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The politics of Indian census data September 24, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Indian governments spend enormous resources to collect data — including 12 billion and 22 billion rupees on decennial censuses in 2001 and 2011, respectively. Yet they appear reluctant to release it. The latest decennial census data on religion, for example, which were released on 25 August 2015, were collected almost half a decade ago in 2011.

During the past 15 years, governments of both national parties have on more than one occasion deferred to political expediency on the question of releasing demographic data disaggregated by communities. In the process governments have contributed to the politicisation of statistics. The troubled past of the census data on religion reveals systemic problems insofar as the statistical wing of the government is insufficiently insulated from politics. (more…)

The caste of the Modi effect May 30, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Before this year’s parliamentary election, it was a truism that the national parties of India were led by English/Hindi-speaking upper castes. Even Chaudhary Charan Singh, the Jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh who was the prime minister during 1979-80, did not lead a national party in a parliamentary election. The other side of the glass ceiling erected by the upper castes spawned regional caste-based parties, whose founders saw no future for themselves and their communities within the national parties. Narendra Modi has broken the glass ceiling and joined the national leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hitherto a bastion of upper castes. Unlike Bangaru Laxman, a Dalit leader from Andhra Pradesh who served as the BJP president during 2000-01, Modi is not a convenient façade for a party otherwise dominated by upper castes. Equally importantly, unlike his prime ministerial predecessors who with the exception of Deve Gowda were primarily based in Delhi, he spent most of his political career in a medium-sized non-Hindi speaking province. His spectacular rise needs to be examined from the perspective of how it reworked caste equations within his party and how caste played a subtle role in his successful campaign.

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Aarakshan’s Deepak Kumar: A new beginning? September 9, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan (Reservation), which faced bans in three provinces and political censorship in a number of others, has been rightly slammed as bad art: a tame, predictable script made worse by bad direction. The movie opens with the failure of Deepak Kumar (played by Saif Ali Khan), a bright student and college Principal Dr Prabhakar Anand’s (played by Amitabh Bachchan) favourite, to get a job because of his lower caste-class background. This and other developments following the Supreme Court’s judgment favouring affirmative action lead Deepak Kumar and Dr Anand to question the historical injustice meted out to the lower castes. They also give a sympathetic hearing to those who allege that affirmative action policies are being misused and hurting the poor among the upper castes. That is roughly the first half of the movie. In the second half, which seems to be another movie, Dr Anand and Deepak Kumar forget history and focus on the present and try to provide free access to good education in face of rampant commercialisation of education, personified by the character of Mithilesh Singh (a highly corrupt, upper caste teacher, played by Manoj Bajpai in his inimitable style). In short, the movie simply catalogues legitimate grievances of all parties to the conflict and then conveniently forgets the conflict.

But the rate at which Aarakshan attracted controversies is only surpassed by the rate at which it was forgotten. This is surprising because it is not only the first mainstream Hindi movie that has explored the contentious issue of affirmative action but also one of the very few movies in which (one of) the hero(es) is a confident educated Dalit. In the midst of the controversies most of us have forgotten the new ground broken by Aarakshan’s Deepak Kumar. And Bachchan, who played the role of Dr Anand, partly modelled after the founder of Patna’s Super-30 that has successfully groomed hundreds of poor students for leading engineering colleges of India, has stolen the limelight. But the role played by Saif Ali Khan was at the centre of controversies and demands for censorship. The primary objection of those demanding bans or edits concerned the scene where Mithlesh Singh taunts Deepak Kumar about the unwillingness of the lower castes to work hard. The latter responds by cataloguing the large variety of manual works his community has been doing for the upper castes for ages. Deepak Kumar’s catalogue, which includes manual scavenging, has drawn the ire of protestors and governments sympathetic to them. Ironically, governments that have not made any serious effort to end manual scavenging were eager to ban the movie. A secondary objection, based on a questionable assumption linking caste and skin complexion, relates to the choice of a fair-skinned, upper caste-class actor for the role of Deepak Kumar.

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Caste in modern India June 29, 2011

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

The idea that nation states possess a ‘strategic culture’ that directs their actions on the world stage was once popular.  George Tanham of Rand Corporation claimed that India’s international outlook was shaped by the hierarchical attitude deriving from caste and from the then brahmin domination of key institutions.  (Indian Strategic Thought: An Interpretative Essay, Rand, 1992).

Even today, it is common to associate India’s ‘culture of corruption’ with the sense of entitlement produced by familial and caste loyalties – loyalties that are said to trump objective service to the state of the Weberian kind. The watchdogs of the state intended to deal with such abuses are allegedly also beholden to the hierarchical structure of society and hence reluctant to bring high status offenders to book.  (See for example, B. R. Lall, a former Joint Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, in his book: Who Owns CBI?)

For many years now lower caste workers have migrated from rural areas to factories and workshops in India’s cities like Mumbai

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Census and caste: debating caste enumeration in Census 2011 June 11, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, India , comments closed

Kamala Kanta Dash

The Indian census is a decennial exercise started by the British colonial power in 1872.  It has been religiously followed ever since. The 2011 census, the 15th since the first and the 7th after independence, is touted to be the biggest ever in the history of mankind. This mammoth exercise will cover all 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and more than six hundred thousand villages of the country. More than 2 million primary teachers have been trained to act as enumerators for this census. It  would count more than 1.2 billion people on their socio-economic characteristics including gender, religion, occupation and education. The debate about whether to include ‘caste’ in the 2011 census or not has divided the political and academic spectrum alike.

Collection of caste-based data was stopped after 1931 and independent India has been reluctant to collect such data, except in the case of  people in ‘Scheduled Caste’ (popularly known as Dalits) and ‘Scheduled Tribe’ (popularly known as Adiwasis) categories. However, the debate over the caste census has not ended. The search for a model is on. The incumbent government is a divided house, as also is the opposition party, the BJP. In the cabinet, P Chidambaram and Anand Sharma have shown their disagreements and reservations on the possibility of carrying out the caste enumeration, while other cabinet ministers like Jaipal Reddy, Veerappa Moily, Farooq Abdullah and A. Raja, have talked about the need to do so.  Those who oppose the caste census claim that the census is not an “ideal instrument” for a caste survey and favour the idea that another appropriate body, such as the Backward Commission, being entrusted with this responsibility. This argument can be seen in the pattern of political responses of the incumbent government, when they cite one reason or the other for not conducting the caste enumeration. (more…)