castes can help rationalize government programmes and efforts towards welfare of these marginalized OBC communities.
  • Make objective decisions on new demands:
    • Several dominant communities in India have been demanding inclusion under the OBC category. Through a census, it is possible to objectively verify such demands.
  • Similar exercise is already in practice:
    • The census already records a gamut of data, from religion to language to socio-economic status, and also counts SCs and STs. Hence there is no good reason not to count OBCs.
  • Global examples:
    • It is far from uncommon for governments to do similar censuses. The United States counts people by race and the UK enumerates country of origin for its immigrant population.
  • Flawed SECC data:
    • The SECC data of 2011 is not made public as it was found to be "flawed". For eg: In Maharashtra, the existing SC, ST and OBC categories, as per government records, are only 494. But the 2011 caste census yielded 4,28,677 castes. Hence, conducting a new census is justifiable.  


  • Perpetuation of caste:
    • Many historians believe that British census made India’s caste system more rigid and prevented previous fluidity that allowed cross-caste movement. Today, opponents argue that caste census would lead to a similar perpetuation of caste identities.
  • New demands for reservation:
    • The census could alter the current caste equations and bring Mandal politics back in play. Fresh demands will be raised for reservations and it will not be easy to accommodate all the castes and their demands.
  • Breach of reservation limits:
    • If the share of OBCs increases or decreases in India’s population, it would call for a restructuring of reservation system and removal of the 50% reservation cap introduced through the Indra Sawhney (Mandal case) judgement.
  • Resurgence of violent conflicts:
    • Implementation of Mandal commission recommendations witnessed several anti-Mandal protests, some of which involved violence and self-immolations. The new census might trigger similar type of protests and violence.
  • Polarization of Indian society:
    • Reservations have become a major political tool. Political parties, in order to appease vote bank communities, continue to expand reservation. A new census could aggravate this situation and rekindle divisive feelings.
  • Encourages apathetic governance:
    • Affirmative action was designed to correct the historical wrong that certain groups experienced for centuries. However, governments, instead of taking reformative efforts towards development, have come to use reservation as a poverty alleviation and employment measure.
  • Absence of caste registry:
    • There is no uniform registry of castes in India. Hence, there is no consistent way to aggregate or segregate same or similar castes with variant spellings. Conducting a caste census without this could result in the ballooning of caste categories, like it did in the 2011 SECC.


  • Conduct caste census:
    • Without any data on Caste, it is difficult to formulate effective policies for the welfare of the excluded sections. Hence, the government must take measures to create a credible dataset and a caste registry must be created as a prelude to this.
  • Rationalise benefits:
    • There should be an economic rider when it comes to reservations. The concept of the creamy layer can be adopted in a positive direction.
  • Sub categorization:
    • There is no doubt that caste is a reality, and it is influential. Both social justice and social unity are necessary. Discrimination still exists because of the caste factor. Caste is an essential factor in the Indian context. However,
  • Improve awareness:
    • Steps must be taken to make the people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, more aware of reservations and make reservations accessible to them.
  • Shift towards development:
    • The rising demand for reservation stems out of the weak state of Indian economy. Hence, government has to take substantial steps to bring about structural changes in areas such as agriculture, education, skill development and employment generation.


Q. Critically examine the demand for a caste-based census in India?