Indian Caste Census-2011: How will it affect the Muslims?

By Abusaleh Shariff and Navaid Hamid,

A Cabinet press release titled ‘Methodology for conducting the Below Poverty Line Census and Enumeration of Castes’, dated 19-May, 2011 has set December 2011 as the target date to complete the census exercise. This hybrid Census of the BPL and the Caste would be conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development in association with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) and the Registrar General of India (RGI) and expected to be completed by December 2011. However, the so called methodology for the caste census is only a single line statement – ‘The enumeration of castes will also be done simultaneously along with the BPL census’.

The announcement about the BPL census is welcome, although there are many controversies in terms of a methodology and variables which will be used to identify the poor. What is underplayed and not adequately highlighted in this cabinet note is the fact that the Caste Census will be undertaken for the first time since the Independence. Such data are likely to be used in determining and revising the cast and class linked quotas in national and state government jobs, admissions in educational institutions such as in colleges and universities and access to targeted social services. The caste census is being conducted without adequate methodological and analytical preparedness and since caste, class and religious identities have complex inter-relationships there will be ramifications which will be difficult to resolve in future. In the following, therefore, is a brief discussion as to how will the caste census affect the Muslim community of India.

Madarsa students at Jamiat Ulema rally in Patna in 2010

Muslims in India is a highly diverse community; while adopting the diversity emerging from the Islamic religion such as the Sunni, Shia, Bohra, Agakhani and so on; many also carried along the respective identity from the Hindu caste system even after their conversion. The social structure, therefore, amongst the Muslims is complex, and it further gets accentuated by cultural difference emanating from language and region/state of domical. For example, only about 40% of Muslims report Urdu as mother tongue. There are millions of Muslims who speak Bangla, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi and so on as their mother tongue. Of course due to dominance of Urdu in the northern parts of India especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Muslims do not report Hindi as their mother tongue and they intend to do so in future as well. Muslims besides being highly diverse are experiencing uniformly deep levels of deprivation in various social, educational and economic facets of life across all the states in India.

The collection of caste data has emerged from certain political corners and is expected to provide structured information so as to allocate or enhance respective shares in reservations for the SCs, the STs and the OBCs. The Indian Caste Census (ICC-2011) is likely to trigger a drive for Indian citizens of all castes and communities to get enrolled into deprived categorizations and this process can be labled as Competitive Backwardness. In case of Muslims there is an inherent complication; in spite of the presence of dalit type identity (being converts from erstwhile Hindu dalits) and their desire to report as such, the census enumerators may not recognize such reporting due to the ‘Census Filtering Procedures’ adopted during the canvassing. Since constitutionally there is a pre-existing- codified list for the SCs and STs, the ICC-2011 will use it. The procedures will authenticate the categorization as the SCs only when the reported religion is Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist. Therefore, all those Muslims who have dalit identities will be excluded from being identified as the SCs. Similar situation may occur in case of Christians as well. Note also that there is a pending case of judgment in this regard in the Supreme Court of India.

The Census will also collect data on selected economic and education indicators and asset ownership so as to categorize households / people into the ‘below poverty line’ or ‘above poverty line’ status. Such data along with religion and caste are expected to be used to compute the relative backwardness or forwardness of a caste group; which will have ramifications in determining the eligibility to jobs and higher level educational admissions under the quota system. In the following is a discussion as how the misclassified Caste data will not only be detrimental to the social, economic and educational development of the Muslim community in India; but also becomes stumbling block in the efforts of mainstreaming of the Muslims community in Indian economic and social spaces.

As mentioned earlier a pre-determined list will be used to identify the SCs and STs for any given geographic or administrative area; as they have guarantee and authentication under the seal of the Indian constitution since the Independence. The OBC categorisation on the other hand, is a post-Mandal scheme and supported only through government orders. The demands for ICC-2011 were made by caste groups which can be grouped as the OBCs (other backward classes). Will the ICC-2011 be based on Mandal Commission list of OBCs? The Census Commissioner during a meeting recently clarified that the Mandal Commission list will not be used during the ICC-2011. However, it will be helpful if at the outset central and independent state level lists of the OBCs are finalized and used before canvassing the ICC-2011.

