GOVERNANCE / POLITY
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- GS-2: Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections.
Importance of Caste Data
Context: Recently, Supreme Court upheld the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the All-India Quota seats for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test.
Key Highlights of the judgement regarding merit & reservation
- It reiterated that reservations for backward classes were not an exception but an extension of the principle of equality under Article 15(1) of the Constitution.
- The judgment highlighted how open competitive exams give the illusion of providing equal opportunity ignoring the inequalities and societal prejudices.
- The court pointed out the social effects of inherited cultural capital (communication skills, books, accent, academic accomplishments, social networks, etc.), which ensures the unconscious training of upper-caste children for high-grade performance.
- The Constituent Assembly held a similar philosophy while introducing constitutional provisions which enable the government to make special provisions for the uplift of the “lower castes”.
Does caste based reservation perpetuate caste identities?
- However, despite the underlying good intentions, positive discrimination has been a controversial topic. It is believed that such provisions only perpetuate caste differences and therefore call for a “casteless society”.
- As Justice D.Y. Chandrachud pointed out, “castelessness” is a privilege that only the upper caste can afford because their caste privilege has already translated into social, political and economic capital.
- On the other hand, individuals who belong to the lower castes must retain their caste identity in order to claim the benefits of measures such as reservation, which recognise historic harm.
What are the big challenges which our country is facing with regard to reservations?
- Increased demand for reservations
- More and more communities, especially those which are considered as forward castes, are demanding reservation benefits.
- Recently, Supreme Court struck down the reservation for the Maratha community in Maharashtra in excess of 50%, which was the limit set in the Indra Sawhney case
- Supreme court observed that “when more people aspire for backwardness instead of forwardness, the country itself stagnates which situation is not in accord with constitutional objectives”.
- Lack of objective data & revision of list
- In the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court held that the States must conclude the “backwardness” of a particular class of people only after proper assessment and objective evaluation.
- Even though data concerning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been included in the Census, there is no similar data on OBCs
- The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011 has been called “faulty” and “unreliable”.
- Even the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were criticised as being based merely on the “personal knowledge” of the members of the commission and sample surveys.
- The National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993, provides under Section 11 that the Central government may every 10 years revise lists with a view to exclude those classes which have ceased to be backward and include new backward classes. This exercise has not been done to date.
What is required now?
- Faith of our citizens cannot be restored until credible exercises of data collection are undertaken regarding caste.
- Caste data will enable independent research not only into the question of who does and does not need affirmative action but also into the effectiveness of this measure.
- A caste census, which will generate exhaustive data will allow policymakers to develop better policies, implementation strategies, and will also enable a more rational debate on sensitive issues.
- The Justice Rohini committee was appointed in 2017 to look into the sub-categorisation of the OBC communities; however, in the absence of data, there can be no data-bank or any proper sub-categorisation.
- All commissions have had to rely on data from the last caste census (1931). There has been substantive demographic changes since then and therefore, the data has to be updated.
- India needs to be bold and decisive in tackling caste questions through data and statistics in the way US does to tackle race issues, by collecting data around race, class, language, inter-race marriages, among other metrics.
- Impartial data and subsequent research might save the bona fide attempts of the uplift of the most backward classes from the shadow of caste and class politics.
It is not reservation that creates the current divide in our society but the misuse or the perceived misuse of reservation.
Connecting the dots: