Caste Conundrum – Caste Census of OBCs in Maharashtra

The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission prepares for statewide census as Kunbis contest Maratha claims for OBC status.

(B.P.Mandal hands over Mandal Commission Report to President Giani Zail Singh)
In 1931 the Census data included enumeration of castes but since then such data is collected only for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Since the past several decades there has been a consistent demand that the OBC castes should be enumerated as part of the Census exercise. In 2011 the UPA-2 conducted a Socio-Economic Caste Census with the following three components:
  • Census in rural areas conducted by the Department of Rural Development (DoPR)
  • Census in urban areas under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA)
  • Caste census under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs: Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. (RGCCI)
In 2016 the DoPR and the MHUPA published reports regarding various socio-economic indicators in rural and urban areas barring the caste data.The SECC 2011 conducted by the (RGCCI) arrived at 46,73,034 categories of caste, sub-caste, synonyms, different surnames, gotras, etc. An Expert Group was announced headed by the NITI Aayog Vice-Chairperson Arvind Panagariya to consolidate and categorise the caste data. Further, in July 2015 the Government of India said that a total of 8,19,58,314 errors were found in caste particulars and were returned to the States for recification.6,73,81,119 errors were rectified and 1,45,77,195 errors remain to be rectified. Out of this the highest number of errors were reported in Maharashtra totaling to about 69.1 lakhs.Till date neither the raw data collected by the RGCCI nor any other form of consolidated data arrived at by the NITI Aayog has been made public leading to anger among OBC groups across the country.
The ruling Mahavikas Aghadi passed a resolution in the State Assembly demanding the release of SECC Caste Census data. Apart from the fact that the resolution is going to be ignored by the Central Government, it is quite obvious that unless the errors are removed the data would remain unusable for policy purposes. It would be far more effective to accept the demand by leaders of political parties and OBC organizations to include the caste census of OBCs as part of the Census 2021. In 1980 the Mandal Commission had put the OBC population of the country at 52% but error-free enumeration through Census can put conjectures to rest.
In Maharashtra the problems around caste census are compounded by the Maratha community’s assertion for inclusion into the OBC category. This demand by the politically and economically powerful community who have been at the forefront of Maharashtra politics over several centuries is controversial. The Maratha claim that their caste status is identical to that of the Kunbis is being hotly contested by the latter. The Kunbis who have high numbers in Vidarbha region feel that they would lose their rights if Marathas are accepted as Kunbis. Thus, OBC politics in Maharashtra revolves are the twin poles of OBCs trying to increase their own political capital while refuting the claims of the Marathas. Recent Supreme Court judgments have gone against the Maratha claims but the demand has been deferred and not disappeared.
The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission headed by Retd. Judge Anand Nirgude has declared its intention to conduct a state-wide caste census. This is a welcome decision as the data collected through such a census could form the basis of a comprehensive report on the social, economic and political situation of OBC castes and sub-castes in Maharashtra. The response of the Maratha community to such a caste census remains to be seen.
– Paromita Goswami