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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dividing Citizens Through Census

When filling in the new U.S. Census questionnaire, I was startled by how much of the form was devoted to inquiring about my household's race and possible Hispanic ethnicity:

If you’re Hispanic, you can check a box that says you’re Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban or Spanish.

If you’re Asian, you can check a box that clarifies if you’re Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan or Pacific Islander.

If you’re black, you get less options: “Black, African American or Negro.”

But white folk get just “White.” And what does “White” even mean? Swedes are white. Iranians are white. Italians are white. French are white.

These complex topics are of more than philosophical interest: in an era of affirmative action, the size of the racial quotas depends on the precise mechanisms used for counting races. In another time, not too long ago, questions like this would have been incredibly racist.

Some people are afraid to answer the race questions. They believe, especially those with bitter experience in the past, that in times of perceived "necessity," they'll use it to round up any race of people they don't like at the time, take everything they own, and move them to godforsaken places in the middle of nowhere. Others are putting in answers for Race such as "Human" or "American." The intention is noble. But this game was rigged a long time ago. Your every move was anticipated. The beneficiaries of quotas pay a lot more attention to the rules of the game than do their quota benefactors. These issues are too crucial to continue to leave wholly to the good will of minority activists.

In India information about 1.2 billion Indians was gathered by the 2010 census. India  deliberated whether to include details of caste in the massive national census that was underway.  Census  sparked off a spirited debate about the role of caste in politics and society. Those who advocate the inclusion of information about caste in the census include political parties from the Hindi heartland. They argue that the exact numbers have to be known so that members of certain castes can make use of caste-based quotas in education and employment. But the critics, who include several ministers in the ruling government, warn that including caste in the count could inflame social tensions and further entrench caste politics.

The caste system had been a fascination of the British since their arrival in India. Coming from a society that was divided by class, the British attempted to equate the caste system to the class system.
The word caste is not a word that is indigenous to India. It originates in the Portuguese word casta which means race, breed or lineage. The British government had stopped the caste based counting in 1930s, saying it to be discriminatory. Suddenly after 80 years some politicians, the so-called OBC leaders, woke up to realize that this was an issue of national importance and pressurized the government to include the caste in census. Government was helpless, even if this was not in its agenda yet the fear of losing a huge vote-bank at a time when Dalit and religion based divisive politics is on song, had led it to say yes. The point is where we are heading to! Is it for a structured India with opportunity to all or a mere political stunt to win back some votes and arguably pushing the nation in the dark ages on some issues of fake nature?

In the last 80 years, some caste names have changed, quite a few new ones have emerged, several castes have merged with others or have moved up or down the social hierarchy, and many have become politically active. Caste being a sensitive issue, the proposition of caste-based census naturally provoked serious debate. Even assuming that caste data are relevant, enumeration of the population on the basis of caste is bound to be vitiated by vote-bank and reservation politics. The renewed emphasis on caste via census operations does not bode well for India’s social and political stability. That caste has been one of the most divisive forces for centuries has never been in doubt. Its segmentation of Indian society into various mutually exclusive groups, who in many places do not marry or break bread with each other, has enabled politicians in recent years to garner support by pitting one caste against another.

At a time when the whole world talks about human rights and equality, India and the U.S. are heading into the politics of quota system in their ongoing census enumeration. In India it is caste based census which will enumerate the OBC people along with SCs and STs., while in the U.S. The Census Bureau's obsession with race has re-ignited long-smoldering controversies over racial identity. Isn't anyone not just a little appalled at humanity's constant need to divide other humans into neat little categories based on arbitrary crap like caste, race or ethnicity? Cannot anyone in the U.S. and India convince them to do away with dividing citizens through census 2010?


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