Counting Caste: A Step towards Radical Anticasteism
The demand for a caste census has stirred a debate again with many vehemently opposing it and calling it antithetical to anticasteism. On the other hand, proponents of the caste census argue that it is a necessary step towards addressing caste. This paper argues that the discomfort with counting caste has its roots in the invisibilisation and erasure of caste in mainstream discourses in the colonial and postcolonial period. While the Gandhian discourse opposed the separate claims of the Depressed Class, arguing that they cannot be considered distinct from the Hindu order, the Nehruvian discourse used the language of liberal individualism in the constituent assembly to deny any articulation of group rights based on caste. The women’s movement and the feminist discourse also did not take caste as an important category, focusing on the singular axis of gender. The Hindutva discourse invokes the figure of ‘Muslim other’ as the external enemy to consolidate a ‘Hindu unity’ to prevent articulation and assertion of ‘lower’ castes. Only the Ambedkarite discourse acknowledges the central role of caste and seeks to address it through remedies without a naïve erasure of caste. In the current context, it is vital to draw from the radical anticasteism of the Ambedkarite discourse and seek the counting of caste in the census. Using this lens, this paper critically analyses the mainstream discourses and finds the naïve erasure of caste and the hollow rhetoric of anticasteism helps perpetuate caste-based inequalities. The final section of the paper argues that a caste census is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to address the question of caste. The caste census would provide the premise upon which a new modern public sphere can be built where the vocabulary of caste is given due importance. It would also aid the development of a ‘socially embedded’ understanding of the economy and, thereby, socially informed policies. The caste census would also provide the anticaste Ambedkarite discourse with the much-needed data to bring out the effect of caste in the material sphere and include the aspects of both representation and redistribution.