UPSC Courses

editorial plus

Editorial Plus

Census, SECC (Socio - Economic Caste Census), NRC &NPR

  • 02 November, 2021

  • 7 Min Read

Census, SECC (Socio-Economic Caste Census), NRC &NPR

There were historical attempts to enumerate the population in the parts of the Indian Subcontinent as well as to assess landholdings for revenue purposes, which was then a primary consideration. They are attested in the writings of Kautilya, Abu Fazal and Muhnot Naini. The later census was carried out by the British Government.


  • The origin of the Census in India goes back to the colonial exercise of 1881.
  • Census has evolved and been used by the government, policymakers, academics, and others to capture the Indian population, access resources, map social change, delimitation exercises, etc.
  • However, as early as the 1940s, W.W.M. Yeatts, Census Commissioner for India for the 1941 Census, had pointed out that “the census is a large, immensely powerful, but blunt instrument unsuited for specialized inquiry.”

SECC (Socio -Economic Caste Census)

  • SECC was conducted for the first time since 1931.
  • SECC is meant to canvass every Indian family, both in rural and urban India, and ask about their:
    • Economic status, so as to allow Central and State authorities to come up with a range of indicators of deprivation, permutations, and combinations which could be used by each authority to define a poor or deprived person.
    • It is also meant to ask every person their specific caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups were economically worst off and which were better off.
  • SECC has the potential to allow for a mapping of inequalities at a broader level.

Difference Between Census & SECC

  • The Census provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.
  • Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas according to the SECC website, all the personal information given in the SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.

Associated Concerns With SECC

  • Repercussions of a Caste Census: Caste has an emotive element and thus there exist the political and social repercussions of a caste census.
    • There have been concerns that counting caste may help solidify or harden identities.
    • Due to these repercussions, nearly a decade after the SECC, a sizeable amount of its data remains unreleased or released only in parts.
  • Caste Is Context-specific: Caste has never been a proxy for class or deprivation in India; it constitutes a distinct kind of embedded discrimination that often transcends class. For example:
    • People with Dalit last names are less likely to be called for job interviews even when their qualifications are better than that of an upper-caste candidate.
    • They are also less likely to be accepted as tenants by landlords.
    • Marriage to a well-educated, well-off Dalit man still sparks violent reprisals among the families of upper-caste women every day across the country.

NPR (National Population Register)

Definition :

    • It is a list of “usual residents of the country”.
    • A “usual resident of the country” is one who has been residing in a local area for at least the last six months, or intends to stay in a particular location for the next six months.

Legal Provisions to NPR:

    • The NPR is being prepared under provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
    • It is mandatory for every “usual resident of India” to register in the NPR.

Background of NPR:

    • The data for the NPR was first collected in 2010 along with the house listing phase of Census 2011.
    • In 2015, this data was further updated by conducting a door-to-door survey.
    • However, with the use of Aadhar as the key vehicle for the transfer of government benefits in the last few years, the NPR has taken a backseat.

Scope of NPR:

    • The NPR exercise is conducted at the local, sub-district, district, state and national levels.
    • The NPR will collect both demographic data and biometric data. Biometric data will be updated through Aadhar details.
      • In the 2010 exercise, the RGI had collected only demographic details.
      • In 2015, it updated the data further with the mobile, Aadhaar and ration card numbers of residents.
      • For the 2020 exercise, it has dropped the ration card number but added other categories.


    • It will streamline data of residents across various platforms.
      • For instance, it is common to find a different date of birth of a person on different government documents. NPR will help eliminate that.
    • It will help the government formulate its policies better and also aid national security.
    • It will help to target government beneficiaries in a better way and also further cut down paperwork and red tape in a similar manner that Aadhaar has done.
    • It will help in implementing the idea of ‘One Identity Card’ that has been recently floated by the government.
      • ‘One Identity Card’ seeks to replace duplicate and siloed documentation of Aadhaar cards, voter ID card, banking card, passport, and more.

Privacy Concern:

    • There is no clarity on the mechanism for protection of the vast amount of data that will be collected through NPR.

NPR (National Population Register) and NRC (National Register Of Citizens)

What is the National Register of Citizens (NRC)?

NRC is a citizen register, in which the names of every citizen of India is recorded. The creation of NRC is mandatory as per The Citizenship Act,1955. The Citizenship Rule 2003, gives power to the centre to issue an order to prepare the National Population Register (NPR) and create the NRC based on the data gathered in the NPR. The Citizenship Rule 2003, further states that the local officials would decide if the person’s name will be added to the NRC or not, thereby deciding his citizenship status.


