Are Dalits the biggest caste group in Karnataka? Census results trigger debate, political panic

Is Siddaramaiah's pet project a storm in the making?
Are Dalits the biggest caste group in Karnataka? Census results trigger debate, political panic
Are Dalits the biggest caste group in Karnataka? Census results trigger debate, political panic
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On Monday, the media began to report the findings of Karnataka’s Caste Census and the results have triggered a debate not just among political circles in Karnataka, but also among the public who are criticizing the entire exercise.

Karnataka’s caste census is likely to be the second such exercise in independent India. In 2011, the central government initiated the Socio-Economic Caste Survey that covered the entire country. However, Karnataka’s survey was of a different kind. See more below.

Some television channels and websites began to report the numbers on Monday evening. On Tuesday, several newspapers also published reports, carrying the demographics of various caste and communities.

The most detailed report was published by Kannada news channel Public TV. A website called also carried some details. By Tuesday morning however, The Times of India, Prajavani and Vijaya Karnataka among others. On social media too, the numbers have kicked up a storm, with people sharply criticizing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

The Chairman of the Backward Classes Commission, which carried out the survey and is to submit a report to the state government in May, has flatly denied the authenticity of these figures. “We ourselves do not have the numbers of people of various castes. This information is false,” Prajavani quoted the chairman, H Kantharaj as saying.

The numbers

One of the biggest revelations of the census is that Scheduled Castes together form the single biggest caste group in the state, which if true, would disprove the taken-for-granted caste logic that Lingayats are the numerically biggest community in the state, followed by Vokkaligas. These are the figures published by Public TV:

Scheduled Castes  180 1.08 crore 18
Muslims 84 75 lakh 12.5
Lingayats 90 59 lakh 9.8
Vokkaligas 10 49 lakh 8.16
Kurubas  - 43 lakh 7.1
ST  105 42 lakh 7
Brahmins - 13 lakh 2.1

(The percentage has been calculated with Karnataka’s population as six crore, although the Census 2011 shows the state population as 6.1 crore.)

These results disprove what was considered common knowledge until now, that the Lingayats were the single biggest community. Until now, it was thought that Lingayats formed around 17 percent of Karnataka’s population, followed by Vokkaligas who were estimated to be around 12 percent. However, there is no clarity on the origin of these figures, which are often used around election time.

There is speculation that these figures have been leaked by the Siddaramaiah government itself, in order to meet its own ends. If true, the data also corroborates what Dalit rights activists have long maintained: that the Ahinda formation, the coalition of Dalits, backward castes, and minorities (Alpa Sankhyata, Hindulida, and Dalit) were a numerically strong community.

Political theoreticians and analysts have often written about Dalit-backed or socialist political parties forming the Ahinda combination as an election strategy.

However, in Karnataka, while some districts do have a sizeable Dalit population in non-reserved constituencies, the rest of the Dalit population is spread out across the state.

Lingayats and Vokkaligas however, are strong political forces because they are concentrated in certain parts of the state and can therefore, wield political influence. Lingayats largely have a presence in the districts of north Karnataka, while the Vokkaligas are concentrated in the old Mysore region and the southern districts.

If these numbers are indeed authentic, then a political churning is bound to occur. There is the possibility that various groups would challenge the data or mobilise communities against it. Various Lingayat groups and the heads of some of the most powerful and influential Lingayat Mutts have been opposed to the survey, saying that it would “further divide society”.

However, a number of academics, writers and scholars, have maintained that a caste census was necessary to assess not just demographics but also ascertain the backwardness of caste groups and communities. The government too has maintained that it was necessary to assess the level of backwardness in order to be able to address it better.

Religion and caste

The current census is unique because its design allows people to identify themselves in terms of both religion and caste, without ruling out non-Hindu faiths.

Regardless of doctrinal differences and government categories, the census records how people identify themselves: therefore, several Muslims have also identified themselves by caste, or vice versa. There may also be such numbers available for people of the Scheduled Castes who identify themselves as either Christian, Buddhist.

The census also allows people to refuse being identified on caste lines or even record themselves as atheist.  


Karnataka’s caste survey assesses backwardness on 16 indicators and forwardness based on 14 indicators through 55 questions on details of caste, household income, educational qualifications of all members, livestock and property owned and whether their house has a toilet or not 


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