Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2020 > Census of India 2021: History, Religion, caste and Deception

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 13 New Delhi March 14, 2020

Census of India 2021: History, Religion, caste and Deception

Sunday 15 March 2020, by A K Biswas

Though census across the globe is a tool for data collection to facilitate demographic study and application of the economic and social development aimed at overall national growth and prosperity, instances of exceptional abuses may not be unknown. India has had the opportunity and prolonged experience of census operations, beginning with 1872, about a century-and-half ago. With every decade thereafter during the colonial rule till 1941 and since Indian independence, the headcount of our population has been undertaken with unfailing regularity as well as punctuality.

Accurate information about the characteristics of the population vitally influences planning for employment and manpower programming, migration, housing, education, public health and welfare, social services, economic and social planning, and numerous integral aspects of the life of the country.

Census data are employed in multiple uses. Exact population data furnish crucial input for multifarious administrative purposes. Demarcation of constituencies and the allocation of representation on elective bodies is one of the fundamental administrative uses in Indian democratic polity. The legal and administrative status of a territorial division depends upon the size of its population. The population data determine the total number of seats to be reserved for members of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in Parliament and Assemblies. Accurate information about the characteristics of the population vitally influences planning for employment and manpower programming, migration, housing, education, public health and welfare, social services, economic and social planning, and numerous integral aspects of the life of the country. Though since 1872, decadal head counts were undertaken with these aims in view, sadly, the census operations, being subjected to manipulation of vested interest, have lost its intrinsic reliability. Dr B.R. Ambedkar had bemoaned political interference and manipulation of census data:

The Census of India has over a number of decades ceased to be an operation in demography. It has become a political affair. Every community seems to be attempting to artificially augment its numbers at the cost of some other community for the sake of capturing greater and greater degree of political power in its own hands. The Scheduled Castes seem to have been made a common victim for the satisfaction of the combined greed of the other communities who through their propagandists or enumerators are able to control the operations and the results of the Census.1

A distinguished member, Jaipal Singh Munda, who represented the tribal population from Ranchi, ventilated his disgust against census in the following words:

I am not one who was ever an admirer of the census figures.2

Census, Causes of Anxiety and Agony?

The observations of Dr Ambedkar pertained to political scrambling in the colonial era. Both the Hindus and Muslims, contenders for power with partition in the offing, hacked two crore data of the Scheduled Caste population to swell their respective ranks. H.J. Khandekar, (C.P. & Berar) on August 27, 1947 ventilated his strong unhappiness and anger in the Constituent Assembly at the decrease of population of the Scheduled Castes vis-à-vis that of other communities in 1941 over that of 1931 by “two crores”, though during the decade, India’s population swelled to “40 crores”.3 Pinpointing the hackers responsible for shameful role, Khandekar told the august House that

in the 1941 census in the provinces of Bengal and Bihar some of our Muslim brethren got the Scheduled Castes registered as Muslims on the one hand and Caste Hindus got them registered as Hindus on the other. And this is the reason why ever since the 1931 Census our population has been continuously declining and in the 1941 census the strength of the Scheduled Castes was less than in the 1931 Census by 2 crores.4

The sanctity of the census data was, therefore, soiled and molested long ago. The upcoming operations for the census of India 2021, slated to begin in April, furnish us a window to take a close look at some of the deplorable roles the political actors played in the past.

Census Data poached to Enhance ‘Political Fate’?

Jogendra Nath Mandal and Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee were at daggers drawn over the manipulation of the census data of 1941. Though pushed out of the conventional frame of discourses, their conflict over census was quite an important political event. The Bengal Hindu Mahasabha supremo involved himself in a pioneering campaign to manipulate and hack census data with a purely political motive. Documenting in his diary, he on December 6, 1945 wrote:

There was a great stir in the province on account of the census operations. The Congress had done untold mischief by boycotting the Census of 1931. A large number of Hindus were thus rendered indifferent and the entries made were hardly dependable. On the census figures however our political fate depended and the loss we thus suffered was incalculable. In 1940 we took up a firm attitude from the Mahasabha. Our agitation was well organised. We wanted to check the growing tendency among the Scheduled Caste people to regard themselves outside the Hindu fold—their antagonism was being slowly nurtured on political consideration—Caste Hindus were the enemies of the Scheduled Castes’ progress etc. We wanted that Hindu solidarity must grow; we wanted that caste prejudices should disappear.

