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The Great Identity Robbery
By John Dayal, New Delhi

Dalits lose Freedom of Faith as Great Indian Census dictates platter of religions from which they must choose their identity. Maharashtra Muslims say they do not trust the enumerators

It is a Hobson’s choice for those who have been at he bottom of the pit for three thousand years. The great Indian Census has turned into a Great Identity Theft as tens of millions of Dalits and Tribals are forced into religious identities dictated neither by law nor by Statute, but purely by the bigotry of a partisan government and the cultural illiteracy of a pliant bureaucracy.

In the process is lost the developmental objective of the biggest exercise in human history, bigger than even the Kumbh Mela. This is the Indian Census, held with unfailing regularity for more than a century, and now mired in an ugly controversy of the BJP government’s making.

At the root of the controversy are two major questions in the Census questionnaire, and perhaps more relevant, the set of instructions on pages 53 and 54 (in the English version) of the Census manual that has been prescribed by the Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner Mr. Jayant K Banthia. There is no room for confusion, no scope for misunderstanding, no opportunity to give the benefit of doubt to the Governmental machinery as the Manual instructs Census enumerators and supervisory Scheduled Tribe in explicit terms on ‘Filling up of Questions on the Scheduled Caste s (Q 8) and Scheduled Tribes (Q, 9).

The following is the text of these paragraphs: ‘Para 67: ‘You have been furnished with a list of the Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes in relation to your State / union territory. Ascertain if the person enumerated belongs to a Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe and if he / she does, write the name of the Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe under the appropriate question. For a person who is not a member of any Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe, put a `dash’ (--) under both the questions 8 and 9. 67.1: If a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribe returns his/her Caste or Tribe by a synonym or generic name of a Caste or a tribe, comma, it should be reckoned as Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe only if that name finds a place in the list furnished to you. Similarly, if the answer to this question is in general terms, like harijan / girijan, or achhut / adivasi, you should not record the person enumerated as belonging to the Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe straightaway. In such a case, you should ascertain the name of the Caste / Tribe fully and if that name finds place in your list, you should reckon the person as belonging to the Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe. If a person insists on calling himself / herself merely harijan or achhut or adivasi or girijan or repeats the synonym or generic name or a caste Tribe not appearing in the list provided, please tell him / her that this description is not adequate for Census purposes and persuade him/her to give the actual name of the Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe, as the case may be. This may bring out the actual name of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled tribe. This name will be recorded under the appropriate question as may be applicable. If the person merely claims to be a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled tribe, but says that he / she does not belong to any of the notified communities applicable to the area, as reflected in the list supplied to you, he / she will not be reckoned as belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. 67.2: If you have reasons to suspect that in any area due to any organized movements, the Scheduled Caste or the Scheduled Tribe are not being truthfully returned, you should record them as actually returned by the respondent and make a report to your supervisory officer for verification. 67.3: The Scheduled Tribe can belong to any religion. However, the Scheduled Caste can only belong to Hindu or Sikh or Buddhist religion. Here Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhist would also include their sects and beliefs, If a religion returned by a person is a particular sect or belief of any of these religions, he / she can belong to Scheduled Caste and this question is to be asked to the person. Please note that in a household, some of the members may belong to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe while others may not. Again, there may be situations where members do not belong to the same Scheduled Caste or the Scheduled Tribe or some of the family members may be Scheduled Caste and others Scheduled Tribe. Therefore, this question is to be asked of all members of the household, and the entry made in this question for the head or the respondent may not be simply repeated for other members of the household. Question 8: If Scheduled Caste, write name of the Scheduled Caste from the list supplied. (Scheduled Caste can only be among Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists) Para 68: For the person returned as belonging to Scheduled Caste write he name of Scheduled Caste in full under Question 8 and put Dash (--) under question 9. Please check that this name appears in the list of the Scheduled Caste supplied to you. For a person returning as Scheduled Caste, also verify whether you have recorded either Hindu (Code 1) or Sikh (Code 4) or Buddhist (Code 5) or a sect or belief of these religions in answer to Question 7: (Religion) Question 9: If Scheduled Tribe, write name of Scheduled Tribe from the list supplied. (Scheduled Tribes can be from any religion). If the person belongs to a Scheduled tribe, mention the name of his / her Scheduled Tribe in full under Question 9 and put Dash (--) below Question 8. As stated above, above, you have to be careful that only the name of the Scheduled Tribe should be entered which appears in the list pertaining to your State / union territory made available to you. Please note that the Scheduled Tribe can belong to any religion. Question 10: Mother Tongue: Para 70: Mother Tongue is the language spoken in childhood by the person’s mother to the person. If the mother died in infancy, the language mainly spoken in the person’s home in childhood will be the mother tongue. In the case of infants and deaf mutes, the language usually spoken by the mother should be recorded. In case of doubt, the language mainly spoken in the household may be recorded. It is not necessary that the language returned as Mother tongue should have a script. 70.1 Record the name of the language returned by the respondent as the Mother Tongue in full, whatever is the name of the language and do not use abbreviations. Please note the following: (a) If you have reasons to suspect that in any area due to any organized movement, the Mother Tongue is not being truthfully returned, you should record the mother tongue as actually returned by the respondent and make a report to your supervisory officer for verification. (b) You are not expected to determine if the language of the person is a dialect of another language. (c) You should not try to establish any relationship between religion and mother tongue. (d) You are bound to record the language as returned for each person as his / her mother tongue and you should not enter into any argument. Do not try to record any language other than what is returned by the respondent. 70.2: Since a household may consist of persons related by blood or unrelated persons or a mix of both, it is absolutely necessary to ask every person his / her Mother Tongue because the Mother Tongue of each person of a household need not necessarily be the same. These may be different for different members in the household.’ Question 11: Other languages known (enter up to two languages in order of proficiency).’

