The OBC census is not a caste census and one that is necessary to formulate policies vital to their development.
OBCs are not a caste but a socially and educationally backward class.
Crucial need: Identifying the demography of OBC.
While the demand for census of Other Backward Classes (OBC) is being criticised for promoting casteism, it was the Planning Commission's report on the Eleventh Five-year Plan ( Vol 1, pg 118, 120, 2008) which stressed the need for such a census. “Like SCs, STs, Minorities and persons with disabilities, there is an imperative need to carry out a census of OBCs now or in the next census in 2011. In the absence of exact assessment of their population size, literacy rate, employment status in government, private and unorganised sectors, basic civic amenities, health status, poverty status and human development and HPIs, it is very difficult to formulate realistic policies and programmes for the development of OBCs.”
The Commission said that “State-wise, OBC-wise data on populations as well as vital and demographic variables are not available, which is the main hurdle in the formulation of policies and programmes for the development of the Other Backward Classes.”
Before this, the Standing Committee on Social Justice, 2006, headed by Sumitra Mahajan and comprising 28 MPs, “strongly recommend that Ministry should vigorously pursue with the Registrar General of India to conduct a survey of OBCs and the persons living below double the poverty line in this category so that the Ministry could prepare its Action Plan so that the required amount of funds can be made available to the State Governments for effective implementation of National Backward Classes Finance Development Corporations various schemes for the development of backward classes”. In addition , the three Backward Classes Commissions in 1955, 1980 and 2004-05, apart from the National Commission for Nomadic Tribes, Semi Nomadic Tribes & Denotified Tribes [Renke Commission], 2008, was in favour of an OBC census.
A major issue that needs to be clarified here is that the OBC census is a class census and not a caste census. It has to be pointed out that OBCs are not a caste but a socially and educationally backward class. Just as there is a special provision in the budget of the states and the Centre for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST), the OBCs also need a separate budget for their upliftment. They have a constitutional right to basic amenities, employment, and shelter and unless we know their exact population, it will be difficult to make plans for them. The OBC census is required for two reasons. While budgeting and planning for the OBCs is one aspect, the other crucial one is to silence the repeated attack, in numerous writ petitions, against reservation for OBCs on the grounds that their exact population is not known. The Supreme Court has on every occasion rejected this argument but it will pop up again and again. There is a misconception that SCs and STs are Constitutionally recognised categories but OBCs are not. This is not true. The Constitutional recognition of SCs and STs are articles 341 and 342 and for OBCs it is article 340. Only, there was gross delay in implementing article 340 at the central level till as late as 1990, though lists of OBCs were made in the peninsular provinces and princely states even before Independence. The total number of OBCs for all states in the central list is only 1963, not a formidable number compared to SCs and STs.
There has been a religion-wise census for 140 years. India was divided because of religion, not because of caste, but the religion-wise census continues. There is a census of SC/ST without any objection. If SC/ST census is not opposed, why then is a classwise census of more than 52 per cent of the population being opposed? Even today, there is endogamy in this country. All castes have their organisations. Those organisations hold their conventions, they have their own banks, educational institutes etc but no one complains against them.
Those who say that casteism will spread due to the OBC census forget that the caste system has been in existence for thousands of years and continues regardless of any Census. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar himself had insisted on an OBC census along with separate SC/ST census in independent India. This has been categorically mentioned in his book Who Were The Shudras?There were serious debates in the Constituent Assembly on this issue. Dr. Ambedkar played a seminal role for the rights of OBCs. Jotirao Phule and Dr. Ambedkar have given the blueprint for caste annihilation in this country. Social justice to all, equality and adequate representation in the power structure are prerequisites in a casteless society. There is no shortcut. To recognise the rights of a large percentage of people, they have to be counted first.
One doubt is raised that people may furnish false information. If they do this, there is stringent punishment in 1948 census act of up to Rs. 1,000 fine and three years imprisonment. This provision is deliberately ignored by the opponents of the OBC census. The Akhil Bharatiya Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad, headed by Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal had demanded an independent census of OBCs in the presence of the President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma in a national convention on December 12, 1993 at Pune. The Samata Parishad has also filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking justice for this demand in February 2010 and the Union Government has been ordered to submit an affidavit in this regard by Supreme Court. Our demand is not to mention caste or sub-caste but the class only. Since the census is being carried out by the central government, there is no possibility of any conflict over the list prepared by National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
The question then boils down to who should conduct the OBC census. The Census organisation says that it cannot take on the additional burden and wants it to be left to state Backward Class commissions. These commissions and the NCBC are far behind the census organisation in infrastructure and capability. It is only the central Census organisation that can undertake this. It should be strengthened to the extent necessary for this vital task.
Hari Narke is Professor and Head, Mahatma Phule Chair, University of Pune and a member of the State Commission for Backward Classes, Maharashtra.
The HIndu, 27 Feb. 2011, Sunday Edition..
The HIndu, 27 Feb. 2011, Sunday Edition..