The Union Home Ministry has said that the best time to go for a caste-based headcount, if there is a decision to that effect, would be after tabulation of Census figures and during the biometric capture phase when photographing, fingerprinting and iris mapping of citizens for the National Population Register (NPR) is done.
The ministry has given its view in an amended note that will be put up for discussion before the Cabinet on Wednesday. The ministry had vehemently opposed caste-based census in an earlier note. The new note also reflects the realisation, in the backdrop of the recent debate in Parliament on the issue, that there is a wider political constituency favouring it.
At his press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that a decision on caste census would be taken by the Cabinet after taking note of the opinion expressed during the Parliament debate.
The note for the Cabinet states that the caste data collected will be anonymised, i.e. anonymity will be preserved like in the case of AIDS screenings. It has, though, suggested that this job be entrusted to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs or be examined by an expert group. The reason, it says, is neither the Census Commission of India (CCI) nor the Office of the Registrar General (ORG) has the expertise to classify caste returns in such manner.
The MHA note poses two questions for the perusal of Cabinet ministers. One, whether the policy decision of not collecting and publishing data on castes other than SC and ST should be reversed and a question on caste be included in the questionnaire for Census 2011 to be conducted from February 9 to 28. And two, whether the question on caste should be taken up when biometrics — photographing, iris mapping and fingerprinting — is done.
“On balance, if a decision is to canvass question of caste, the best time to do so is during the biometric capture phase of National Population Register as headcount will be completed by then,” the note says. Since everyone who is above 15 years will have to be present at the camps where the biometrics will be taken, taking their caste details would be easier, it says. Details of all those below the age of 15 could be taken from the head of the household.
Although the government is yet to announce a schedule for collection of biometric data, it is obvious from the note that the exercise will be done only after completion of Census 2011.
Listing the advantages and disadvantages on having a caste census, the note says that such an exercise will make available socio-economic, demographic and cultural profile of citizens. The complexities, however, are that there are two OBC lists — one of the state and of the Centre. Seven states, including Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, it points out, do not have OBC lists.
There would be difficulty in establishing status of migrants belonging to OBCs who move from state to state and enumerators could face further problems in complex entries like Dhobis in Delhi, Kohli in Maharashtra and Patwa in Uttar Pradesh, who are part of both OBC as well as SC lists.
The note poses queries on how Muslims and Christians, who did not believe in the caste system, would be tabulated. It further says that many people use caste, clan and gotra names interchangeably and putting them together would be a tall order.