Andhra Pradesh becomes the second state after Bihar to take up the Caste Census.

What is the Caste Survey?

A caste census is a government population survey that records people’s caste or social group to study disparities, and government policy impact and address caste-based discrimination.

What is the Census?

  • Periodic population enumeration every 10 years, capturing demographics (age, sex, education, etc.). Vital for policy, research, and business decisions.


  • Caste Census supports targeted affirmative action, monitors discrimination, and enhances understanding of social realities.
  • Census covers broader demographics, is more frequent (every 10 years), and is widely accepted. 
  • Caste census is specific, historically less frequent, subject to debate, and data availability is limited.
  • Since the Census falls under the Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas data of SECC is open for use by the government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.
  • Socio-economic caste census (SECC) in India (2011) combines caste and socio-economic data. Some states conduct independent caste surveys, adding complexity to the overall debate.

Historical Background:

  • The first comprehensive caste census was conducted in 1871 under the leadership of Lord Risley.
  • The 1871 census categorized the Indian population into castes and communities for administrative purposes, a practice continued in subsequent censuses.
  • Last caste census took place in 1931, and the data was publicly disclosed by the British Government. 
  • This caste census became the basis for the implementation of Mandal Commission Reports and subsequent reservation policies by the government for Other Backward Classes.
  • 1951 Onwards: India’s First Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, ceased the inclusion of caste enumeration in national censuses to prevent potential disruptions to national unity and integration.
  • 1952: A comprehensive post-independence caste survey was conducted in Mysore State (now Karnataka), marking a singular instance of such enumeration.
  • 1980s-90s: Increasing demands for a caste census, especially from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), surfaced.
  • In the 2011 census, there were discussions about conducting a separate caste census, which ultimately did not occur.
  • Instead, the government collected socio-economic data through the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011.
  • Several states in India, including Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Assam, and Karnataka, are planning or conducting caste surveys.

Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 

  • It evaluates the socio-economic status of rural and urban households, enabling ranking based on predefined parameters.
  • Conducted by distinct authorities but coordinated by the Department of Rural Development in the Government of India. 

Key Findings:

  • Total Rural Households: 17.91 Crore.
  • Excluded Households: 39.39%, Automatically Included: 0.92%.
  • Households Considered for Deprivation: 10.69 Crore.
  • Deprivation Data: Includes categories such as housing, demographics, differently-abled, SC/ST households, and literacy.

Ministries involved in SECC

  • According to the web search results, the SECC 2011 was conducted by three separate authorities but under the overall coordination of the Department of Rural Development in the Government of India1. The three ministries involved in SECC were: 
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs, constituted a committee to coordinate the survey at the Central Government level. 
  • The Ministry of Rural Development conducted the census in rural areas and used the data for various programs such as MGNREGA, the National Food Security Act, and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana.
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), conducted the census in urban areas and used the data for planning and implementation of urban development schemes.
  • The data collected was handed over to the Ministry of Social Justice.

Government argument against publishing 2011 SEC caste data:

Data Quality Concerns:

  • No standardized caste list resulted in varied spellings, misinterpretations, and inflated caste categories.
  • Limited training led to potential misunderstandings and inaccuracies.
  • Different state caste lists added to inconsistencies.

Unsuitable for Policy Decisions:

  • Recorded 46 lakh castes, exceeding realistic estimates, making meaningful conclusions impossible.
  • Numerous castes with populations under 100 raise doubts about representativeness.
  • Flawed data could lead to unreliable policies and potential discrimination.

Privacy and Social Concerns:

  • Detailed caste data release may raise privacy concerns and risk discrimination.
  • Inaccurate or inflammatory data might worsen existing social tensions and caste divisions.

Administrative Challenges:

  • Processing and anonymizing the vast dataset pose complex, resource-intensive challenges.
  • Potential legal challenges regarding data privacy and enumeration validity.

Focus on Existing Data:

  • Government emphasizes reliance on existing data related to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and socio-economic surveys.
  • Openness to conducting more focused and rigorous caste surveys in the future to overcome SECC limitations

 Significance of the Caste Survey 

  • Informing Policy Decisions- The survey provides crucial data on the caste composition of the population, aiding policymakers in designing targeted policies for social and economic development.
  • Increasing OBC Quota- The survey results could lead to demands for expanding the OBC quota beyond the existing 27% and potentially creating sub-quotas for EBCs.
  • The Justice Rohini Commission, which has been studying OBC sub-categorization, submitted its report, but the recommendations are yet to be disclosed.
  • Redrawing Reservation Ceiling– It may prompt a reconsideration of the 50% reservation ceiling imposed by the Supreme Court, as the data could justify adjustments based on the population of different caste groups.
  • Socio-Economic Development– The survey helps in understanding the socio-economic status of different caste communities, guiding efforts to reduce disparities and promote inclusivity.
  • Constitutional Obligations- Under Article 340 of the Indian constitution the President can appoint a Commission to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes in India.
  • Realizing Sarvodaya- The Caste Census can aid in developing targeted strategies to combat widespread inequality, promote equity, and advance social justice in the long term.

Concerns Regarding Caste Census in India:

Reinforcement of Caste System:

  • Explicit identification and counting of castes may solidify caste identities, potentially reinforcing the caste system.
  • Increased social divisions and exacerbation of existing inequalities.

Complexity in Defining Castes:

  • Thousands of castes and sub-castes make accurate categorisation challenging.
  • Complexity may lead to confusion, inaccuracies, and disputes during data collection.

Potential for Social Divisions:

  • Caste census could heighten awareness of differences, leading to increased social tensions.
  • Particularly harmful to marginalised groups facing discrimination.

Misuse of Data:

  • Caste data may be misused for discrimination by individuals or powerful entities.
  • Political parties could exploit the data for their purposes.

Methodological and Logistical Challenges:

  • Conducting a comprehensive caste census is complex and expensive.
  • Training enumerators, ensuring accuracy, and protecting privacy are significant challenges.

Omission of Marginalized Groups:

  • Groups like Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians may be undercounted or miscategorized.
  • Further marginalization and distortion of the caste-based inequality picture.

External Oversight and Public Input:

  • To ensure accuracy and ethical use, external oversight and input from anti-caste organizations are crucial.
  • Prevent misuse and ensure data is used to address structural inequalities.

Government stands on caste census:

  • SECC-2011 Data Flaws: Lack of pre-census caste registry led to unreliable data, and ballooning castes, making it impractical for use.
  • Impractical Raw Data Release: The government refuses to release raw SECC-2011 data, citing flaws and misuse potential.
  • Administrative Challenges: Adding caste questions to the 2021 census was deemed impractical due to list disparities, enumerator training issues, and census disruptions.
  • The government asserts caste census is a policy, not a judicial, decision. Supreme Court acknowledges government discretion over census content.
  • Government contends existing data on Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and socio-economic surveys suffice for policy needs.

Way forward

  • Prioritizing caste-neutral development initiatives, irrespective of caste, promotes long-term social mobility and inclusivity. 
  • Fostering open dialogues about caste, involving civil society and marginalized communities, creates a platform for understanding and addressing deep-rooted issues.
  • Additionally, stringent enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is crucial to cultivating a more equitable and just society, combating caste-based prejudices and ensuring fairness for all.


The concerns surrounding a potential caste census in India are diverse and merit meticulous attention. Although the data could offer valuable insights into caste-based inequalities, addressing these concerns and implementing safeguards is paramount to prevent unintended consequences.

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