Analysis | Should Kerala have a socio-economic and caste survey?

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Representational image. Photo: Representational image/Canva

The need for a Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) seems to have returned to the centre of Kerala politics. Two influential community leaders have now asked the Kerala government to conduct an SECC, though for conflicting reasons. One to establish that the minorities have control over the social and economic spheres of life in Kerala and the other to prove that such a charge was nothing but a Goebbelsian lie.

It was in the latest editorial of 'Yoganadam', the official voice of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, that SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellapally Natesan bared his mind. "Christians and Muslims together have appropriated public resources in Kerala, the former in Central Kerala and the latter in North Kerala," Natesan said.

Socio-economic and caste census is the only way to expose the inequality suffered by backward Hindu groups.

SNDP Yogam general secretary Vellapally Natesan

"Both the communities advanced socially and economically, thanks to the appeasement politics followed by both the fronts. In half a century Kerala had witnessed both these communities gaining supremacy over most areas of socio-economic life in Kerala like land, education, power, health, agriculture and industry," he said. "Even Arabic colleges were converted into aided colleges with the government providing the salaries," he added.

Natesan said a socio-economic and caste census was the only way to expose the inequality suffered by backward Hindu groups.
Palayam Imam V P Suhaib Moulavi spoke his mind while giving his customary Bakrid message in Thiruvananthapuram on June 17. "This is a distinctive moment in our existence when leaders of certain community organsiations are spreading the canard that minorities have deviously acquired benefits," the Imam said, alluding to Natesan's words. "We know it is not right. The Sachar Committee report has revealed that in jobs and education, the condition of Muslims is not just backward but pathetic," he said.

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Vellappally Natesan. File Photo: Manorama

Nonetheless, Moulavi conceded that the Muslim community had achieved some scattered progress. "But this was not the result of help extended by any government. Behind that progress is the hard-earned remittance money from the Gulf. What has accelerated this progress is the massive effort put in by various Muslim organisations in the field of education," the Imam said.

Though the truth is there for everyone to see, Moulavi said that certain people were using the Goebbelsian technique of telling the same lie again and again so as to create the impression that it was the truth. "The only solution to end this campaign of misinformation is a socio-economic and caste census," he said. "Such a census will throw up an authentic record of how resources and power are shared among people," the Imam said.

SECC and Kerala conundrum
An SECC seems to be gaining wider acceptance in the country, a sign of the revival of caste-based politics in India. Putting the BJP on the defensive, the Congress had made the conduct of a nationwide SECC the bedrock of its social justice plank in its manifesto.

It is an irony that the SNDP Yogam leader's call for a caste census was prompted by the BJP candidate Suresh Gopi's victory in Thrissur. Gopi's win has allowed Natesan to capitalise on the appeasement theory. He said that the Christian community (in Thrissur) had opted for the BJP after they found the Muslim appeasement of both the fronts, and also the arrogance of the Muslim League and sundry other Muslim organisations, "unbearable". "If the fronts are not willing to rectify their approach, Hindus, especially the backward classes and the Scheduled Tribes and Castes would take the path of the Christians," he said.

In Kerala, it is Congress ally Muslim League that has made the strongest pitch for an SECC in Kerala. While the LDF government had sidestepped the issue saying it was best to conduct a socio-economic and caste census along with the national census, the League had argued that the state had the authority to independently conduct such a census.

Muslim League leader M K Muneer said the 105th Amendment to the Constitution, which restored the power of State governments to recognise socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs), gave states the freedom to strike out on their own. "The state governments are at liberty to maintain their separate state lists of SEBCs and to conduct any socio-economic and caste surveys as per their own requirement. The LDF government seems to have forgotten the 105th Amendment," Muneer had said in the Assembly in February this year. Incidentally, it was this amendment that empowered Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumr to conduct an SECC in Bihar.

LDF government's stand
The then minister for welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes, K Radhakrishnan, conceded that the 105th Amendment had indeed empowered states to conduct their own census. However, according to him, the data collected would be of no value if it could not be analysed in the context of a nationwide census. "Ideally, socio-economic and caste data should be taken along with a nationwide census," he said.

Further, he said that a decision to conduct an SECC could not be taken immediately as the matter was sub judice. Two organisations -- Manava Aikya Vedi Minority Indians and Planning and Vigilance Commission Trust -- have taken the issue to the Supreme Court. "Once the verdict is out, we can think of conducting a socio-economic and caste census after arriving at a consensus," he had told the Assembly in reply to Muneer.

The country's decennial census that should have been carried out in 2021 but was postponed on account of COVID has still not taken off. An SECC was done along with the previous 2011 census but the Centre has refused to share the details with any of the states.  

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