Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hutton on Caste census in 1931

A group of federal ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is preparing to meet this week, according to a PTI report, to deliberate on whether every Indian citizen should be questioned on their caste in the Census 2011, like census officials did in 1931. They might also want to listen to what J.H. Hutton, the commissioner of the 1931 census - who envisioned “India in the fullness of time to be of one caste, a united nation,” in his own words - had to say about including caste in the census.

J.H. Hutton (1885-1968) was an anthropologist-cum-administrator, who “brought to bear on his work as the census commissioner… professionalism of a high order,” according to anthropologist K.S. Singh in the foreword to the 1989 reprint of the 1931 report. Mr. Hutton went on to author a book in 1946 called ‘Caste in India: its nature, functions and origins.’

Mr. Hutton had two million enumerators working for the census of 1931 which counted the total population of British India at that time as 353 million. In the all-India census report that Mr. Hutton presented to British administrator Harry Haig in Simla in the summer of 1933, he makes some interesting observations about whether tabulating population on the basis of caste was a good idea.

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