We, therefore, declared that we should not indicate our caste but call ourselves Hindus in our census returns. This was bitterly opposed by a section of Scheduled Caste people...We not only got all Hindus to take an active interest in the census but united them as far as possible.5

The outline of the battle was drawn distinctly—on the one hand, a section of the Scheduled Caste people bitterly opposed the Mahasabha mischief while, on the other, all Hindus took an active interest in the census by endorsing the novelty. Dissection of the whole episode would lay bare the truth that the Hindus did not, in the end, espouse the cause the Mahasabha had championed. A vast section of Scheduled Caste got trapped, though the Mahasabha leaders did not express even customary gratitude to them.

The Hindu Mahasabha was keen to safeguard the Hindu political fate and fortune which implied dominance of Brahmans and their satellites who numbered a few lakhs over millions of various castes and faiths in Bengal. Whenever the Hindus faced any crisis threatening their security, happiness, social stature and political future, they espoused the untouchables to safeguarding their bleak and uncertain future under the pretention of nationalism. A veteran journalist of The London Times, Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852—1929), held a mirror to their behaviour.

The propaganda that has been carried on by Brahmans amongst the Namasudras, a large and mainly agricultural caste, chiefly located in the Jessore district of Bengal and the Faridpur district of Eastern Bengal. The purpose of the propaganda was political, but the inducement offered to the Namasudras in order to stimulate their Nationalism was that the Brahmans would relax the rigour of caste in favour of those who took the Swadeshi vow, and it is stated that, in several villages where they succeeded in making a large number of converts, the Brahman agitators marked their approval by condescending to have their twice-born heads shaved by the village barber—an act which, however trivial it may seem to us, constituted an absolutely revolutionary breach with a 3,000-years-old past.6

Brahman propagandists fanned out in villages of Jessore and Faridpur districts to win over the Namasudras, who were agriculturists with offer of ‘inducement’ under the pretext of inflaming the spirit of nationalism in them. Decidedly they cooked a delicious chapter by their eagerness to induce the Namasudras!

A dreary and sagging prospect of the anti-partition agitation and the swadeshi movement alone could have driven worried Brahmans into the need for winning the Namasudras to their agitation against Curzon’s administrative reform implied in the partition of Bengal. This, ipso facto, implies tons of significance to invite attention of Sir Chirol. The incongruousness of the situation was striking and abominable even to imagine with equanimity of mind for a Hindu worth his salt. In the 1901 census, social prece-dence of castes was ascribed to the Namasudras vis-à-vis all other castes on Brahminical para-meters. Though the second largest Bengali caste numbering 19,08,728 persons, Namasudras, according to the census document:

[[<> (1) are not served by good Brahmans as family priests; (2) are denied access to the interior of ordinary Hindu temples; and (3) cause pollution by touch or within certain distance.7

In the social precedence of castes’ position, as obtained by each of them in the Hindu society of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, was exhibited by E.G. Gait, ICS, in his census report of 1901. Divided into seven groups, Brahmins alone occupied Group I. Group II comprised two castes—Baidya and Kayastha in that order. Group III, though called Namaskars, had twenty castes. Group IV boasted of just two castes, for example, Chase Kaibartta, rechristened as Mahishya in 1911 and Goala. Thirteen castes like Batista, Bhuiya, Jogi etc. adorned Group V. The Group VI had 32 untouchable elements, for example, Bagdi, Bait, Berea, Bhaskar, Chain, Chasa, Dhoba, etc, yielding 24th position amongst 32 castes. Eight Brahmans went to Chandal, renamed Namasudra only in 1911 to induce them swadeshi vows—a rare spectacle unknown to history, mythology, or even in any other realm. Surendra Nath Banerjea had requested Guru Chand Thakur, the Namasudra social reform and spiritual leader, to join the anti-partition and swadeshi movement, which he declined.

