Caste-based Census Approved in India

Many of us have encountered certain door-to-door visitors this summer.  It starts with an early morning knock at the door, followed by brief questions from a man or women toting a clipboard.  A quick run-down over the basic census questionnaire- number of people living in a household, age, gender, race–no problem!  And we’re finished until the next decade.

For India though, it’s too-be conducted census, recently approved by the cabinet will include questions on more than just name and address. Individuals will be asked which caste, a role determined at birth which fixes a person’s social standing for life, they belong to.  It’s been 80 years since India’s estimated population of over 1.2 billion’s caste placement has been recorded.

This story quickly reminds me of a trip to India a few years ago where I encountered a village that belonged to the “untouchable” caste. More than 160 million people in India belong to this caste—which deems them impure and less than human. These individuals are not allowed to enter the same temples, drink from the same wells or even wear shoes in the presence of higher caste members. They are found working only the lowest jobs, many times dealing with open sewer systems and are sanctioned to live in only certain areas of the city.

Although answering questions about caste will be optional, supporter of the census believe it will give much needed information in regards to which individuals, such as the “untouchables” that are most in need of government assistance.  Critics of it say it is open to fraud.

by Wendy Wohlfeill

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