Featuring 30 noted speakers, the conference asks: Why are the powers-that-be afraid of a caste census?
Prominent scholars, experts, and celebrities are slated to present at a two-day virtual conference at Oxford University on February 5-6 titled “Counting Caste: Breaking the Caste Census Deadlock.” Speakers include Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, Ali Anwar, Dilip Mandal, Christophe Jaffrelot, and Pa Ranjith. Rapper Arivu is slated to perform. The conference is free for all to attend online by registering at: bit.ly/countingcaste.
The conference is organised by the South Asian Alternative Forum of St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and is jointly supported by the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, the South Asian Research Cluster at Wolfson College, and the Oxford South Asian Society.
Speaking of the relevance of the conference, Former Managing Editor of India Today, Dilip Mandal notes, “ India needs all sorts of sociological and intersectional data to frame policies to mitigate the problems it has. As Indian society is quite diverse, not having data causes a situation in which policymakers are making policies without any empirical evidence. It is one of those unique countries which doesn’t want to have enumeration data pertaining to primary fault lines.”
Six panels will explore the colonial construct of the concept of Hinduism, Hindutva’s struggle with the concept, and the question of caste among Indian Muslims. The conference will also explore how dominant groups in other countries have divided marginalized groups in order to control them through the use of enumeration, stratification, and segregation.
Since 1955, India has not collected data on caste groups, barring the scheduled castes, even though multiple independent studies and government reports have clearly shown that the oppressed castes of India are overwhelmingly underrepresented in the media, education, and civil services, and overrepresented in prisons and daily-wage work. These studies include those by Oxfam and the Asian College of Journalism.
As the first prominent international conference on the subject, “Counting Caste” is part of a broader global awakening on issues of caste discrimination. On the same day that the conference was announced, the California State University’s Board of Trustees unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement with the California Faculty Association that recognizes caste discrimination and offers protections against it.
The urgency of the issue is highlighted by activist and Founder of media platform Mooknayak, Meena Kotwal. “The last caste census was in 1931, and based on that we still estimate the demography and hold over resources of different caste groups. Since then, there have been significant changes in the demography of this country. A Caste census would help us point out those castes that are not represented in the institutions of this country so that steps towards equality can be established.”
More information about the conference, the full schedule of panels, and the link to register for the event can be found here.