The sagging fate of the anti-partition agitation and swadeshi movement in 1905-11 was portrayed in the efforts of the Brahmans, who induced the Namasudras. The movement was manned, organised or managed, propelled and patronised hitherto entirely by the Hindu upper castes who perceived threats of emergence of cheering rival forces, who were primarily agriculturists—Muslims and low castes to claim spoils out of the administrative decision created in the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.

The inducement in the eye of Chirol was a revolutionary breach of the Brahminical tradition bred and rared since times immemorial. The Brahmans permitted the village barber to shave the heads of Namasudras! Their liberality marked a generous deal for the victims of hatred over 3000 years was unique. But the truth lay elsewhere; their disposition was marked by mendacity or prevarication.

A delegation comprising the All-Bengal Namasudra Association and All-Bengal Depressed Classes representing 11½ million, who accounted for 58 per cent of the Hindu population of Bengal, returned in 1921 the census waited on the Simon Commission at Calcutta on January 21, 1929.9 In course of deposition of oral evidence, the Commission asked the delegation:

“Do barbers shave you?” [question no. 35]

Reply: “No, the barbers that shave the high caste Hindus do not shave us.”10

Clearly, we have a situation that controverts frontally what Brahmans, during the aforesaid propaganda, promised to the Namasudras in their villages in Jessore and Faridpur districts. This is proved by historical facts, documented in the report of Indian Statutory Commission.

Scriptures that had the credit of dividing society into fragments unbridgeably and consi-dered as sacred, were fabricated by the Brahman. The Hindus have been bound hand and foot and thrown before the Brahman as slaves for their happiness and aggrandisement. So, solidarity in the Hindu society is next to impossible. When some sections of the Scheduled Castes, suffering discrimination, hatred, injustice and indignity, showed, after generations and centuries, signs of defiance and zeal for emancipation, they were blamed for antagonism. When such efforts are set in motion, we perforce are to probe who would benefit the most by a synthetic solidarity garnered by the Maha-sabha. But the bottleneck for solidarity in the Hindu community, according to the Maha-sabha, was the antagonism against Caste Hindus growing among the Scheduled Caste people. How imbecile! The accused blamed their victims with straight face.

Dr S.P. Mookerjee accused the Scheduled Castes for antagonism, although the latter were nurtured on political consideration. But it must be admitted candidly on all hands that Caste Hindus not only did not ever extend their helping hands for moral and material progress of the Scheduled Castes but also obstructed their own efforts to improve their lot. Were they, therefore, wrong to portray unmistakably the upper-caste Hindus as their enemies? Dr Mookerjee displayed deplorable lack of states-man-like qualities in admitting candidly the unfriendly role Hindus played in perpetuating discrimination and illiteracy against the tens of millions of unfortunate souls and sabotaging the fundamental ingredient for solidarity.

When Dr Mookerjee hurled the accusation at the Scheduled Castes people who “regard them-selves outside the Hindu fold”, one is led to ask an amusing counter-question: “Since when did the Hindus regard the Scheduled Castes within the Hindu fold?” In the first census of 1872 in Bengal a very large segment, comprising Bagdi, Barui, Badiya, Buna, Chain, Chamar and Muchi, Chandal, Dom, Hari, Kaora, Koch, Mal, Malo, Mehtar (Mehtar), Bhuimali, to note a few, aggregating 51,10,989, were designated as Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals, accounting for 41.1 per cent of 1,24,25,750 of Hindus.11 The Imperial (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1936, issued at The Court of Buckingham Palace, London on April 30, 1936, was published in The Gazette of India, June 6, 1936. They were untouchables.12

