When the current population census in India for 2011 got underway, I was really sad that it did not include information on caste. India has been recording the data on SC/STs but not on OBCs. The last census on OBCs was done in 1931 by the British.
Indians have tumultuous relationship with caste. While caste continues to dominate one’s life, decide one’s food habits, select one’s spouse, and determine one’s access to education and opportunity, the elite and modern Indians do not like to discuss about it. Though it is a dominant identity, sometimes more dominant than religion or sex, that determines the fate of an individual in nearly 75% of India, most of us living in cities like to believe that caste is a shameful identity of the archaic past.
In reality, one cannot escape caste so easily even in cities. Though there are Tamils, Telugus and Malayalee in my apartment complex, close family relationships are maintained along casteist lines. So how did these people discover other’s caste? They do so by many means, by one’s food habits, one’s last names, and sometimes through the maids who seem to be the conduit for such information disclosing the caste of other families to the curious minds.
While we are quite OK to gather official information on language, religion, and sex, why are we reluctant to gather information on caste, especially when the socio-economic status of an individual has such strong correlation with one’s caste, more so than with any other identity? When caste is such an important identity why shy away from collecting scientific data on castes in India?