As the 2011 Census approached, demands for inclusion of data on caste in Census reached a crescendo. P. Chidambaram, the Union Home Minister at the time, was opposed to collecting caste data and blocked it by claiming that it was logistically impossible for the Census, but caste information could be collected via the planned Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census, later renamed the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC).

Hasty inclusion of the caste question in the SECC has resulted in largely unusable data. The government tasked former NITI Aayog chairman Arvind Panagariya to look into this, but the effort has stalled.

Consequently, if we want information regarding the size and characteristics of various castes in India, we must continue to look to the Census of 1931. It is hard to imagine that the 2021 Census will not face another slew of demands for collection of caste data.

It also seems likely that once again we will be unprepared for a full caste census. If we really want to collect data on caste in India and not let the discourse about Indian society be shaped by the political exigencies of colonial India, the time to plan is now.

G.S. Ghurye, the early 20th century pioneer of Indian sociology, reacted sharply by identifying this passion for classification as the source of anti-Brahmin movements. Read more from…

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