Over five million (precisely 51,10,989), returned as Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals, make no mistake, were no result of British invention or conspiracy hatched by them. The colonial bureaucracy held in highest esteem the declaration of Queen Elizabeth directing all authorities in India to “abstain from all interference with the religious belief or worship of our subjects, on pain of our highest displeasure” while she assumed charge of the Indian Empire from the East India Company.13 On all issues touching, even remotely, the social life of Hindus, Brahman scholars, well-versed in Hindu scriptures, were routinely consulted for guidance lest they encroach socio-religious boundaries out of ignorance. Kazis, well-versed in Islamic laws, too were their employee for similar advice. G. Gordon Young, ICS, Director of Public Instructions, Bengal Government, consulted Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar on the desirability of admission of Kayastha and Subarnabanik [goldsmith] castes in the Sanskrit College, Calcutta. While the Pundit favoured the case of the former, he scoffed at the aspiration of the latter on the logic that ”in the scale of castes, the class (goldsmith or Subarnabanik) stands very low”.14

A Galaxy of Untouchable Castes

The Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals, returned in 1872, are marshalled alongside the Scheduled Castes, contained in the aforesaid Imperial Order, in 1936 for better appreciation:

 We cannot forget this was the high noon of the renaissance of nineteenth century which, some Bengalis fervently believe and/or claim, had profoundly influenced their education, culture, attitude, outlook, et al; re-shaped their life and put them on road to modernism. Nonetheless the same people assiduously refused to recognise human dignity together with right to education and enlightenment of over five million Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals wallowing at the bottom of society unnoticed and uncared in their midst! Was this really a renaissance which everywhere else brought light to the neglected and vested the deprived sections with human dignity?

List of Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals,1872 Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order,1936
Bagdi, Bahelia, Bauri, Bediya, Bind, Buna, Chain, Chamar and Muchi, (Kural or Kuril, Chandal, Abashan, Dom, Turi, Dusadh, Garo, Ghasi, Hadi, Hajang, Halalkhor, Jalia Kaibartta, Jhalo Malo or Malo, Mahili, Mal, Malo, Mehtar, (Bhuimali, Pan, Pasi, and Sikhari. Agariya, Bagdi, Bahelia, Baiti, Bauri, Bediya, Beldar, Berua, Bhatiya, Bhuimali, Bhuiya, Bhumij, Bind, Binjhia, Chamar, Dhenuar, Dhoba, Doai, Dom, Hari, Kaora, Karanga, Khaira, Khyen, Koch, Dosadh, (a) Pali or Palya, (b) Rajbanshi, Kodmal, Hari, Ho, Kadar, Kan, Kandh, Kandra, Kaora, Kapuria, Karenga, Kastha, Kaur, Khaira, Khatik, Koch, Konai, Konwar, Kora, Kotal, Kalbegi, Lodha, Lohar, Mahar, Mali, Mal, Mallah, Malpahariya, Mech, Mehtor, Muchi, Munda, Musahar, Nagasia, Namasudra, Nat, Nuniya, Oraon, Paliya, Pan, Pasi, Pod, Rabha, Rajbanshi, Rajwar, Santal, Sunri, Tiyar and Turi.

Historian Romesh Chandra Datt, and ICS office had defined renaissance of Bengal in the following words:

The conquest of Bengal by the English was not only a political revolution, but ushered in a greater revolution in thoughts and ideas, in religion and society ... From the stories of gods and goddesses, kings and queens, princes and princesses, we have learnt to descend to the humble walks of life, to sympathise with the common citizen or even common peasant ... Every revolution is attended with vigour, and the present one is no exception to the rule. Nowhere in the annals of Bengali literature are so many or so bright names found crowded together in the limited space of one century as those of Ram Mohan Roy, Akshay Kumar Dutt, Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar, Isvar Chandra Gupta, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Hem Chandra Banerjee, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Dinabandhu Mitra. Within the three quarters of the present century, prose, blank verse, historical fiction and drama have been introduced for the first time in the Bengali literature.16

Millions of accursed untouchable Bengalis, strangely, escaped attention of the historian who alone did not suffer from myopia. Was the renaissance about Bengali literature only?

