The die is caste in 21st century Silicon Halli

SUGGI RAJ writes from Bangalore: Should a society that is already deeply divided by region, religion, language, and heaven knows what else be further divided on the basis of caste? And should the “State” that should cement ties between people be seen to be holding the scimitar?

If all goes as planned by the coalition government of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka, one of the 60,000 school teachers in the State will knock on your door during the Dasara holidays this year—and ask you point-blank the caste you belong to.

It’s called the Caste Census. And in the 60th year of independence from the colonisers, a colonial era practice is being sought to be revived in the State, 70 years after it was firmly and formally abandoned by the British, in the name of “internal reservation”.

On the outside, the objective of the Caste Census may appear reasonable: specificially, to identify the truly deserving who despite decades of reservation have been unable to enjoy its fruits and, generally, to help the government in planning.

Deep down, though, the prospects are much less attractive and downright dangerous.

Because the information that the Caste Census will generate will not just be available for the government of the day for so-called “planning purposes” but it will also come in handy for the roadside pudhari and his factotums for unplanned purposes over years and decades to come.

In other words, in the 21st century, the “Silicon Halli” of the country is about to open a facility for the power-hungry; a kind of neighbourhood ATM for men in and out of power to check their vote-bank balance.

The government is contemplating to get the data of each and every caste, sub-caste, sect and sub-sect to take a decision on internal reservation. Taking a decision based on a scientific study is welcome, of course, but in this case the government is playing around with a double-edged sword.

Moreover, the Caste Census subverts the very spirit of the preamble, as well as fundamental rights and directive principles of the Constitution. Every government is under moral obligation to respect and protect the right of privacy of every individual unless the “national interest” is involved in it.

It’s possible to find small traces of the national interest with some effort behind the move. But at what cost?

Even in the absence of State-certified figures, most times power politics is fought on caste lines. If such a survey is conducted, the outcome will only fan the simmering embers. There is every reason to fear that permanent battle lines would be drawn and that the census could push an already-caste ridden society to the brink of caste conflictThe caste based census was the brainchild of British. It was given up in 1938 considering its ill-effects. In post-independence era, the then home minister Vallabhbhai Patel and his successors strongly opposed the idea of conducting caste based census on the ground that it would further divide the society and come in the way of national integration.

One can only hope and pray that a day won’t come when we will not be compelled to spell out our sects along with their gotras and bedagus to get a driver’s license.