Over the past few days parliament has been busy debating whether caste should be counted in the on-going census(they've finally decided to go ahead and do so). There seem to be deep divisions within the national parties over the issue. Quite predictably the regional caste based partied have all embraced the idea. Most of the educated middle-class will see the exercise as further vindication of their long-held belief that the political class is out to make maximum mileage of the caste issue.
Caste is a burning issue in India. The uproar and violence over the Mandal commission and the more recent OBC reservation issue only assuages that fact. As a nation we have never been comfortable with caste. It's a scar on our national psyche- one that most of us want to be rid off. But it's here and present and has manifested itself in different ways in Indian society(think matrimonial ads in newspapers!). For long our country was held back because of the deeply oppressive caste system. It was the dream of our founding fathers to get rid of it as soon as possible and with this in mind a slew of measures were introduced. We have many many schemes targeted at people from the economically and socially backward castes. But all these measures seem to have failed at creating a modern- free- casteless society.
One could argue about the merits in pursuing something that doesn't seem to have worked. But the truth is that some of these schemes have done some good work at the ground level. They've made a change in the public perception and that's a good thing. I might be unpopular for saying this- but some schemes based on caste are needed in India(presently). Sometimes social stigma can be removed only when those who govern aggressively intervene to make society more fair and inclusive.(This is especially true in a society that doesn't do enough by itself to help the down-trodden/excluded)
So when you see caste based schemes as necessary then it becomes imperative that there be data on which to base these schemes and study their effectiveness. So counting caste might be good for the planners, and if the wise voters of the land decide to do so, the success of these plans can also be measured by this.
However, the truth is counting caste is in ways further perpetuating it. In some ways it is giving official sanctum to the centuries old social caste structures as in registering it and keeping records of it gives it more of a legality. This is something that the government should be wary of.
While counting caste itself might not be a wrong thing and might even be needed in today's India, our leaders should not forget the vision of our forefathers. If counting caste and having caste based schemes is a necessary evil of today's society then it is important to also balance policy by making effective schemes that target eradicating caste. This is the need of modern India and one hopes that our leaders will have the intelligence and heart to do the same.