Lessons can be drawn from the OBC reporting status during the NSS surveys collected annually. The NSSO 61st round data for the reference year 2004-5 suggests that only about 26% of all Hindus are considered as the High Castes or socio-economically better offs; whereas, about 60% of Muslims fall into the non-OBC and thus socio-economically better off category. This is because none from the Muslims are classified under the SCs/STs category and all such Muslims with the SC / ST identity could actually be listed as the high castes / class. This is a serious problem and an anomaly which must be addressed before any major effort to collect castes data in India.

Caste / Class Classification and Proportions of Hindus and Muslims in India (Estimates from NSS Surveys)

Religion SCs+STs OBCs All Others (High Caste/Class)
Hindus 31.3 42.8 26
Muslims 1.3 39.2 59.5

Source: Extracts from the Sachar Report

What should be done?

In view of these facts it is recommended:

1. That the Cast Census should be undertaken only after the pending Supreme Court judgment in the matter of the recognition of the presence of ‘dalit’ identities amongst the Muslims and Christians in India is decided.

2. Now that the ICC-2011 is announced and a certainty beginning June-2011, the Muslims who intend to report their castes as dalits / SCs / STs, should do as they wish. The ICC-2011 enumerators should be instructed to collect this information as reported and not to filter out caste reporting linked to religion. Note that, practically all Muslims in India are converts and are hardly any original Muslims who migrated from out of erstwhile Indian territory now reside in India. Further, it is historically documented that most of those converted to Islam belong to low castes such as the dalits and the tribes. The ‘Sachar Committee’ (2006) on status of Muslims in India has also clearly revealed the distressing socio-economic and educational conditions of Muslims which are closer to the levels recorded for the SCs and STs belonging to the Hindu Community.

3. It will be almost impossible to prepare a list of Muslim caste/class for classifying them as Muslim-OBCs. Therefore, a ‘list of exclusion’ can be prepared so as to determine the social forwardness or backwardness of a large section of Muslims who are not reported themselves as the SC or ST. Such list of exclusion can be prepared for each state separately after consultations with the state level Muslim intellectuals and religious bodies. Thus, once a list of exclusion is prepared, all other Muslims who do not belong to this list can be identified as the “Muslim OBCs”.

Abusaleh Shariff was Member Secretary of the Sachar Committee and Navaid Hamid is Member, National Integration Council.


Utter false figure

Writers have indicated that the population of Ashrafs (High Castes) among Indian Muslims is about 60%. What a false is general belief that 85% of the Indian Muslim population belongs to OBCs. How suddently upper castes population shooted up.

Writers have also mentioned that it will be impossible to get the list of OBCs among Muslims. How is it? Don't they even don't know about central govt. list of OBCs where different muuslims castes have been identified and given the OBC quota...also are they that much unqualified to see the list of state OBCs where muslims have been given the reservation under OBC Quota...we can just laugh of such false figure and propaganda.


WE SHOULD SERIOUSLY THINK ON IT and should reach collectively on some conclusion.

GOI wont do anythng 4 Muslims 4 fear of RSS backlash.

GOI will not., can not., do anything for Indian Muslims., for fear of BJP/RSS backlash. Fact of the matter is : The RSS is ruling India thru its "B" team., the Congress. It is only a matter of "shade". Though Dr. Manmohan Singh means well, he is powerless., as the Bureacuracy (from Cabinet Secretary to the Dist. Collector via. Secretaries of the Ministries and Chief Secretaries of the States) does not support him. They take his Memo read it., and throw it in the trash-can.

The whole bureaucracy is saffronised., so is the Police and the Judiciary. Now even Journalism has been tainted/corrupted (paid news). Democracy is a noble concept., but man is a beast., and history (false) is written by the victor !

RSS thrives on hatred and division. Hindus are being taken for a ride (they are a very evolved race., but there is immense provocation. RSS says : Police tumhare saath hai. Why dont you rape muslim girls., why dont you loot and steal muslim property., and kill the inmates. Its so easy. Why work hard. Rape/Loot/Kill at will., and nothing will happen to you). Inspite of this huge and great provocation (hate drip-irrigation 24x7) there is no civil war yet on the indian streets., but thats the ultimate drop scene.

India = a country of social strife, riots and pogroms.


The analisation of the congress party is correct.
Our respected Janaab Salman Khursheed saaheb can not pressure the high command,Sonia Gandhi, as late A.P. chief minister Y.S.R did.

Its obvious..

Respected readers and Bros...its articulate that Congress is a B'team of BJP.From Mumbai riots to Ayodhya--all are brainchind of Congress party.Sachar report was tabled in mid 2006 bt nobody knows when this report will see light.I more fear Media also is corrupted now...and its very sad Muslims has no leader.Omar/Faruk Abdullah or Salamn khurshid all are toothless Ministers have to right.

