Scheduled Caste

Scheduled castes are those castes/races in the country that suffer from extreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of age-old practice of untouchability and certain others on account of lack of infrastructure facilities and geographical isolation, and who need special consideration for safeguarding their interests and for their accelerated socio-economic development. These communities were notified as Scheduled Castes as per provisions contained in Clause 1 of Article 341 of the Constitution.

Scheduled castes are sub-communities within the framework of the Hindu caste system who have historically faced deprivation, oppression, and extreme social isolation in India on account of their perceived ‘low status’.

Only marginalised Hindu communities can be deemed Scheduled Castes in India, according to The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950.

Those who belonged to one of the four major varnas are called Savarna. The Hindu four-tier caste system, or varna system, forced these communities into work that predominantly involved sanitation, disposal of animal carcasses, cleaning of excreta, and other tasks that involved contact with “unclean” materials. The communities adapted the name Dalit, or Harijan, which meant ‘children of god.’ The avarna communities were also referred to as “Untouchables”. They were prohibited from drinking water from shared water sources, living in or using areas frequented by “higher castes,” and faced social and economic isolation, often being denied rights and privileges that many born into savarna castes consider “fundamental rights”.

The 2011 Census places the number of scheduled castes in India at 16.6 percent of the total population, or approximately 166,635,700 people.

The National Crime Records Bureau in its 2017 annual report stated that 40,801 crimes against SC/STs took place in 2016. However, a report in The Wire adds that many crimes, including those where the alleged offender was a public official, would be recorded under “other IPC sections,” thus reducing the number of crimes reported under the SC/ST Atrocities Act.

Every 15 minutes a crime is committed against a dalit and approximately 6 dalit women are raped every day. The root cause of all the oppression faced by dalits is the perpetuating caste system. Dalits are murdered, beaten, and shunned from society but little coverage is given by the media. Minimal reportage leads privileged and ignorant people into believing that casteism doesn’t exist in India anymore.

