Counting Caste: Household Interviews and the Production of Caste Data in India

Trina Vithayathil, Brown University

For the first time since 1931, the Government of India is collecting data on caste from every household in the country. The collected data will inform the redistribution of affirmative action and welfare benefits. This paper draws upon ongoing qualitative research of this contemporary census to argue that official data on caste are partially produced during the face-to-face encounter between data collectors and households. I find that ground-level enumeration involves a relational process in which different sensibilities interact to co-produce data. This paper also puts forth that while households and enumerators discuss and view caste as a family identity (even in India's largest metro cities), the census data on caste are generated at the individual level. In this regard, ‘official’ caste data strongly reflect the perceptions and intentions of government officials and other potential data users, and less so the conversations between data collectors and households during the census interview.

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Presented in Session 28: Rethinking Racial/Ethnic Distinctions and Measurement