[Editorial] The importance of caste data

What the editorial is about?

The need for a reservation to be provided based on credible data collection exercise.

Context

Last month, 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 and 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 recent judgement of SC and the various dimensions of reservation

  • The recent judgment of SC highlighted how to open competitive exams give the illusion of providing equal opportunity in ignorance of the widespread inequalities in educational facilities, the freedom to pursue such education, and societal prejudices.
  • The Court pointed out how such disparities are not limited to the issue of access to good education or financial constraints alone, but also to the psychological and social effects of inherited cultural capital (communication skills, books, accent, academic accomplishments, social networks, etc.), which ensures the unconscious training of upper-caste children for high-grade performance.
  • The Constituent Assembly held a similar philosophy while introducing constitutional provisions which enable the government to make special provisions for the uplift of the “lower castes”.

The need for a justifiable data

Lack of credible data collection and politicization of the issue

  • Political parties often promise reservation for communities on being brought to power without any credible data collection exercises to justify the decision.
  • It can be said that the faith of our citizens cannot be restored until credible exercises of data collection are undertaken regarding caste.

Need of a proper assessment

  • 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.
  • It held that such a conclusion must be subject to periodic review by a permanent body of experts.

Data on OBC

  • Even though data concerning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been included in the Census, there is no similar data on OBCs.

The National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993

  • The National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993, provides under Section 11 that the Central government may every 10 years revise lists with a view to excluding those classes which have ceased to be backward and include new backward classes. This exercise has not been done to date.

Calls for caste data in 2021 Census

  • Last year, many calls were made for the inclusion of caste data (including that of the OBCs) in the 2021 Census, and the matter reached the Supreme Court. However, the government took the stand that the 2011 SECC was “flawed” and is “not usable”.

Importance of Impartial data and subsequent research

  • 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 to people on both sides of the spectrum – for and against reservation.

Way Forward

  • Caste data will enable independent research not only into the question of who does and does not need affirmative action but also into the effectiveness of this measure.

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