  • Crimes against Dalits :
    • National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that crimes against Dalits increased from less than 50 (for every million people) in the last decade to 223 in 2015.
    • Among states, Rajasthan has the worst record although Bihar is a regular in the top 5 states by crimes against Dalits.
    • Many social scientists have questioned the belief that economic advancement of Dalits can reduce crimes against them.
    • Most of the crimes committed against dalits go unreported due to fear of reprisal, the intimation of the police, the inability to pay bribes demanded by police, etc.
    • The report, titled ‘Quest for Justice’, by the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) – National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, released in 2020, assessed the implementation of the Act as well as the data of crimes against SC and ST people as recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau from 2009 till 2018.
    • Crimes against Dalits increased by 6% from 2009 to 2018 with over 3.91 lakh atrocities being reported, at the same time gaps in implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and the 1995 rules framed under it remained.
    • The report said the crime rate against those belonging to Scheduled Tribes recorded a decrease of around 1.6%, with a total of 72,367 crimes being recorded in 2009-2018.
    • The report also flagged the rise in violence against Dalit and Adivasi women.
    • On average 88.5% of cases under PoA Act remain pending trial during 2009 to 2018
  • Economic empowerment alone not enough : According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Economic advancement alone will not diminish the psychic traumas of caste; it may actually create more conflict. The empowerment of these groups rather than becoming a celebration of justice becomes a sign of fatal concoction of guilt and loss of power.
  • Average asset ownership is still the lowest among Dalits.
  • Political representation : The representation of Dalits above themandated quota is abysmal. Data collected by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University shows that in 63 state assembly elections held since 2004, scheduled-caste candidates found it extremely difficult to get elected from a unreserved seat.
  • While some benefits of social programs and government policies designed to increase primary education rates can be noticed, the Dalit literate population still remains much lower than that of the rest of India.
    • There remains still, hostility, oppression and flaws in social programs in Indian society that prevent an increase in education growth.
  • Despite efforts to decrease caste discrimination and increase national social programs, the Dalits of India continue to experience low enrolment rates and a lack of access to primary education in comparison to the rest of India.
  • Even top officials who are Dalits are insulted and humiliated with caste slurs.
  • They are often prevented from entering any place of worship which is open to the public and other persons from the same religion, they are not allowed to be a part of social or cultural processions, including jatras.
  • Dalit children are discriminated against when it comes to mid-day meals and getting access to clean toilets.
  • The UGC guideline of prevention of discrimination in higher educational institutions came into light after University of Hyderabad student Rohit Vemula’s suicide.
  • Meanwhile, Dalit women are framed as witches; thereby ensuring that the family is socially ostracized in the village.
  • Even public servants who are supposed to protect Dalits sometimes fall prey to caste prejudice and work against their rights.
  • Untouchability:
    • While modern Indian law has officially abolished the caste hierarchy, untouchability is in many ways still a practice.
    • In most villages in Rajasthan Dalits are not allowed to take water from the public well or to enter the temple.
  • Political:
    • Dalit movement, like identity movements across the world, has really narrowed its focus to forms of oppressions.
    • Most visible Dalit movements have been around issues like reservations and discrimination in colleges, and these are issues that affect only a small proportion of the Dalit population.
    • Today Dalits are perceived as a threat to the established social, economic and political position of the upper caste. Crimes are a way to assert the upper caste superiority.
    • Stasis in farm income over the past few years caused disquiet among predominantly agrarian middle caste groups, who perceive their dominance in the countryside to be weakening.
    • The growing scramble for Dalit votes by different political actors has only added a fresh twist to a conflict that has been simmering for some time.
  • Economic:
    • Rising living standards of Dalits appears to have led to a backlash from historically privileged communities.
    • In a study by Delhi School of Economics ,an increase in the consumption expenditure ratio of SCs/STs to that of upper castes is associated with an increase in crimes committed by the latter against the former
    • Rising income and growing educational achievements may have led many Dalits to challenge caste barriers, causing resentment among upper caste groups, leading to a backlash.
    • There is also a possibility of the rise due to high registration and recognition of such crimes.
    • Half of all atrocities committed against Dalits are related to land disputes.
  • Educational Institutions:
    • In public schools, Dalits are not allowed to serve meals to superior castes; they often have to sit outside the classroom; and are made to clean the toilets.
    • Even in universities most of the faculty vacancies reserved for them are lying vacant and students are often discriminated.
    • The recent incidents of suicides of Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi substantiate the above claims of discrimination against Dalit students.
  • Dalit women:
    • Girls face violence at a younger age and at a higher rate than women of other castes. According to the National Family Health Survey by the age of 15, 33.2% scheduled caste women experience physical violence. The figure is 19.7% for “other” category women.
    • The violence continues, largely due to a sense of impunity among dominant castes.
    • Dalit women and girls are often the targets of hate crimes. Access to justice has been abysmal, with conviction rates at a measly 16.8 percent. Crimes against Dalits usually see half the conviction rate of the overall rate of conviction of crimes. Experts and activists say that low conviction rates and lack of prosecution of such cases of atrocities are the reasons why crimes against Dalits continue to rise.
  • Political power does not help:
    • Even when Dalit women acquire political power, as when they are elected as sarpanches, there is often no protection against the social power that sanctions violence and discrimination against them.
    • In a village with a Dalit woman sarpanch, a Dalit woman was burned, but no action was taken.
  • Workplace violence:
    • The risky workplaces compounded with a lack of labour rights protection measures render migrants Dalit women more vulnerable to occupational injury.
    • Further, the emerging problem of sub-contracting short-termed labour makes it more difficult for them to claim compensation when they are injured at work places.
    • Dalit women are most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by employers, migration agents, corrupt bureaucrats and criminal gangs.
    • The enslavement trafficking also contributes to migration of large proportion of Dalit women.

The deep concern of the framers of the Constitution for the uplift of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes is reflected in the elaborate constitutional mechanism set-up for their uplift.

  • Article 17 abolishes Untouchability.
  • Article 46 requires the State ‘to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
  • Article 15(4) refers to the special provisions for their advancement.
  • Article 16(4A) speaks of “reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of SCs/STs, which are not adequately represented in the services under the State’.
  • Article 243D provides for reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Panchayats in the same proportion as the population of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes in the village.
  • Article 243T promises the same proportionate reservation of seats in Municipalities.
  • Article 330 and Article 332 of the Constitution respectively provide for reservation of seats in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People and in the legislative assemblies of the States. Under Part IX relating to the Panchayats and Part IXA of the Constitution relating to the Municipalities, reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in local bodies has been envisaged and provided.
  • Article 335 provides that the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.
  • Article 338 establishes the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes. The Commission’s duty is to monitor the safeguards provided for Scheduled Castes in the Constitution or any other law. Its duties also include investigating complaints and participating in the planning process for the socio-economic development of members of Scheduled Caste communities, while having all the powers of a civil court during the process.
  • Article 340 gives the President the power to appoint a commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes, the difficulties they face, and make recommendations on steps to be taken to improve their condition. This was the article under which the Mandal Commission was formed.

