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Sociology 17

  • Date Submitted: 07/05/2010 08:06 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 41.4 
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Betraying a sense of caution, the Union cabinet has decided to set up a Group of Ministers to discuss how best to tackle the issue of enumerating caste in the ongoing census. On balance, the positives of undertaking a caste count do not outweigh the negatives. There are essentially two major problems in enumerating caste with the exercise itself and the thinking behind the process.

Given the fluid nature of caste as a social marker, trying to collect accurate data is unfeasible. The British faced precisely this problem when they attempted a caste census, leading to the abandonment of the exercise in 1931. When one combines this with the unenviable task of documenting castes among non-Hindus, the complexities become self-evident. The idea of undertaking a caste count essentially stems from the thinking that this would enable better delivery of the benefits of welfare schemes. This reinforces the belief that the reservation route is the only one that can lead to social empowerment. However, this is not necessarily true.

The problem with proliferating caste quotas is that they can be a zero-sum game, so that if some caste groups benefit others lose out. This was the factor behind widespread Gujjar riots which paralysed the state of Rajasthan two years back, leading to the deployment of the armed forces. Multiplying caste quotas could result in spreading social divisiveness, which the country can ill afford given a fragile security situation. Enacting holistic development policies that seek to address the aspirations of each and every community is a better alternative. In the long run, focusing on building capacities whether in terms of education, industries, infrastructure and jobs will yield us far greater economic benefits, apart from diluting caste as a major social denominator.

On the other hand, if one continues with the quota mentality and extends it to even the private sector as suggested by some quarters in the government it would hinder job...

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