India to hold first caste census since British rule
India's cabinet approved Thursday the first full census of the country's caste system since British colonial times, aiming to better target development policies for the most deprived groups.
The proposal to gather information on caste had triggered heated debate in parliament as critics argued that it would breed inequity and reinforce a divisive system that the country hopes to put behind it.
But caste-based regional parties had urged the government to accept the survey, arguing that the information would help open up opportunities for lower castes.
The last separate caste census was carried out in 1931 by the British, although caste questions have been occasionally asked as part of India's 10-yearly population surveys undertaken since independence.
Caste questions were included in the first national census in 1872.
"A separate house-to-house enumeration of caste will be done during the period June 2011 to September 2011," Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
"This satisfies all the various requirements that have been projected and discussed and debated extensively."
Caste discrimination is banned in India but still pervades many aspects of daily life, especially outside the cities.
India started its most recent population census in April. It will also gather biometric data for the first time from across the vast and chaotic nation.
Over 2.5 million officials are currently classifying India's population of around 1.2 billion people according to gender, religion, occupation and education.
Chidambaram did not say how much the new caste census would cost, but the Press Trust of Indian news agency put the price tag at 650-850 million dollars.
© 2010 AFP