Once every decade, India counts its people. This year, the census taking for the new decade has begun and, well, it’s a difficult task to say the least. The first phase of the project is nearly complete, after more than 2.3 million “enumerators” have traveled to even the remotest of villages to count how many people live there. This time, not only are the ‘censuswallahs’ counting heads, but also details of whether households have basics like water and electricity, as well as more advanced technologies like air conditioning, a car or internet access. With more than 630,000 villages and 5,000 cities to visit, this is no mean feat.
By all means, this inclusion of extra information is a step forward. Not only will it enable the government (and the world) to have a more accurate picture of the world’s most populous nation, it should also help different government agencies to target those who need their help more effectively.
So where exactly is the census going 4th then? Unfortunately, along with all that extra information being collected, it has been decided that collecting caste information is essential too. After working for years to overcome the rigid system, this comes as a huge blow to many equality campaigners in the country.
The last census measuring caste in India was in 1931, when the country was still under colonial rule. Since then, most politicians in modern India have publicly supported a caste blind society and have tried to move away from identity politics enshrined by the recognition of the caste system. Of course, this is easier said than done – the top caste, Brahmins, still hold the top jobs in politics and most of India’s wealth, while the Untouchables, now renamed Dalits, still face an uphill battle in attaining respect, medical care, education and employment. That said, inter-caste marriages are becoming increasingly common in India and some powerful lower-caste businessmen and politicians are beginning to make their mark on Indian society.
The decision to include caste information in the census has been met with staunch opposition from many groups and politicians. It is defended by the government as a way to understand how to operate its quotas for low-caste members to enter universities and government positions.
Sadly, a more likely explanation however, is that big firms are hungry for marketing insights into India’s population and caste-directed advertisements are an ever growing area for profits to be made. An all too common compromise in a burgeoning capitalist market.