    • Unlike the NRC, the NPR is not a citizenship enumeration drive, as it would record even a foreigner staying in a locality for more than six months.
    • With the government insisting that the NRC would be implemented across the country, the NPR has raised anxieties around the idea of citizenship in the country.
      • All this is happening in the backdrop of the NRC in Assam which has excluded 19 lakh among the 3.3 crore who had applied.
      • NRC countrywide would only happen on the basis of the upcoming NPR.
      • After a list of residents is created (i.e. NPR), a nationwide NRC could go about verifying the citizens from that list.

Editorial: Why counting caste matters

Caste data will help us understand the contours of inequality and craft reasoned and inclusive policies.

  • The debate about whether the decennial Census should collect data on caste from individuals who fall into the administrative categories of ‘General’ and ‘Other Backward Classes (OBCs) has been argued by public intellectuals, politicians, and government administrators for decades.
  • As the Census currently only collects data on ‘Scheduled Castes’ (SCs) and ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (STs), it fails to provide comprehensive data on India’s graded caste hierarchy.
  • In the run-up to the 2011 Census, the political leadership agreed to include a full caste count in the Census. It later prevented a caste-wise enumeration in the Census. The suppression of caste-wise data took place then because of two interconnected dynamics which are likely to reoccur unless they are collectively challenged.

The importance of caste data

  • First, caste elites generally believe that caste no longer matters in shaping opportunities and outcomes in the 21st century.
  • This caste blindness, or carelessness, obscures caste privileges and conceals sources of multi-generational structural advantage.
  • Many caste elites view the collection of caste data about anyone but the most disadvantaged as unnecessary and misuse of public resources.
  • This perspective both serves their own interests and ignores the relational nature of caste — that is, the same societal institutions, systems, and cultural norms that have led to the historic and ongoing subjugation of oppressed castes have simultaneously empowered others.
  • To understand the full scope of disadvantage, we must also examine the full scope of privilege and advantage.
  • The suppression also occurred as a result of the machinery of government. Organisations tasked with designing Census questions and overseeing data collection, similar to every other key institution in society, have caste-based inequalities entrenched within them.
  • The bureaucracy blocked the inclusion of a full caste count in the Census 2011 on methodological grounds.
  • It argued that a caste count would be “administratively difficult and cumbersome,” “jeopardise the whole exercise,” and “compromise the basic integrity of the Census”.
  • The official language used by the Congress-led government in 2011 was identical to the language used in the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on September 23, 2021, by the present BJP-led government.
  • The presentation of (supposedly) insurmountable methodological and logistical challenges is particularly effective as an excuse because it silences non-experts.
  • Caste elites have a numerical and cultural stranglehold over the upper bureaucracy, despite more than 70 years of Central government reservations.
  • In 2019, out of the 82 Secretaries to the Government of India, only four were SCs or STs.
  • Following the suppression of the caste count in Census 2011, the executive bureaucracy reconfigured the Below Poverty Line survey and renamed it the 2011 Socio-Economic Caste Census, which had little resemblance to the original demands by caste census advocates and produced unusable caste data.
  • The purpose of collecting caste-wise data in the decennial Census is to understand the contours of inequality.
  • These data are crucial to understanding how caste intersects with class, gender, and regionality to structure access to resources.
  • The collected caste data should be publicly available for use. In this regard, the caste data would continue the existing practice of the Office of the Registrar General of India to make Census data publicly available.
  • The Census has the legal standing, public trust, operational expertise, and resources to collect, analyse, and make public caste data.
  • Caste data must be collected as part of this constitutionally required exercise.
  • Having the caste Census as part of another state project, or overseen by nodal agencies other than the ORGI, as happened 10 years ago, will relegate it to parts of the bureaucracy with insufficient expertise in a nationwide data collection operation.
  • While counting (or not counting) caste is political, the decision should not be reduced to immediate political contingencies i.e., the expansion of reservation policies, the caste-based mobilisation by political parties, etc.
  • In the absence of detailed caste data, we fail to name and confront major structural and foundational problems of society; leave space for opportunistic politicians to exploit each caste; and miss the opportunity to craft reasoned, data-driven, and inclusive public policies.

