Recently in Bihar, there was a political unanimity for having a caste-based census to enable them to distinctively know the number of castes & sub-castes for the development of each section of the society. The narrative for a “National Caste Census” has yet again come to the forefront because of this decision. The last caste census was held in 1931 and thereafter the successive central governments rejected the idea of having a census for counting and demarcating people based on their castes. This blog will focus on the recent development in the state of Bihar and how throughout history there is a debate over having and not having a caste census in the country.
A recent update in the State of Bihar
On June 1, 2022, an all-party meeting was held by the Bihar Chief Minister Mr Nitish Kumar and it was decided that Bihar Government will conduct a caste-based “count” and not a “caste census” to avoid any legal complicationsand allocated Rs. 500 crore for it. With different use of words it doesn’t create any difference as such and the Bihar Government has justified itself for doing the caste-based count by referring to a similar exercise conducted by the states like, Karnataka, Odisha and Telangana with the name “socio-economic surveys”.
BJP has not supported a caste-based census nationally last year when the Bihar CM had put a proposal for the same however in the state of Bihar, the BJP has supported Bihar Chief Minister for a caste-based count. BJP is part of the Bihar Government and is an ally of Janata Dal (United) and has made sure that a great level of vigil has to be maintained when the count will begin for “Rohingyas, illegal Bangladeshi Residents and Muslims who falsely claim OBC benefits.” However, the different stand taken at the Centre according to a Bihar spokesperson is because of their agenda of having a cultural nationalism and for not unnecessarily giving a reason to the opposition for raising the issue of reservation yet again. 
The debate: for and against and the reasons for it
The most important reason for a caste-based census in the country or any of the states is because there is the large number of benefits that are provided to a certain class of people and not just through schemes created by the Government like PM Awas Yojana, PM Ujjawala Yojana, Jan Dhan Accounts, PM Kisan Nidhi Yojana, Mudra Loans, PM Jeevan Suraksha Yojana, Ayushman etc. but also our constitution acknowledges the discrimination based on caste under Article 15 and provides for reservation in employment under Article 16 and reservation in education to address social exclusion. And through this caste-based count, the government could have a legitimate data source for helping the communities. The last census named “socio-economic and caste census 2011” was published in 2015. However, it had some discrepancies and thus the enumeration has to be done again to get an accurate count of each caste and sub-castes so that the rightful demands for the resources can be provided to the society with greater fairness and accuracy.
One of the reasons for the Centre to not implement or have a caste count nationally is because of the various benefit schemes (listed above) already implemented and people belonging to different social groups who are benefiting and have benefitted out from it. And thus they have already reached various social groups through these schemes. It is often termed the “Labharthi Factor”. However, diving into the political intentions is not the scope of this blog post. The argument for having a caste count is to get clearer data about the castes in Bihar so that suitably the policies can be implemented without relying on the outdated enumeration.
The last caste census was held in 1931 and after that, the enumeration of only Scheduled castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) was taken irrespective of other castes and subcastes every ten years. The reason was to prevent the resurgence of more than 4,000 castes and sub-castes and to prevent the demolition of the secular and democratic foundation of independent India. A large resentment towards this 1931 census was that it was from the perspective of Britishers and their understanding of the castes was according to the varna system and from the help of local scholars of Hindu scriptures. Thus their view was distorted. However in the 1980s after the Mandal commission recommended a reservation of 27% to the OBCs (Other Backward Classes) it became a need to identify the OBCs apart from SCs and STs and for this again 1931 census was put to use. The requirement of caste data becomes crucial whenever there is a demand for reservation by any section of society, especially when within the OBCs there are some advanced castes who have benefited a lot from the reservation and there needs to have new data to categorize the castes to rectify the imbalance that is created.
Confusion in the society
In 2011 when the Government conducted a socio-economic and caste census, only the socio-economic data was released also in the year 2015 but even until now the caste census data of 2011 has not yet been released. The reason for just having the data for SCs and STs is to eliminate the caste system to eradicate the social oppression suffered by many throughout history and to reduce the caste tensions. But the other side of the coin is that we cannot just observe silence over the presence of the castes in society when many castes get benefits out of the Government welfare schemes. This leads to a sense of confusion in society regarding having or not having a caste count.
The reason should not only be driven by political motives i.e. to garner votes by giving benefits to certain castes and thus forming a vote bank but also that if a caste census is done today it will be almost after a decade so the number of castes would have increased manifold so how it would impact the reservation issue and how in the Indra Sawney judgment where a cap was made on the percentage of reservation, it would fluster the entire judgment. This is because if there are more castes enumerated in the data collection then there will be demand for the enlargement of the reservation quota. Thus the wider debate over enlarging the OBC reservation has been seen especially in recent times in the states of Rajasthan as the Gujjar movement, Maratha reservation movement in Maharashtra and Patidar movement in Gujarat.
The issue of caste census is a very debatable topic especially when it gets politically coloured. And thus if the caste census happens in Bihar it would give a new perspective to it. There are certain arguments that if every state conducts its caste count or caste census there will be no need to have a national caste census which is considered to be a very tedious job. Therefore it is only with time that how the narratives will be formed will answer the apprehensions that the society has, in the backdrop of a larger picture of “no discrimination” and “inclusion of all sections of society”.
Author(s) Name: Vaibhvee Jangid (Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur)
 The Wire Staff, “Caste ‘Count’, Not ‘Census’, in Bihar to Avoid Legal Complications: Nitish Kumar” (The Wire, 1 June 2022)
Santosh Singh, “Bihar BJP set riders before nod to caste census: Guard against Rohingya, Bangladeshis, fake OBC identity” (The Indian Express, 3 June 2022) <https://indianexpress.com/article/political-pulse/bihar-bjp-set-riders-before-nod-to-caste-census-7951034/ > accessed 20 June 2022
Amitabh Tiwari, “BJP banks on Labharthi factor in UP but past losses show it has its limits” (India Today, 17 February 2022) <https://www.indiatoday.in/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly-polls-2022/story/bjp-banks-on-labharthi-factor-up-polls-1914260-2022-02-17 > accessed 20 June 2022
 Editor of The Indian Express, “Counting In” (The Indian Express) (3 June 2022) 14
 R B Bhagat, “Caste Census: Looking back, looking forward” (Economic and political weekly, 1 January 2007) <https://www.researchgate.net/profile/R-Bhagat/publication/262127079_Caste_Census_Looking_Back_Looking_Forward/links/54afb2050cf2b48e8ed68453/Caste-Census-Looking-Back-Looking-Forward.pdf > accessed 20 June 2022
 Yogesh Kumar,“Analysis of recent demand for caste census” (ResearchGate, 3 April 2022) <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359705304_ANALYSIS_OF_THE_RECENT_DEMAND_OF_CASTE_CENSUS > accessed 20 June 2022
 Indra Sawney & Ors vs Union of India & Ors, (1992) Supp (3) SCC 217
TOI Staff, “Explained: All you want to know about Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan” (The Times of India, 2 November 2020)
FP Staff, “Inspired by Gujarat’s Patidar movement, Marathas to resume agitation for reservation, ‘move on’ from silent marches” (FirstPost, 27 December 2017)