Ketan Tanna on why itâ€™s absurd for the government to use the 1931 census as an OBC reference guide
It is amusing to note that the census report of 1931 influenced the central government in 2006 to make recommendations on what constituted the backward castes. Free India never conducted a caste-related census and instead of doing a fresh survey, the Congress-led government used the 1931 document as resource material. To understand the absurdity of falling back on such an ancient report, one has to just study the India that the census report portrays. It was another place. The population was about 350 million. According to Thomas Callan Hodson, a professor of anthropology, the census report distinguished Indians on physical traits. The nose was a defining character in the report. â€œNarrow or fine noses in which the width is less than 70% of the height; broad noses in which the proportion rises to 85% and over and medium noses with an index of 70 to 85%,â€ said Hodson in his analysis of 1931 census.
The modernity of the Indian male was also clearly described in that census. Men, across India, had discarded ornaments but had taken to wrist watches and fountain pens. â€œThe clothes worn by all sections are more varied and usually of better quality than they used to be. Shoes are worn by an ever increasing number, and in the matter of jewellery, the tendency among women of every class is towards a greater refinement,â€ Hodson noted. Also, aluminum vessels were most sought after among all classes. And, â€œthe electric torchlight has achieved a tremendous popularity.â€
That Bengalis like an easy life was true in 1931 too. â€œIn rural Bengal, shops are practically non-existent. But hatkhola (market places) are more frequently met with. Hat are scattered so profusely over the country that a cultivator can go to one every day without going more than five or six miles from home. He has his meal about mid-day or a little before, smokes a pipe, has a short sleep and at about three in the afternoon, sets out to the nearest hat. He goes mainly to meet his friends, hear the talk of the neighbourhood and find out the prices of the various commodities because such are the things that interest him,â€ Hodson noted, adding later in a perceptive line, â€œThe Madrasi emigrant takes his own world with him and sets it down in his new surroundings.â€
Even in the â€™30s, Indian gods did curious things to get attention. In February 1930, the gas generated by night soil in a trenching ground near Delhi precipitated into a flame and the spot promptly became the scene of a local pilgrimage to the goddess. A large number of persons congregated at the site claiming that the goddess of small pox had blessed the site. It was only later that the goddess in this case proved to be a composition of 70% methane, 20% carbon-dioxide and 10%inert gases.
Also, a wave of modernisation was haunting India in 1931. In Punjab, due to the arrival of fans, the old system of building underground cellars or sard khana for the scorching days of summer was abandoned. It is astonishing how every age, if the details are ignored, sounds the same. The enigma of new arrivals and the sighs of the dying. But the Indian government in 1931, somehow, was not considered as comical an entity as it is today. TNN