President picks huge hole in census, he can't list his caste
NEW DELHI, FEBRUARY 15: India’s most elaborate headcount may throw up the most complicated lies about the country's sociological and demographic make-up because of inherent flaws in the enumeration methodology.
President K.R. Narayanan himself nearly fell to one such flaw when a team of officials led by Census Commissioner J.K. Banthia arrived at Rashtrapati Bhawan on February 9 to launch history's biggest enlistment drive. Within moments of commencing enumeration formalities, Narayanan realised that he could not correctly list his caste status in the form supplied him.
His caste found no mention in the list available with census officials and the First Citizen, consequently, faced the prospect of being counted minus his caste status in Independent India's first caste-based census. (The last caste-based census was held in 1930 by the British.)
Question 8 of the Census 2001 form enjoins upon respondents to name their SC community from a ``supplied list'' if they wish to be registered as SCs. The list President Narayanan was supplied, however, did not contain his community's name. Narayanan is a Scheduled Caste (SC) from the Paravan community in Kerala which is unlisted in SC lists in the Capital for the simple reason that Paravans, like many other SC communities in various parts of the country, have no recorded social history in or around Delhi.
Consequently, Narayanan is believed to have been told hesitantly by census officials that there was a ``slight problem'' about enlisting India's first Scheduled Caste President as a Scheduled Caste in census records.
The President, of course, was forthright about asserting his rights as a citizen and said he was registered in his home state as a Scheduled Caste Paravan and, therefore, could not let the key column in his enumeration form go empty. Sources said the President was none too happy about the ``lapse''. But Narayanan's concerns about the enumeration process, Census Office sources said, were larger than just his own case. ``The President's example has created a very real apprehension that thousands of people may not be able to register their correct caste status just because they happen to be living in a state that does not recognise their community as part of SCs,'' a senior census official said, adding, ``Quite apart from his own case, President Narayanan appears worried about the larger implications of insufficient methods. He appeared disturbed about the possibility of the current enumeration process ending up offering grossly erroneous data about caste categories and their location.''
Given his track record of raising issues of larger public importance -- sometimes even at the cost of being seen as too pro-active -- it is quite likely that President Narayanan will share his concerns on the current census operation with the Vajpayee government and suggest corrective measures.
One way, Census Office sources said, of finding a way around the problem with identifying SCs is that enumerators should carry comprehensive all-India lists of communities rather than localised lists prepared by state governments currently in use. Such a list is available with the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) which conducts recruitment examinations with special reservation for SCs and STs on an all-India basis.
In the ``Peoples of India'' report of the Anthoropological Survey of India, probably the most comprehensive study of the country's sociological structure, there are 751 Scheduled Caste communities in India spread over all states other than Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Among the states that have the highest number of SC communities are Uttar Pradesh (88), Orissa (67), Madhya Pradesh (53) and West Bengal (49). The four major southern states together have 191 SC communities.
However, few of these are static communities. With political empowerment and social emancipation (access to education, in particular) mobility has been on the increase; there has been substantial, though unregistered and uncharted, migration of Scheduled Castes away from traditional roots. The Delhi region, for instance, might have many SCs from different parts of the country who may not be registered here. To use an example, the Nonias, an SC community peculiar to Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh, have migrated to urban centres like Delhi in large numbers in search of employment but are not listed. All these could now face the possibility of their caste identities being thrown int? search of employment but are not listed.