Should Caste be Counted in the Census? Discussions From A Decade Ago

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


A year before India’s most recent national census of 2011, public debates ensued about whether caste should be enumerated, and if yes, how.

An EPW editorial from May 2010 gives reasons for why caste should be enumerated in the census, arguing that it has the “potential to be the beginning of the end of caste.” The editorial asserts that because caste is a reason for discrimination and inequality in India, its impact should be monitored through a comprehensive enumeration of all castes.

Mary E John and Satish Deshpande revisit the common arguments in the caste census debate. They conclude that by not including caste in the census, India would be harming its ambition of annihilating caste. 

Sonalde Desai argues that the EPW editorial does not consider the complexities of caste. Desai writes that in order to be ready for the census of 2021, focus should be placed on planning a system to enumerate caste.

The complexities of collecting data on caste are also highlighted by R B Bhagat, who points out that John, Deshpande and Desai do not consider the impact of linguistic differences, migration and inter-caste marriages on the enumeration of caste.

Responding to the editorial and John and Deshpande’s article, V K Natraj questions the purpose of determining the number of citizens from the backward classes. Given that the state is no longer the leading employer in the country, Natraj doubts if enumerating caste would help formulate government policy. 

The argument that counting caste will improve policy is also contested by Ratna M Sudarshan. Sudarshan argues that numbers from local levels, not a national census, would help administrators work out more effective strategies.

An EPW editorial follows up on the United Progressive Alliance’s decision of counting caste. Suggesting a list of tasks that must be done before, during and after enumeration, it argues that any delay in the process would favour the opponents of caste enumeration.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Linking Indian Census with National Sample Survey, Mamta Murthi et al, 2001
  2. Workers in Census 2001, N K Sharma and Sanjay Kumare, 2002
  3. Caste Census and Constitutional Justice, Upendra Baxi, 2010
  4. Census in Colonial India and the Birth of Caste, Padmanabh Samarendra, 2011
  5. Socio Economic Caste Census, N C Saxena, 2015


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Caste and Census.”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []


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