The Importance of Caste Data
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the All-India Quota seats for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test.
- The judgement reiterated that reservations for backward classes were not an exception but an extension of the principle of equality under Article 15(1) of the Constitution.
- The judgment highlighted how open competitive exams give the illusion of providing equal opportunity in ignorance of the widespread inequalities in educational facilities.
- The SC also pointed out that disparities are not limited to the issue of access to good education or financial constraints alone. It also extends to psychological and social development due to the inherited cultural capital of castes.
Need for a justifiable caste data:
Many believe that affirmative action’s increase caste differences and prevent a “casteless society”. But, “castelessness” is a privilege that only castes, which are developed, can afford. Because they have already translated caste-related benefits, into social, political, and economic capital.
- On the other hand, individuals who belong to the lower castes need to retain their caste identity in order to claim the benefits of measures such as reservation.
- Many times, political parties promise reservation for communities to get votes without any credible data collection exercises. For instance, Supreme Court struck down the reservation for the Maratha community.
- The data concerning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been included in the Census, but there is no similar data on OBCs. Hence, there is a need for credible exercise to retain the faith of citizens.
- The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011 has been called “faulty” and “unreliable”. The Mandal Commission’s recommendations were also criticised as being based merely on the “personal knowledge” of the members of the commission and sample surveys.
- In the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court held that the States must conclude the “backwardness” of a particular class of people only after proper assessment and objective evaluation. Hence, there should be a periodic review by a permanent body of experts.
- National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993, provides that the Central government should revise lists every 10 years to exclude those classes which have ceased to be backward and include new backward classes. Hence there is a need to collect new data.
- Caste data will enable independent research and ensure effectiveness.
Way forward: Impartial data and subsequent research might save the bona fide attempts of the uplift of the most backward classes from the shadow of caste and class politics and be informative for people on both sides of the spectrum – for and against reservation.
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