Caste Census-- how will it affect Muslims

An article of great depth. Well researched and well written. The writers are highly experienced gentlemen. Our community leaders need to take note of this. It is a far sighted article. Proper or improper implementation of this scheme will immensely affect Muslims in general, and its implications will be far reaching for the community. Leaders sit up, think collectively and act collectively.

cast system

i am astonished to see that muslims are accepting cast system? SC/ST/OBC? WHATS RUBBISH THIS?

understand the islam

first of all we should know that all the muslims are only muslims. dont split them on any is opposite to islam. it is upto ALLAH to decide who follow the true islamic way. so we call us only muslims. for the purpose of reservation or any other compliment dont spoil islam's originality. the census should be teken as muslim category only or on the income basis.we all the muslims stand by this.dont follow ur old cultural idendity please come into fold of islam

The whole of Indian Muslims are backward.

But there is Azim Premji (who is a Bohra Aga Khani., and not a Muslim), Sania Mirza, Shahrukh Khan !!! The RSS Hit-Argument (playing to the gallery).

But there are Madrasas where muslim kids go ! Kapil Sibal's love for Madrasas is so deep that for 4% he forgets the remainder 96% kids !

I say, diversity is measured in different ways. One of it is religion. Majority of Indian muslims are backward and poor. So give a 10% reservation to Muslims (in professional seats, IIM/IIT/Medical/Engg/IAS-UPSC) in education + jobs. But then the creamy layer or advanced muslims will take advantage of it... it will not benefit the poor muslims... Since when did RSS/BJP develop love for the "poor" muslim ???

I say, give reservations to Indian Muslims (but that cannot be done under a secular constitution... we dont give reservation based on religion..). We are a secular country on paper., and how secular we are., is well evident in Gujarat. Since constitution's tenor is secular, we cant provide reservation for muslims, just because they are muslims. it is a sound argument., but what other way do we have ?

India cannot progress with 20% of its population pushed under the carpet of development. Muslims must be included (from KG in top indian schools right upto the cabinet secretariat)., if India is to survive as a society. I say give reservation to muslims. Even if the advantaged muslims benefit from it. So be it.

Let us have rich muslims in academia (admissions) and bureaucracy., instead of having NONE. Something is better than nothing. This must be put plainly. Congress(Indira) cannot do it. It doesnt have a single orator who is bi-lingual.

BJP is taking Hindus for a ride (1992 was a repeat of 1940-47 by Muslims). BJP will not rest until it turns india into a hindu pakistan.

why we accept cast at all?????

This is big question today and tomorrow it would be a agenda of every meeting..why we accept cast system in Muslims??? Are we really divided by casts? Do we really have upper and lower system with us???

We should n't list our self in cast.. Just say I AM a MUSLIM (irrespective of rich or poor).

We rise together and fall together

I request all to raise the voice now or never against this plot of cast among Muslims


Writer is paid

I totally disagree with writers that almost all Indian Muslims are converted so we should accept cast system and thus the writer is suggesting us how to get it.

Jago my brotheren

read n observe the conditions in depth n now i came to the analysis that the only way out is to get rid of illeteracy... n it needs support frm wealthy muslims n govt.. i mentioned govt after muslim community bcoz i knw govt is not loyal with muslims .. monoply of extremist hindus in govt sector will never allow muslim to grow.. bt the only solution is to get educated .... so dont lose hope n sturugle for ur right.. andhera boht hy lekin andhere se lrne k liye roshni maujood hy get united, forget minor diferences n go ahead Allah will help surely. :)

Caste and Indian Muslims

I am confused by a lot of the comments here. The article is on the counting of caste in India, and its implication. The point is research after research has shown the existence of caste among South Asian Muslims. Infact most of the scholarly work has been done in Bangladesh and Pakistan, and not India research is scanty. I would recomend Stephen Lyons book on the Gujjar of Pakistan or Saghir Ahmeds a Punjabi Village and Harris Gazdars excellent work on the Sindhi Muslim social structure. Similar scholarly research should be carried out in India. Right now all we have is propanganda andsloganeering. It would be the height of stupidity if Muslim OBCs don't report their caste, as it would reduce their chances in the reservation game. I suspect the people who shout the loudest that we are Muslims practice caste in their private lifes.