There is little doubt that Bengal boasted of a large number of talented men. But nonetheless orthodoxy and prejudice, too powerful and intractable, had raised a high wall between the upper castes and the underdogs who never received humane and courteous treatment from the leading lights of renaissance. The bhadralok bitterly opposed literacy of the Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals, not to speak of education which alone could work as a high-power engine for their emancipation. They held them as slaves.

According to the Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo, the Bengali babus “have no object in learning” than ”to qualify for government employment”. They betrayed the trust of Macaulay who envisioned thus:

We do not, at present, aim at giving education directly to the lower classes of the people of this country. We aim at raising up an educated class who will hereafter, as we hope, be the means of diffusing among their countrymen some portion of their knowledge we have imparted to them.17

A tiny segment took the fullest advantage of Macaulay’s policy. They were the upper-caste Hindus, who, by temperament, behaviour or body language towards the underprivileged countrymen led Viceroy Mayo to observe thus:

The more education you give them (Bengali Baboo), the more they will keep to themselves, and make their increased knowledge a means of their tyranny.18[Italicised by this writer]

Note the word ‘tyranny’. The remorseless tyrants were bhadralok whose victims were the hapless untouchables, occupying the lowest strata of the social hierarchy. This warrants a detailed discourse elsewhere to explain their oppression inflicted on the ignorant Bengali masses.

Surendra Nath Banerjea, the most prominent of the nationalist leaders, to cite a solitary instance in support, was firmly opposed to universalisation of education. As the first Minister (1923-1925) of Local Self Government under Dyarchy remorseless, he threw the Municipalities and District Boards in deep freezer so far as education of the masses was concerned. Educational Supplement of The London Times in 1926 disclosed that

The Bengal Legislature passed an Act intro-ducing the principle of compulsory primary education in May, 1919; ”but not a single local authority in the province availed itself of the option for which the Act provides Primary Education” in Bengal.19

By his quiet apathy towards masses education, the Minister of Local Self Government inflicted widespread, though, bloodless, violence! French President Charles de Gaulle’s observation is apt:

Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

In 1912, opposition and campaigns of Banerjea and his compatriots led to the defeat of the Compulsory Education Bill G.K. Gokhale had introduced in the Central Legislative Council.20 Bengal, nay India, is proud of many such tyrannical educated Babus and nationalists, who stood, like defiant pillars, against universalisation of education, lest untouchables acquired literacy.

Hindu Mahasabha Campaign: No Caste in Census Return

The Hindu Mahasabha launched a campaign and propagated among the masses in every nook and corner of Bengal their motto before 1941 that “we should not indicate our caste but call ourselves Hindus in our census returns”.21

In the past, as and when the Hindus were in deep crisis arising out of popular support, they courted the untouchables or depressed classes. Their ploy for the Scheduled Castes to return themselves as Hindus was, we have noted before, “bitterly opposed by a section of Scheduled Caste people”. By pretentiously roping the untouchables under the Hindu umbrella, the Mahasabha aimed at overcoming the political rough weather and to grab political power as their (Scheduled Castes’) representatives, depriving them proportionate share in the power. This was a conspiracy to poach into the Scheduled Caste share of power base and enlarge their size of the cake. However, who did oppose bitterly the Mahasabha strategy that rattled Dr S.P. Mookerjee?

Even though eighteen lakh Untouchables returned as Hindu Mahasabha did not Express Gratitude!

Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Namasudra leader from East Bengal (now Bangladesh), rose to be the Law Member of India’s Interim Government. He issued a press statement on the Hindu Mahasabha’s baneful design involving the census of 1941. The Statesman, Calcutta quoted him as saying,

the Hindu Mahasabha had carried on an intensive agitation amongst all sections of Hindus in all parts of Bengal to the effect that they should not mention their castes at all and claim to be recorded simply as Hindus.22

Referring to Dr Mookerjee’s press statement regarding the population of Scheduled Caste vis-à-vis that of caste Hindus, J. N. Mandal castigated the objective behind the Hindu Mahasabha propaganda as “sinister” and stated:

The statement is conspicuous not only for its sinister object but also for the important revelation of a particular fact that the Hindu Mahasabha carried on an extensive agitation amongst all sections of Hindus in all parts of Bengal to the effect that they should not mention their castes at all and claim to be recorded as Hindus.23

He pointedly termed the assertion of Maha-sabha leaders that “they did not attain success amongst Scheduled Castes and that response from Non-Scheduled Castes and more advanced sections of Hindus was very considerable in all the districts of Bengal” as “nothing but distortion of truth“.24 [italicised by this writer]

Isn’t Hindu without caste like coal without its black hue? With incontrovertible insight into Hindu psyche about caste obsession and cogent argument, the Law Member advanced his views:

The fact actually was the Scheduled Castes people, being poor and illiterate, fell victim to the persuasions and influences of Hindu Mahasabha leaders, who were in most cases local zamindars and moneylenders. The line of their propaganda was so clever and attractive that it was simply impossible for the unsophisti-cated Scheduled Castes people to understand the real motive behind it.25

Inviting attention of the public to the media hype preceding the census operations unleashed by the Hindu Mahasabha and its leaders, Mandal added:

Even a cursory study of the press reports just before Census operation would convince anyone how the Hindu Mahasabha leaders were shouting from house-tops and announcing in the press and platform that the Mahasabha had decided to make a casteless Hindu society and appealed to all men and women of the Hindu fold to suppress their castes at the time of enumerations and record themselves simply as Hindus.26

A glowing trap was laid for the social lepers who fell easy prey to the temptation for the promise of casteless society by celebrated Hindu upper caste leaders, zamindars, mahajans and followers. They fanned out to the nook and corner of Bengal and propagated, with angelical face, the Mahasabha agenda. The charade of casteless society hawked by the upper social strata was bought by credulous untouchable and low caste people! The propaganda impacted diverse sections of the society diametrically differently. Mandal underlined the psychological angle of impact dawning on both ends most succinctly,

It brought a new hope in the minds of the Scheduled Castes, but a new fear in the minds of the Caste Hindus, while, on the other hand, the untouchables, who had long suffered by reason of their castes suppressed their respective castes and most jealously recorded themselves simply as Hindus, the latter (the Caste Hindus), on the other hand, got afraid of losing their supremacy they had been enjoying by reason of their castes and did most scrupulously record their respective castes. A large number of Hindu enumerators who were appointed for the census operations intentionally omitted to mention the communities of the Scheduled Castes.27

Sufferers of caste atrocities, injustice, discrimi-nation, deprivation, even dehumanisation, fell prey to the deceptive propaganda. He exposed Dr Mookerjee’s distortion that Hindu Mahasabha “did not attain success amongst Scheduled Castes.” This was a lie, a concoction which was proved with data from the 1941 Census report.

An analysis and comparative study, according to Mandal, a lawyer by profession, proved Dr Mookerjee not only wrong but exhibited the Mahasabha fabrication. He contended that according to the Census of 1931, Scheduled Caste population in Bengal aggregated at 91,24,925 out of the total Hindu population of 3,15,70,407. But in the Census of 1941, the Scheduled Castes’ population numbered 73,78,970 out of total 2,69,48,413 Hindus. This implied a decline of Scheduled Castes population by more than 18 lakhs in a decade.28

Not only fabrication of census data was pointed out, the Mahasabha helped prove that upper-caste Hindus were not onlyagainst abolition of caste but also against Hindu solidarity. Caste militates against solidarity and unity across castes. The Hindus want caste to perpetuate as caste is/was the glaring badges of social image, prestige and dignity and, above all, aristocratic supremacy. So, caste is destined to survive for eternity because the upper caste Hindus are its patrons and defenders.

