Why the column of religion and caste in secular India?

In recent times the debate over the need for the column for religion and caste in official forms of India has come under the spotlight. From school admission forms to job applications, visas, passports, and forms for competitive exams all have a specific column for religion and caste made mandatory to be filled. Not only educationalists but also politicians and many celebrities have now started questioning the need for the column for religion and caste in official forms. In a country, like India declared secular, the need to specify one’s religion or caste might seem to many as a contradiction to the concept of secularity. However, it becomes a necessity to avoid unequal treatment of various categories in India since it is home to diverse religions and cultures.

Secularity is the state of being neutral to any particular religion and unrelated to any reference of positivity or negativity about the same. India is a secular country distributing equal benefits and opportunities to people of all religions and castes. However, keeping into consideration the diversity of the nation religion becomes an important index to measure the country’s socio-demographic data which further helps the policymakers and government authorities to maintain communal harmony.

Despite being home to many cultures, diversities and religions the country is divided by religions and castes. These are scattered and present in disproportionate portions giving rise to minorities. Certain minorities need to be brought into consideration and provided privileges for equal growth and progress as others. Reservations too are needed for backward sections of the society which is only possible if one specifies the religion and/or caste in official forms.

Moreover, the specification of religion or caste helps in the maintenance of government databases and provides government-aided benefits and equal opportunities to all in the field of education, job etc. This helps to keep a check on the growth and progress rates of different sections of society and assure equal opportunities for all.

However, no one can deny the misuse of the privileges and reservations provided to minority castes and religions. These days the concessions approved for the (so-called) backward sections of the society are certainly not used the way they are intended to. Though to some extent, for people in genuine need, the need for the column of religion and caste still persists. In this context, India might not actually be considered secular but trying to be secular.

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