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Paper 101

Ac’count’ing Caste: A Step towards Radical Anticasteism

Mr Vivek Kumar Singh, PhD Scholar, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India


The demand for Caste Census has stirred a debate again, with many vehemently opposing it and calling it antithetical to anticasteism. On the other hand, proponents of caste census argue that it is a necessary step toward addressing caste. This paper argues that the discomfort with counting caste has its root in the invisibilisation and erasure of caste in the mainstream discourses in the colonial and post-colonial 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, focussing 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 this sense, the Ambedkarite discourse is a radical form of anticasteism, accounting for caste-based inequalities and seeking accountability. 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 that instead of being anticasteist, the naïve erasure of caste in the hollow rhetoric of anticasteism actually 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 would 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 anti-caste 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. The caste census is therefore an essential step towards practising anticasteism.

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