In Hindudom gratitude for political obligation amongst social and caste unequal is uncommon and unknown. The Hindu Mahasabha campaigns in question proved this point. 

Dr Mookerjee publicly acknowledged indebtedness to upper castes Hindus who, though acted contrary to Hindu Mahasabha policy for returning themselves as Hindus without caste. Notwithstanding the fact that over 18 lakh Scheduled Castes obligingly toed the Mahasabha line and returned themselves as Hindus, the Mahasabha supremo did not feel grateful for their support. This makes solidarity ever amongst Hindus a moonshine.

So, the Hindu Mahasabha supremo’s compli-ment to the upper castes was out and out unmerited. He was, however, afraid of antago-nising the upper echelons telling in public that they did not support the Hindu Mahasabha ideology and cause. J.N. Mandal taunted Dr Mookerjee, a native of Calcutta, by culling data from the census document that in 1931 the population of Calcutta rose sharply from 11 lakhs in 1931 to 21 lakhs in 1941. But the Scheduled Caste population plummeted from 1,07,194 to 55,000 during the decade. ”It is known to Dr Mookerjee that the number of menial servants of the Calcutta Corporation, namely, sweepers, scavengers, and Mehtars alone exceeded 30,000,” said the Law Member.29

Is History likely to Repeat itself in 2021?

As per media reports, the top brass of the RSS and its outfits are at work to raise awareness in such a way that the tribal people call them-selves Hindus during the census of 2021.30 Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister opposed the move, which, incidentally, sounds analogous to the propaganda of Hindu Mission. 

In 1925 a Hindu Mission was founded in Bengal with professed objectives:

(1) to preach and propagate the Hindu religion and culture; (2) to reform and readjust orthodox Hindu society in the light of Hindu ideals; (3) to reclaim all those who or whose ancestors once wandered away from the parent faith of Hinduism; and (4) to unite the followers of all creeds and doctrines of Indian and non-Indian origin into one great religious brotherhood, “spiritualising them with the sole enfranchising ideals of Sanatan Dharma”.31

The Mission published a pamphlet on 6th Asvin, 1337 in Bengali to preach its aims and objectives as detailed hereunder:

From the days of the Ramayana and the Mahabharat there have been living in Bengal, Bihar and Assam thousands of Santhals, Garos, Balus, Banais, Khasias, Oraons, Mundas, Mikirs, Miris, Lushais, Kukis, Lalungs, Kacharis, Rabhas and Meches. These inhabitants of Hindustan are fundamentally Hindus. In the census of 1921, they were returned as Animist instead of as Hindus. By this a wrong has been done to our simple religious brothers and sisters.32

In the census of 1921 these tribes were returned as animists.

The imaginative Hindu Mission had saddled these tribes with badge of caste they were to bear when they returned themselves as Hindus. In the words of Hindu Mission,

We hope that during the forthcoming enumeration in January 1931 the above Hindu, men and women, will rectify the mistakes made at the previous census. They should record “Hindu” as their religion, “Kshatriya” as their caste and “Sinha” or “Ray” as their family name. Special propaganda should be undertaken to see that these instructions are carried out uniformly in all places.33

The Indian Tea Planters Association joined the Hindu Mission campaign and declared that

it is an open fact that the coolies of Oraon, Munda, Santal and other tribes follow a Hindu faith and other Hindu rites.34

The tribal communities have become the delicious targets of the Hindus since long for enhancing their political objectives. Jaipal Singh Munda focused on this aspect more precisely and told the august Constituent Assembly:

Ever since the Hindu Mahasabha became a militant political organisation, the census figures have never been reliable or accurate.... Take for instance, the Central Provinces. You compare the figures of Adibasis there, say in 1941; take the censuses of 1921, 1931 and 1941. You find in between 1911 and 1941 the figure gets reduced by 18 lakhs. 35

