Monday, November 29, 1999

Caste & Census

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Even as the proposed inclusion of caste in the ongoing census, 80 years after it was last counted, is polarising opinion across India, the FE-Synovate Caste Survey looks at what the young urban India is thinkingCast away casteHas the urban Indian decoupled from caste? Not really, if we consider how industrialist and MP Naveen Jindal, an MBA from the University of Texas, just recently acknowledged the 'yeoman service' of the khap panchayats to society. Of course, having drawn flak for his stand, he was also quick to say he had been 'misquoted' and did not support any wrongdoing of the khaps.But as the FE-Synovate Caste Survey, conducted over 501 respondents across Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore points out, the top socio-economic class (SEC) has somewhat moved away from caste. This may not be music to the ears of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, JDU's Nitish Kumar or LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, but a majority (53%) of the respondents firmly expressed that caste should not be part of the census. The findings point out that with modernisation and urbanisation setting in, the notion of social hierarchy has definitely weakened in the urban context. The city break-up, too, brings forward an interesting contrast—62% of the Chennai respondents vehemently opposed the idea of a caste-based census, against 54% of the Bangalore respondents, who voted in favour of including caste in the census.Overall, a whopping 97% of the total respondents knew which caste they belong to. However, for no more than 50% of the respondents caste is an important identity marker. One reason behind the finding could be the inclusion of just Sec A people in the survey for whom economic wellbeing serves as a more important identity marker. It must be safe to say that the trend may have particularly changed post-liberalisation 1991, which paved the way for a booming market economy. Though it is difficult to quantify the role of the market and the private capital in delineating caste from the traditional occupational rigidities, the contribution can in no way be undermined. "My peer group largely centres around upper middle class people, irrespective of their caste or even religion. As a result of our economic status we happen to share the same cultural wavelength. Why do I care for the caste of the person sitting next to me, say, on the plane? How does it matter?" asks Ishita Girhotra, a 28-year-old, Delhi-based marketing executive.That we still have a long way to go in changing perception is clearly evident from the fact that 50% of the survey respondents still consider caste as an important identity marker, though not many would like to change their caste either.As many as 74% of the respondents say that given a choice, they would not opt for a different caste.There's another positive note: caste made no difference on professional grounds to 71% of the respondents. However, 40% of the respondents in Delhi said they had been favoured on the basis of their caste. Caste-based reservations in government jobs and state-funded educational institutions could be an important factor at play here. While for some it has meant 'lost opportunity', for others 'it's a matter of positive discrimination'. As many as 8% people in Chennai had been discriminated against on the ground of their caste.Even the social milieu doesn't disappoint. Majority (55%) of the total respondents also stated that caste was not a consideration for them for marriage. Kolkata, with 79% of the respondents, takes the cake for rising above the conventional matrimony rules. And, Bangalore comes across as the most conservative, with 53% respondents saying caste is an important consideration for marriage.The gradual journey of the urban Indian coming out of the caste cauldron can also be gauged from the fact that against 51% of the 29-36 year-olds, just 41% of the 20-28 year-olds felt caste was an important consideration for marriage purposes. So, as the generation gets younger, it seems to be moving away from conventional lines of segregation.

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