A friend sends me an article by someone arguing that caste practices have no justification in our scriptures, and were basically the invention of Western colonialists.
This is a peculiar point of view. I do not know in what world such writers live. If they even read Indian newspapers, they would get more than enough evidence of the reality of violence against Dalits in our country even today.
Anyway, I responded basically as follows:
The problem with our scriptures is that they are multifarious and can be used to "prove" almost anything. For example, if one takes just the Manusmriti, "While verses such as III - 55, 56, 57, 59, 62 glorify the position of women, other verses such as IX - 3, 17 seem to attack the position and freedom of women. Similar contradictory phrases are encountered in relation to child marriage in verses IX - 90 and 94. PLEASE NOTE that I am quoting and have not had the time to check the refereences myself.
However, in practice, all over the country, there is no doubt that caste practices were prevalent for centuries, and have even now not disappeared - for contemporary accounts of caste discrimination see, for example, the website of Dalit writers such as Chandra Bhan Prasad www.chandrabhanprasad.com
The focus of the Jaipur Literary Festival this year was Dalit literature (see for example: http://himalmag.com/blogs/blog/2010/01/17/600/)
On the Dalit literary movement as a whole, see for example: http://www.himalmag.com/The-emerging-complexity-of-Dalit-consciousness_nw3952.html
On Gujarati Dalit Literature see for example http://gujaratidalitsahitya.blogspot.com/2009/08/poems-by-neerav-patel.html
If you are seriously interested in finding out about the relationship between foreigners and the rediscovery of our own heritage, you might want to start with my article titled "The Impact of Europe on the Development of Indian Literature" (published in the Review of National Literatures, New York, Special Issue on India, 1979. I sent my friend a copy, and will happily send it to anyone reading this Blog who wishes to have it).
Specifically, on the issue of whether or not caste should be included in the census, my view is that it is not up to the oppressor castes (such as my own) to tell the oppressed castes what is the best thing to do.
In general, anything that the Dalits think will help them to get equality has my support, and it is clear that Dalits overwhelmingly support the inclusion of caste in the censsus.
Again, my own view is that neither the upper caste focus on religion and "Bharat Mata" is going to help them, nor the inclusion of caste in the census.
What the oppressed need is release from their systematic oppression, and the best way of achieving this is to encourage and help them to gain education - but not the sort of education that is usually offered in India (that is, more or less useless education, from a practical point of view).
The best would be "useful education" that is really going to help them, including a focus on starting and growing their own businesses. Of course, that cannot happen in reality without the provision of finance for such new Dalit businesses - providing which, in turn, would involve the extension of normal banking and credit facilities to Dalits, and the removal of the scandal of microfinance (though that is miles better than the sort of finance traditionally provided by baniyas of my caste).
So why do Dalits want the question of caste to be included in the Census? Because, regretfully, government-controlled education and government employment are still the main channels for Dalit liberation in India.
The biggest hurdle facing Dalits even today is discrimination against them when it comes to employing them, let alone promoting them, in "normal" areas of life, including companies.
So of course discrimination against them in buying and selling would need to be eliminated if Dalit businesses are to succeed.