The same Member also cited deliberations of the latest Indian Science Congress on the depletion of tribal population in the country. According to him, “the scientists said- there are bias that there were in this country not less than 30 million Adibasis. In 1941 census the figure is of course only 24.8 million.36

In the interest of the country and its progress, the poaching of census data for fattening political fate of certain ambitious sections should be frustrated by watchful authorities for the interest of the progress and prosperity of all sections of people else, at this rate, we may have to rue that the tribes may vanish someday.


1. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol 17 (1), Government of Maharashtra, p. 365.

2. Constituent Assembly Debates, Constituent Assembly Debates on August 24, 1949 Part I.

3. Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings) Vol. V.

4. Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings) Vol. V.

5. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Leaves from a Diary, Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 45.

6. Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol Indian Unrest, Macmillan & Company, London 1910, p. 102.

7. Census of India 1911, Vol. V, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Sikkim, Part I Report by L. S. S. O ’Malley, ICS, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta, 1913, p. 232-233.

8. Census of India, 1901, Vol. VI, The Lower Provinces of Bengal and their Feudatories, Report Part I by E. A. Gait, ICS, pp. 369-373 & 460.

9. Simon Commission Report, Vol. XVII, quoted in the Namasudras of Bengal by A. K. Biswas, Blumoon Books, New Delhi, 2000, p. 71.

10. Ibid., p. 80.

11. Report on The Census of Bengal, 1872 by H Beverley, p. 18 and Statement V. B., pp. cxvi-cxvii. The Semi-Hinduised Aboriginals in 1872 aggregated at 51,10,989.

12. (

13. Declaration of Queen Elizabeth on December 2, 1858 quoted by Katherine Mayo in Mother India, 1927, pp. 155-156.

14. Benoy Ghosh, Vidyasagar O Bengali Samaj (Bengali), Orient Longman, Calcutta, 1973, p. 545.

15. Report on The Census of Bengal, 1872 by H Beverley, Statement V. B., pp. cxvi-cxvii.

16. R.C. Dutt (1962) [First published 1877 as The Literature of Bengal]. Cultural Heritage of Bengal. (3rd ed). Punthi Pustak. p. 166—167, cited in Nitish Sengupta (2001). History of the Bengali-speaking People. pp. 211—212.

17. Quoted by Herbert Alice Stark, Vernacular Educationin Bengal from 1813 to 1912, Calcutta General Publishing Co., 1916, p. 55.

18. B.D. Basu, Indian Under the British Crown, Calcutta, 1933, p. 128 quoted by A K Biswas in Namasudras of Bengal, Blumoon Books, Delhi, 2000, p. 39.

19. London Times, Educational Supplement, Nov. 13, 1926, P- 484 quoted by Katherine Mayo in Mother India, 1927, p. 189.

20. A.K. Biswas, ‘Universalisation of Education: India in a Trap, Bane of Negligence Portends National Disaster’, Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 38, September 9, 2009.

21. The Statesman, April 19, 1944 quoted in MahapranJogendranath (a work in Bengali), Vol. I, by Jagadish Chandra Mandal, Caturtha Duniya, Calcutta, 1975, p. 131.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid., p. 131.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid. 

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid., pp. 131-132.

28. Ibid. 

29. The Statesman, April 19, 1944, op. cit.

30. Free Press, dateline Bhopal,“Will not tolerate religious affiliation against tribals’ identity”Sunday, February 9, 2020.

31. Census of India, 1931, Vol. V, Bengal and Sikkim, Part I Report by A. E. Porter, ICS, p. 394.

32. Ibid., p. 395.

33. Ibid., p. 395.

34. Ibid. 

35. Constituent Assembly Debates, Constituent Assembly Debates on August 24, 1949 Part I.

36. Ibid.

The author is a retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, Dr B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

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