Thursday, July 16, 2015

SECC data is out.

As per Prof Cornel West, Democracy always raises the fundamental question: What is the role of the most disadvantaged in relation to the public interest? The catch in this valid question lies in the definition of the 'Disadvantage Class/Caste'. The definition of "Who are they" varies from politicians, academics and policy makers. No major program in any field can be effective without a robust information system. The road to social justice for all should be based on solid data for understanding ground realities.

SECC data is out. This census takes caste into account for the first time in any such exercise since 1931. But the government is hiding OBC numbers. The previous government led by the Congress had also decided to conduct a caste-based census, but not to make the data public. The reasons for withholding this data can only be political.  Data on economic indicators, with special enumeration of SCs and STs, is done by the regular census as well. SECC was commissioned because many parties wanted similar numbers for the OBCs to pitch for political mileage. However, it is always tough to digest that SECC was done to mitigate absence of large-scale, credible and empirical data for public policy. But, its a matter of time that numbers will be made public.

There was once huge hue and cry over caste census as being labelled as divisive by upper caste dominated groups. Prof. Kancha Ilaiah had explained this in his article long back: Who’s afraid of caste census? --- "Caste culture is all around us. In the dalit-bahujan discourse, the upper castes are being shown as constituting less than 15 per cent. This could be totally wrong. Even within the lower castes there are several false claims about numbers. Every caste claims that it is numerically the strongest and keeps asking for its “rightful” share. How to tell them that their claims are wrong? When caste has become such an important category of day-to-day reckoning it is important to have proper data at hand to tell communities that they constitute this much and cannot ask for more than their share. It is true that we cannot distribute everything based on caste. But caste census is the right basis for statistics such as literacy rate and issues like the proportion of representation. Once we cite the Census data there cannot be any authentic opposition to that evidence."

There is unquestionable value in a general policy of reservation as merit can't be only criteria for granting subsidy and reservations. Social Justice and economic barriers needs to be fulfilled also for deciding such national/state level policies. Despite of deep affiliation for caste groups, public is ready and eager to advance toward a more transparent and accountable society. And, making SECC data publicly available would improve transparency in the political debates if not direct action leading to better governance.

The bigger question isn't the availability of the data but the lack of will power to implement the policy. There is all required data available for STs in census yet there is siphoning of funds allocated to SC/STs. (Systemic denial and diversion of budgetary allocations). Many departments have failed miserably in allocating funds and even spending that minor fund for the TSP as per the proportion of tribal population of the state. The manipulation made by the bureaucracy and political leaders in taking decision of diversion of the TSP fund showed huge contrast between public policy and data based evidence. Also, there is a deafening silence on Gender Budgeting (GB) in the corridors of the power. So what we have a country where no-one pays heed to independent minds seeking for evidence base policy in social sector. In such a political system, one has to learn to manipulate rather than simply putting the case.

A pure functioning meritocracy would produce a society with growing inequality, but that inequality would come along with a correlated increase in social mobility. Is this really happening across caste and religion ? We can only guess as there is not yet sufficient data  for planning on caste based issues. SECC data would even regenerate healthy debate between two groups proposing - either 'caste-blind &class-based'  or 'caste & class based' type of affirmative action. The best way to improve quality of a debate is through providing individual with the data to make informed choices in a democratic country. SECC data is crucial for making sound evidence-based plans,it helps us understand what is merit and social justice  so that appropriate policy can be made for the Disadvantaged class/caste. 

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