Saturday, October 25, 2014

State’s caste census will be inquisitive about conversions

The proposed caste census has already made the dominant vote-banks of Lingayats and Vokkaligas restless, apprehensive as they are that it will lead to their fragmentation and thereby weakening them as a political force. Now, the census by the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission (KBCC), aggressively backed by chief minister Siddaramaiah, is set to rub the minorities too in the wrong way.

First, they will be asked whether they have ever been converted from one religion to the another at any point in time. Every citizen - whether Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist or any other minority community - will also be asked what the 'traditional occupation' of their ancestors was before the conversion. There will be multiple questions on these two issues to ensure the answer is elicited, one way or the other.
The census questions on conversion could turn into a weapon for the right-wingers of all religions, as proselytising and traditional occupations - like that of the barbers - are highly sensitive issues. So does a 'secular' government need these answers? The official stand is that the commission and the state government have taken a calculated risk to get actual numbers of each sub-caste and profession, so that sufficient funds in budgets and allocations can be given to each community. It does have a fatal flaw: Individuals can claim to have belonged to any caste retrospectively, but there will be no way of verifying it.
This survey will also not certify that an individual belongs to a certain caste or community.
The Lingayats and Vokkaligas fear that the real intent is to undermine their hegemony and instead catapult the Kurubas, which is the community Siddaramaiah belongs to, as the No.1 caste. This is because the census will ask the question: Is your caste known by any other name?"This is likely to fragment both the major communities, leaving the more people under the Kuruba name tag.
The Kurubas, as also many other OBCs, are evidently gung-ho, as they feel a re-enumeration would show their "actual" strength and garner more benefits for them. This is true of other backward castes also. For example, former CM, the late S Bangarappa, was of the opinion that if the hunter community, known under different names like Beda, Jeda or Valmiki, could be put together, they would form the single largest community in the state.
There is a column asking the sub-caste. So non-homogenous castes where different sub-castes occupy different traditional professions will show up, like the Kaadu Kurubas and Jenu Kurubas, who are forest gatherers rather than shepherds, the traditional profession of Kurubas. Sources say that a total of 1,077 castes will come under the census.
KBCC chairman H Kantharaj told Bangalore Mirror: "Muslims as a religious group are categorised in 2B. But some of them are also classified under 2A based on their traditional occupation. For example, Pinjaras and Chapparbands are caste groups based on professions. We are trying to get these numbers right."
Siddaramaiah had set aside a sum of Rs 21 crore as deputy CM in 2004-05 budget for the census, but it never took off. Now, his government has released Rs 117 crore for the purpose and nearly 1.25 lakh enumerators will do the survey across the state in November and December, a far cry from the simple day-long survey conducted by Telangana recently to identify inhabitants of their state.
Kantharaj said this would be the most exhaustive census ever. "It will also have columns for inter-caste marriages, for people who say they have no caste and also for those who identify themselves as the third gender," he said. Further, he added: "A single caste is known by several different names (like the hunter community cited above). So the question after asking the caste name is, whether it is known by another name."
The chairman said the CM has made it clear that the census should follow the Supreme Court guidelines. "This census will cover the social and educational data that shows the economic condition. Plus it will collect information of political backwardness of the people as well. Land ownership and even ownership of animals will be counted. Even data on why there are school dropouts and why there is a difference between rural and urban education will be collected."
He contended that this census was not just a job, but a noble mission. "The CM has said that it should be very meticulous. Every department of the government will benefit from this census."
Digitised data from this census should be available by April 2015, mid-way through the term of the present Congress government. Data collected would include occupation, income, expenditure, immovable assets, availability of drinking water facilities and so on.
S Japhet, director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, National Law School of India University, who was part of the expert committee which framed the questions, said, "The common perception is that castes and religions are homogenous. But it is not the case. Take the Jains for example. We tend to think all of them are rich people from Rajasthan or Gujarat. But in reality, the economic status of a Jain from Tumkur or Belgaum is no different from his neighbours from other castes." Japhet added that the enumerators need to be sensitive in asking questions.

POLITICAL CASTES UPSET The inclusion of the sub-caste has already upset many political castes who see it as an attempt to divide their unity. When the per cent of each sub-caste is revealed, it may lead to more fragmented caste politics, they feel. But Japhet said: "You cannot wish away these things in India. Even if you want to annihilate caste, you first need to recognise them as realities and deal with them with sincerity." Japhet said that the caste census will be a "major breakthrough in understanding the social structure," of Karnataka's society. Earlier, the state government had appointed commissions which did sample surveys and came up with percentage estimates for castes. However each of them from the Venkataswamy Commission, Havanur Commission and the Chinnappa Reddy commission were challenged by various caste groups. "These sample surveys have been challenged so many times and no one is ready to agree that any of them is proper," said Japhet.
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