Hope Census 2011 — which is curiously being conducted in 2010 — does not end up putting the cart before the horse. Can the Government make a decision on the caste count before it is concluded? The enumeration is over in 16 States and Union Territories including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Haryana. The civil society and intelligentsia remain as fragmented as the Government on the caste issue. Having raised a scrapheap of petitions asking for inclusion of caste in the headcount, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared on the last day of the Budget session that caste-wise enumeration is on. But now the ball is in the court of the Empowered Group of Ministers. The Home Ministry, initially averse to the idea, now opines that caste could be enumerated later during the framing of National Population Register.
Caste identification is a humongous task, a far cry from the Vedic varna classification of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. In the 1901 Census, there were 2,378 main castes. In 1931 — the last time caste count took place, there were 387 sub-castes in the Brahmin category and 1,025 in Rajput category in Tehri Garhwal that had a population of only 3.5 lakh.
But today's proponents of caste count — the Yadav satraps, BSP and DMK are least interested in celebrating this academic multi-casteism. Their agenda is to push forward reservation in public and private sectors, educational institutions and the political sphere. The 21st century law-makers want to reorganise the society according to four varna — Forwards, OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Should we be afraid of caste census? No, but we have missed the bus this year. Conducting it as part of the National Population Register is least desirable. It might reveal the demographic share of different castes but not their corresponding socio-economic educational status. Many OBC groups who own large rural assets and have risen in political clout in the last 20 years might thus be economically better off than the Brahmins. The religion census, always conducted as part of the Census proper, yields analysable results. But the caste census may turn out to be news we can't use.