India in Uproar over Decision to Include Caste in National Census

The Independent (London, England), May 14, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

India in Uproar over Decision to Include Caste in National Census


Critics say traditional distinctions of class have no place in a would-be global power

For the first time since the days of the British Raj, officials in India are to ask people their caste as part of the national census, the biggest of its kind in the world. It is a move that has triggered intense controversy about a painful, vexing subject that the country cannot leave behind.

Having initially chosen not to include caste, the Indian government apparently gave in to demands from opposition parties and decided that, for the first time since 1931, census officials would ask respondents to say what traditional Hindu grouping they belong to.

The decision has sparked fierce debate. Defenders of the move say it will provide up-to-date information about the size and needs of various groups that will be vital for providing grants and reserved jobs and college places for those at the bottom of the caste ladder.

Others are equally adamant that caste should have no place in a country seeking to throw off the shackles of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy and looking to assume a position as a leading world power.

Among those who have strongly criticised the decision is Amitabh Bachchan, the near-legendary Bollywood actor considered the elder statesman of Hindi movies.

Writing on his blog, Mr Bachchan said that when census officials arrived at his house in Mumbai, he told them that his caste was "Indian".

"My father never believed in caste and neither do any of us," he added. "He married a Sikh, I married a Bengali, my brother a Sindhi, my daughter a Punjabi, my son a Mangalorean... in his autobiography he had [said] future generations of his family should marry into different parts of the country."

In traditional Hinduism there were four main castes and hundreds of sub-groups. In addition there were the "untouchables", who were considered to have no place in society and who are now more usually called Dalits.

For centuries, what job a person did, where they lived, what food they ate and where they were cremated depended largely on their caste. One of those who sought to reform the system was the independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who, along with social campaigners such as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, argued that caste had no place.

As India has developed, and as more people have moved to the cities, the rigid caste restrictions have loosened slightly. Yet although discrimination on the basis of caste is banned by the constitution, for hundreds of millions of people caste remains a defining, and often debilitating, label. Even now, English-language weekend papers carry pages of adverts for arranged marriages, all categorised under various castes. And a number of online sites cater exclusively to one caste.

Caste also remains hugely important in the world of business and finance. A recent study by the Indian economist Sukhdeo Thorat and Princeton University sociologist Katherine Newman found that having a low-caste surname significantly cut the chances of winning a job interview.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

India in Uproar over Decision to Include Caste in National Census
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?