The bureaucratese hides crucial questions. To begin from the last questions, what are the ‘organized movements’ that the Registrar General is talking about, which may get people to falsifying their own identity. Would the government care to, or dare to, substantiate presumption, this dangerous insinuation. Is it a reference, for instance to persons that the BJP government says are Bangladeshi Muslim refugees but who say they are Bengali speaking or even Hindi speaking migrants from Bihar? Does it in any way revive the ugly Hindi-Punjabi controversy that first reared its head in the Punjab in the 1971 census and by 1981 had grown into a full fledged violent confrontation between a section of the Sikh community and the government of the day, deeply dividing a prosperous state and pushing it into a dead end from where it is still to fully recover. Will it effectively ignore, and eventually disenfranchise internal migrants who do not have ration cards, do not speak the local language and are afraid to boldly say they traveled in search of food to the cities of the babus? Is this an overreaction of the poor and the minorities? At first glance, possibly. Muslims in Maharashtra and some other cities have said they do not even trust the enumerators, school teachers for the most, and often government employees gang pressed after a very brief training into a job that is more than merely counting heads, but goes deep into economic status, religious, linguistic and ethnic identities, sexual mores and life style patterns. This is deep probe into the inner core of a citizen’s identity, and despite assurances of privacy, there seems no guarantee how the data will eventually be used. In a land where internet accounts are opened, phones are routinely tapped without court permission, letters are streamed opened and then carelessly glued back, where innocent persons are interrogated with third degree till some of them bleed to death, and where tens of thousands of under trials spend more time in jail before sentence is passed on them than the full term of the prison term for their original crime, who will believe that the government will be honest to its promise and will honour the privacy of the census data. Somewhere, some time, mischief will be afoot. This is what the Muslims fear when they say they do not know if the enumerator correctly records what they write. Many of the neighborhood staff are known persons, and their political predilection is clear. They belong to the same genre which demands that Muslim victims of the Bhuj quake chant Jai Shri Ram, as newspaper reports said, before they will be given a food packet. Even those for whom religion does not count for much, but principles and civic freedoms do, have reason to worry when he Union Home minister makes s statement, even as the Census is underway, that he favours legislation providing incentives and disincentives to control the burgeoning population. Speaking on the occasion of the unveiling of a stamp in connection with the launch of Census- 2001, he said that while education of masses was important for creating an awareness of population control, there might also be a need for a system of ``legal incentives and disincentives.'' In black humour, his colleague, the Communications Minister, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, released a stamp on the Census, which in his own words, had a ‘`hidden meaning.'' Mr. Paswan said in the stamp, the numerical 2 in 2001 was depicted in the form of a woman, while the two zeroes were shown in the form of children and 1 in the form of a man,'' and this symbolized ``hum do hamare do.'' Children as Zeroes. Some joke, that. The first rumblings were heard when the Manual was first drafted and the core teams of trainers were being inducted. The mercurial Evangelist Bishop Ezra Sargunam, who was in the news for his protest fast in Chindia where the VHP had overnight sought to convert a tribal church into a temple – noticed it in the Tamil forms. The All India Christian Council, (born in 1999 after the Graham Stuart Staines burning to incorporate Protestant, Evangelist denominations, NGOs and lay activists) and the 82-year-old All India Catholic Union, the laity organization, took it up, but the Census was far away and other pressing issues held centre stage. By the time the Census was formally launched on 9 February 2001, it was too late to force the government to rewrite the offending paragraphs. The All India Christian Council served a legal notice on the registrar general of India, who heads the Census exercise on 14th February 2001, saying they would take the Census to court and demanding that secondary questions on religion not be asked to Scheduled castes. Simultaneously, Tribal leaders from Madhya Pradesh and other regions complained that local enumerators were not listing Tribal Christians under the Scheduled tribes, seriously jeopardizing their future apart from injuring their identity, their sole possession. In our plaint, All India Christian Council president Dr Joseph D’Souza and I as the Council Secretary general pointed out that there was no objection per se to the census. For was not Jesus born to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem when she and Joseph were going to Jerusalem to be counted in the Census ordered by the government of the day in their country. The Christian community in India has always enthusiastically participated in Census operations, more so after Independence, recognizing that Scheduled Tribe Statistical data so collected helps formulate developmental policies for the nation, especially in such crucial areas as Health and Education, both of which are the prime concerns of the Church and the community. In the exercise leading up to Census 2001, many Churches, NGOs and Lay leaders have called on the people to participate fully in the Census operations.

This is a Census operation, and not an application for government jobs. No downstream benefits will accrue from the census. Women will not get 33 per cent reservation in the Lok Sabha because the Census registers the sex of a person. It will not do for anyone to take shelter behind definitions of `Hindu’ in tax-saving provisions of the Hindu Undivided Family laws, or marriage and such other common codes. There is no case in the census for a crass, dictatorial definition that `Anyone who is not a Muslim, a Christian or a Zoroastrian is a Hindu.’ Or can be `deemed’ to be a Hindu.

The RSS learnt it to its discomfiture when the Sikhs taught it a lesson this year when it dared challenge their identity as a separate religion. The Hindutva ideology parivar had to beat a hasty retreat, and had to admit that Sikhs had an identity of their own, and Sikhism was not a sect or a variant of Hinduism.

The Dalits belonging to the non-Hindu faiths have since 1950 consistently challenged the perfidious Presidential Ordinance, which struck the first blow against the secular Statutes, which had been created by the Founding Fathers of the Republican nation to enable Dalits to compete on a level field in the newborn nation. The Sikhs and the Buddhists, who too had been robbed of their birthright, regained those rights after a long and sustained struggle.

There is admittedly no caste in Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Islam. But it is a fact that there is Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Islam among the Dalits.

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