April 14, 2021
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Caste Lessons From History

Caste Lessons From History

Padmanabh Samarendra, in the Indian Express, recalls the historical problems with counting castes in the census till 1931:

From the very beginning, overwhelming discrepancies marked the counting and classification of castes. In 1871-82, for example, Bengal presidency listed just 69 castes. But by 1901, that number had swollen to 380. Meanwhile in Bombay Presidency, the numbers were greater — going up from 140 in 1871-72 to 690 in 1901.

Caste lists found in the colonial census reports were clearly inconsistent. In fact, what might come as a surprise to many is that between 1871-72 and 1931, no exhaustive list of castes could be prepared for any province, let alone for the country as a whole. Every list was concluded with entries such as “miscellaneous castes”, “other castes”, “caste not stated”, and so on. In addition, there existed the problem of identifying castes. After all, how do we know that communities named as Bhad Bhunja (1901 caste list, Bombay), Oraon, Marwari (1901 caste list, Bengal) or Lingayat (1901 caste list, Madras) are actually caste groups?

He also raises the basic questions about even trying to assess the strength of the OBCs, for example: on what criteria at the pan-Indian level would someone qualify as belonging to this class? As he points out, this is necessary because not all states have an OBC list.

Further, one may ask whether the government is going to include in the census questionnaire an OBC column for the Muslims? We know that many castes from the Muslim community figure in the OBC list prepared by the states. However, would the government be willing to introduce the principle of subdividing Muslims, or for that matter the Christian population, along caste lines?

Read the full piece at the Indian Express

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