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Census operations

Introduction

After consolidating its position, the British Government in India made an effort to know about the people, whom they want to rule and chalk out strategies for the colonial governance. British anthropologists worked very hard to collect data and to catalogue various castes and tribes. For the first time, the collected data had drawn the attention of the rulers, intelligentsia and public to the diversity of Indian society and multiplicity of castes and sub-castes throughout India. All the collected data was catalogued by Census Commissioner into an official document, known as Census Operation.

In 1885 itself, Eutice J Kitts, a British ambassador in Azamgarh listed, for the first time, backward castes and tribes, from 1881 Census. The objective was to give them financial assistance and preferences in education and Government employment at local and provincial level. For the first, the government officially recognized caste as a base for the purposes of governance.

Risley, the Census Commissioner, India – In the beginning of Twentieth century, like modern Manu,  Risley, then the Census Commissioner, India, invented a new method to stratify Indian society. Since then after every ten years, the government does census operations to know the demography of India and officially publishes it.

Classification of Indian society before British rule – Earlier, before British rule, Indian society was classified into four Varnas embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold and incoming ruling communities like Muslims or British, treated by Indians as foreigners.

Indian society divided into water Instead of four Vernas, British rulers, in 1901  census, created five new unbridgeable water-tight compartments within Indian social structure. Through legal process, they gave each one a new group separate and distinct identity.

The first volume of Man in 1901 (the Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute) noted, The entire framework of native life in India is made up of groups of castes and tribes, and status and conduct of individuals are, largely, determined by the rules of the group, to which he belonged. He classified the Indian social structure in following water-tight compartments –

  • ‘Forward caste’ (caste Hindus)
  • Backward castes,
  • Untouchables or scheduled caste,
  • Scheduled tribes and
  • Minorities

Risley’s efforts, in 1901 census, of recording and putting in order numerous castes in hierarchical order like modern Manu had fossilized, imparting it a solidity, it did not have earlier. (Das Veena and Kagal Ayesha, Through the Prism of Clerkdom, Times of India, dated September 16, 1990, p2.)

 

Pigeonholed everyone by caste and community – British rulers codified the castes and standardized the system by placing all the jatis into four Varnas or in the categories of outcastes and aborigines. Middleton, a Census Superintendent remarked, We pigeonholed everyone by caste and community. We deplore its effect on social and economic problems. But we are largely responsible for the system…Our land records and official documents have added iron-bonds to the old rigidity of caste.”

Census operations destroyed the flexibility of caste system – Caste, in itself, was rigid among the higher castes, but malleable amongst the lower…The government’s act for labels and pigeon-holes had led to a crystallization of the caste system, which, except amongst the aristocratic caste, was really very fluid under indigenous rule. Therefore, the Census operations destroyed the flexibility of caste system, led to an all-round hardening of social-system and to frantic effort by each group-for upward mobility.

Immediate outcome of census operation – The Census operations instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles, that Hindus fought amongst themselves.

Census operations done by British rulers, far from neutral – The process of Census enumeration, which was started under British rule, was far from neutral. Through it, British rulers in India made an effort to chalk out strategies for the colonial governance.

  • British rulers retained distinctions between different sub-castes, relevant to them for organizing labor
  • They homogenized all those sub-castes, for which they had no use, therefore, no interest. All the floating population like Gujjars, Bhattis, Ranger Rajputs, who remained out-side caste system were fused into one.
  • Census operations kept Brahmins at periphery and instigated other castes against them. The reason was that British administrators, Christian Missionaries and Orientalists considered them as potential threat to British rule.

Made the system rigid – The new method of stratifying Indian society has changed the older system in a fundamental way giving rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. Every group lives in its own water-tight compartment, having virtually no communication with others, unknown and insensitive to the requirements and plusses and minuses of others. To a great extent, such a situation has given rise to intolerance for others, resulted in politicization of caste-system. To a great extent, such a situation has given rise to intolerance for others, resulted in politicization of caste-system. done by imperial rule through Censuses had recorded and placed numerous castes into Brahmins, Non-Brahmins, Muslims, Anglo-Indians, untouchables, non-Hindu Communities and backward castes or in categories of outcastes and aborigines and put them in hierarchical order.

Middleton, a Census Superintendent remarked, We pigeonholed everyone by caste and community. We deplore its effect on social and economic problems. But we are largely responsible for the system…Our land records and official documents have added iron-bonds to the old rigidity of caste. Caste, in itself, was rigid among the higher castes, but malleable amongst the lower…The government’s act for labels and pigeon-holes had led to a crystallization of the caste system, which, except amongst the aristocratic caste, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.” This division remains a by-word even for the present-day political leaders of Independent India.

Therefore, the Census operations destroyed the flexibility of caste system, led to an all-round hardening of social-system and to frantic effort by each group-for upward mobility.

The first volume of Man in 1901 (the Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute) noted, The entire framework of native life in India is made up of groups of castes and tribes, and status and conduct of individuals are, largely, determined by the rules of the group, to which he belonged. Risley’s efforts, in 1901 census, of recording and putting in order numerous castes in hierarchical order like modern Manu had fossilized, imparting it a solidity, it did not have earlier.[i] Therefore, the Census operations instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles, that Hindus fought amongst themselves.

The seeds of caste animosities sown by the British rulers have blossomed to its full after the independence, thanks to Indian politicians and political parties. Today the caste-ism in politics is at its peak.

Consequences of the change – The consequences of this system has been that Indians have forgotten about their roots. The new system has made a virtue of narrow loyalties of caste and religion, generating sub-cultures like favoritism, lure for easy money, nepotism and, in-discipline in the society. Caste and communal conflicts have increased. Sectarian and regional imbalances has generated social and psychological tensions. Work culture has been degenerated. People have lost faith not only in basic principles/systems of their own culture, but also in themselves and their fellow-beings. Favoritism, in-discipline, violence, corruption, and chase of materialism based on ruthless competition have weakened social fabric beyond repair. A few Individuals and groups, with political, money or muscle power control destiny of millions and have a say in almost every walk of national life. They work day and night to deny justice to ordinary citizens. Erosion of basic moral and human values has turned life of men, “nasty, brutish and short”. Scientific progress has endowed him with tremendous power both to preserve and destroy, but at slightest provocation, they do not hesitate to unleash its destructive powers accessible to them. Swami Vivekanand had said, “It is we, who are responsible for our degradation.”

Winding-up – Indians people still have faith in good intentions and wisdom of their ancestors, who contributed in building social structure of India. Almost all the principles of good organisation are found in the system like “team-spirit”, “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam” (whole world is one family), “live and let live”, “Self restraint”, “automatic checks and balances” “division of labour” along with “to each according to his needs and from each according to his capacity” etc.

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November 12, 2016 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

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