India to Conduct Caste Census

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After weeks of fierce political debate, India’s cabinet has officially approved the first caste-based census since 1931 which will likely lead to better implementation of affirmative action policies and will almost certainly define how politicians campaign for votes in the future.

At a projected cost of between US$645 and US$860 million, the nation-wide survey will attempt to record the names, addresses, and castes of India’s nearly 1.2 billion citizens over a four month period next summer.

“After considering various options, based on the responses of various political parties a separate house to house enumeration of caste will be done from June 2011 to September 2011,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a statement. “This satisfies all the various requirements that have been projected and discussed and debated extensively.”

While discrimination based on caste – a system of social stratification where citizens are defined by hereditary groups – is forbidden in India, it continues to play a role in many aspects of Indian society, such as marriage and politics. This is especially true in the country’s rural areas.

Answering questions regarding caste will be optional in the census, but critics argue that India should instead be taking steps to fully rid the nation of system that encourages social hierarchy and breeds inequality. They believe that including caste-based questions in the census will confirm for many Indian citizens that which class you belong to still bears weight and has some value in today’s India.

“The caste census will disturb the peace and progress in India’s villages where people were slowly coming out of the caste prison and over 70 percent of India’s youth whose liberal minds will now get imprisoned in the petty caste issues,” said Bhakta Charan Das, a Congress party member from Orissa who claims to be a Dalit.

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