WB activists and CSOs demand delinking of Census from NPR-NRC process

Individuals and groups in the north-east call for a focus on caste break-up rather than NPR-NRC process in the upcoming census


As many as 16 activists and Civil Society Organisations based out of West Bengal have written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging them to delink Census 2021 from the process to update the National Population Register (NPR) and initiate a full caste enumeration in the forthcoming census. The activists, academics and representatives of mass organisations are all working to generate greater understanding of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the NPR, so that people can understand how they are being misused by a divisive regime.

The letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee argued that the NPR-NRC process under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003 and the Citizenship Rules, 2003 are still under legal challenge.

“We urge you to delink the controversial NPR exercise from the Census, which have very divergent objectives. Rather, the Census should include the caste census, for the reasons we have cited below for your kind consideration,” said the letter signed by Swaraj Abhiyan leader Avik Saha.

Further, the letter demanded that a Bahujan Commission be set-up in West Bengal to conduct a comprehensive socio-economic survey among all socially deprived sections of society and recommend measures for their advancement. Signatories pointed out that Maharashtra and Odisha governments specifically requested a caste census. However, the Centre asserted its intention to not enumerate caste-wise populations other than Scheduled Castes and Tribes “as a matter of policy” during Lok Sabha sessions.

While a full caste enumeration has not been undertaken since the 1931 Census, numerous government policies, including major benefit schemes, are implemented on the basis of claimed population share of caste groups. No one knows the actual population size of any caste except for SCs and STs.

“The 1931 Census figures are often used as an indicator of the current population distribution among castes. This is surely a huge mistake, because with partition as well as massive internal migration, the demographic history of India has undergone tremendous changes in the last ninety years,” said the letter.

Regarding caste data, the Union Home Ministry said on August 8 that the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has raw caste data but has no plan to release the same. This withholding of data disallows scientific analysis of the socio-economic impact of OBC reservations and other affirmative action, said the signatories. Additionally, they argued that a designed caste census will allow the National Commission for Backward Classes – involved in the evaluation and planning process of socio-economic development of socially and educationally backward classes – to fulfil its mandate.

A case for caste census

Following Indian independence, the Government of India felt caste census would strengthen caste divisions and the caste system. However, discriminatory and exclusionary practices continued even without such surveys.

In 1980, the Backward Classes Commission headed by Shri B.P. Mandal had to rely on the 1931 Census for the latest caste break-up of the national population. Their report noted, “Caste is also a class of citizens and if the caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward, reservation can be made in favour of such a caste on the ground that it is a socially and educationally backward class of citizens within the meaning of Article 15(4).”

Under Article 15(4), “socially and educationally backward classes of citizens” are explicitly recognised as a category distinct from SCs and STs. It also allows states to make special provisions for their advancement.

“Four decades after the Mandal Commission report, with a constitutionally recognised NCBC in place, it is about time that this anomaly is done away with,” said the signatories.

Members said that accurately counting caste numbers of the entire population and measuring their socio-economic status will go a long way in helping policymakers better understand social realities, and provide relief to the worst affected.


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