Addressing concerns

  • Yet, important concerns remain. Some progressive and anti-caste scholars fear that a full-caste count will further entrench caste identities.
  • A caste census will require all households to think about, acknowledge, and speak about caste identities.
  • Yet, historically outcast groups have already had to provide caste data in all postcolonial Censuses to implement reservations.
  • A full caste-wise enumeration will help to make visible privileges and resources that have become over time disassociated with caste, despite historical, sociological, and economic evidence to the contrary.
  • Updated data on the entire caste system, including its intersections with other identities, will provide a more complete picture of exclusion and inequality in India.
  • Another concern is that groups will misuse the caste data. But misuse of caste data already takes place.
  • Private groups with access to money and power regularly collect caste data for their needs.
  • Political parties map the caste and religious composition of neighbourhoods, cities, and villages to mobilise votes.
  • Collecting caste data in the decennial Census removes this private power by making caste data publicly available to all.
  • While methodological and logistical challenges are real, they are surmountable.
  • Demographers in government agencies and universities have extensive experience working through these challenges.
  • Sample surveys such as the India Human Development Survey have collected caste-wise data.
  • In addition, research on the failed caste count suggests the importance of careful planning to prevent groups from being made invisible in the data, such as Dalit Muslims, Dalit Christians, inter-caste and inter-religious households (particularly those that cut across the line of ‘untouchability’ or communal divide), and LGBTQ+ individuals. Related to the discussion of caste lessness, if a ‘no caste’ option is included in the Census, the caste count will likely undercount well-to-do caste elites.
  • Given the purpose of the caste count, omissions of marginalised groups and elites require specific attention while designing the survey instrument, training enumerators, educating the public, and analysing collected caste-wise data.
  • Hence, the entire process requires external oversight if the data are to be usable and to minimise potential harm.
  • As the process unfolds, a public oversight group should work to ensure that major operational and methodological decisions align with the data collection’s purpose: to understand the scope of caste-based inequities and address structural inequalities.
  • Anti-caste organisations and public intellectuals, who have devoted their life’s work to challenging caste hierarchy, must provide oversight and input.
  • Their perspectives and lived experiences of fighting caste oppression are the best safeguards to ensure that the collected data will be used for liberatory purposes.

 Sociological Perspective: Why there is hesitation over caste-based census?

  • First, it is an attempt to conceal the overwhelming dominance of the upper castes in all walks of life. It implies that caste-based enumeration is might lead to a scrutiny of the privileges of the upper castes as propounded by Professor Satish Deshpande.
  • Second, it also helps us understand that the elites do not want themselves to be an object of enquiry. This explains why the upper castes in India are understudied in comparison to the lower castes and Dalits.
  • Third, it validates Leela Fernandes’s perceptive observation that the upper-caste-dominated middle classes in this country, unlike the West, are socially illiberal and conservative in that they do not want lower groups to be incorporated within their fold.
  • Fourth, the opposition to castes-based census showcases, that we have collectively failed to acknowledge the gravity of caste-based oppression and are indifferent towards the everyday humiliation and cruelty that the majority of this country faces. 
  • It might expose the fact that a larger share of the pie (benefits) has been cornered by the Kurmis and the Yadavs, communities to which big leaders belong thus can bring a huge change in reservation policy.
  • In a society deeply divided on caste lines, most of us not only know that there are numerous castes but also practice caste specific-codes in our daily lives; be it marrying within our caste boundaries; or inviting fellow caste members for funeral feasts; carrying on rituals by Brahmin priests, etc. That is why, despite credible evidence suggesting that caste is the most crucial category that shapes an individual’s life prospects even in contemporary India, a caste-based census is vehemently opposed.

Way Forward 

  • The demand for a caste-based census needs to be seen as an essential step in nation-building. It offers us a historical opportunity to assess the socio-economic miseries that a large number of social groups face. Moreover, national cohesion and social harmony can neither be achieved by keeping the masses in the dark nor by depriving them of their legitimate share in power and resources.
  • Caste empowerment is a stepping stone towards its eventual destruction. There is no harm in knowing the exact conditions of different castes in India.
  • In the absence of any scientific information on different castes’ socio-economic and educational conditions, we are clueless about how to devise mechanisms to address the intra-group dominance.
  • To conclude, caste enumeration must be seen as a much-needed mechanism to facilitate an informed debate, bereft of assumptions and prejudices on what has been achieved and what needs to be done for societal transformation.

Source: The Hindu


Search By Date

Newsletter Subscription
SMS Alerts

Important Links