Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Nation | BC, DC or EC? What lies ahead of the census

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      • Census officials speak to villagers in Bengal’s Lalgarh. The Bengal administration was the only state government to have asked for a caste-based census, a demand initially rejected but accepted later by the Centre

      When officials carrying out the 1931 census, the last to take account of caste, asked a “waterman” on the Coorg border his place in the social hierarchy, the answer left them amazed.

      The “extremely dark individual”, wrote then census commissioner John Henry Hutton in his report, said he was from the Suryavamsa (family of the Sun).

      The focus on skin colour probably reflected Hutton’s own prejudice, but the British official anyway thought the waterman would be from a low or intermediate caste, perhaps even an untouchable.

      He noted in his report that some people were using the census as a ladder to ascend the social order.

      Today’s census officials, as they carry out a caste count almost 80 years later, could face the opposite problem, with the lure of reservation inflating the Other Backward Classes’ numbers.

      But that is not the only reason officials say verifying every Indian’s caste identity will take at least five years after the 2011 census simply records citizens’ own claims on the matter.

      Cataloguing the labyrinth of castes, sub-castes and sub-sub-castes — differing from region to region — will be an enormous task because the key issue of who belongs to the Other Backward Classes has historically meant different things in different places, and to different people and politicians.

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