The Constitution of India has prescribed, protection and safeguards for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other weaker sections; either specially or the way of insisting on their general rights as citizens; with the object of promoting their educational and economic interests and removing social disabilities. These social groups have also been provided institutionalized commitments through the statutory body, the National Commission of SCs. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment is the nodal Ministry to oversee the interests of the Scheduled Castes.

It is a matter of disgrace that even after 73 years of Independence, the socio-economic indicators of the Scheduled Castes are miserable. The Government has time and again come up with developmental programmes for welfare of the Scheduled castes, yet the issues pertain. These are due to:

    • despite several constitutional provisions, the representation of SCs and STs in government services has not improved substantially during the last seven decades
    • Untouchability is practiced in public places like wells, temples, hotels etc. though it is a crime to do so. Yet many times the concerned police officers do not take any action even after complaints have been made.
    • It is widely alleged that false criminal cases are filed against SCs and STs when they lodge complaints about atrocities committed against them. This defeats the very purpose of the POA Act.
    • practices like social and economic boycott and social and economic blackmail imposed upon SCs and STs by the upper castes are not listed as crimes of atrocities under Section 3(2) of the POA Act
    • Absence of exclusive Special Courts that have an exclusive special public prosecution machinery and a special investigating agency in every district against those who have committed atrocities.
    • land reform programmes have not substantially altered the conditions of SCs and STs in rural areas. In fact, landlessness is increasing at a faster rate among SCs and STs than others, as more and more small and marginal cultivators are becoming landless labourers.
    • According to the government guidelines, the proportion of funds allocated under each plan should be equal to the proportion of SC and ST population in each State. In reality this proportionality is hardly maintained.
    • In many cases the unspent money lapses back to the government because departments which have the responsibility of spending the funds are unable to promptly finalise the welfare schemes.
    • amongst the poor, SCs and STs are worst affected by the problem of malnutrition. Maternal anaemia, children with low birth weight related deficiencies are other problems that affect SC/ST communities. As a combined result of social neglect and denial of opportunities, these communities have not been able to realise their potential.
    • The talents of children from weaker sections of society waste or wither away due to lack of opportunity.
    • the governments have failed to abolish the employment of manual scavengers (safai karamcharis) completely
    • A report from The Sunday Guardian states that despite the ban, at least 300 manual scavenging deaths took place just in 2017. In addition to this, a 2015 article in The Hindu states that, as of 3 July 2015, just under 1.8 lakh households in India were still engaged in manual scavenging, despite the act being prohibited.
    • Apart from this, it adds that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, created to address problems of the SC community, has further REDUCED the budget for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers by 95 percent since 2014-15.
    • Lastly, members of the public services in general are reluctant to working in fields relating to SCs and STs. It is also felt by some that many public servants are guided by their own biases and prejudices instead of the Constitution’s objectives and aspirations. This results in denial of the rights of the SCs and STs

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (“Act”) was passed by the Parliament of India in September 1989 to prevent the commission of offenses against dalits, protect the rights of other backward castes, and to grant relief to the victims of such derogatory caste-based violence.

However, the Indian Judiciary in one of the recent judgments, Khuman Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh has weakened the current status of the above-mentioned act. Section 3(2)(v) of the act lays down the punishment for the offense committed under the Indian Penal Code against any member belonging to the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. But the Supreme Court while delivering the judgment said the punishment will only be awarded if the victim belonged to the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe. The Supreme Court has gone beyond its mandate of interpreting the law and stated that a new evidentiary burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove before the court that the offense was committed only because the victim belonged to scheduled caste. Furthermore, the apex court failed to acknowledge the existing caste-based discrimination and the oppression faced by the lower caste. The court provided the accused a loophole in the commission of such offences on the grounds that the caste prejudice was one of the contributing factors; it was not the only factor that caused such offenses. This may lead to a situation where the culprits who commit such offenses might not be prosecuted and will not be awarded the punishment they deserve.

In another case, Subhash Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court had diluted the provisions of the said Act relating to immediate arrest on the commission of offenses under the act by providing court-imposed requirements of conducting a preliminary inquiry and obtaining prior approval before an arrest. This judgment has led to widespread protests throughout the country which also highlighted the flaws of the Indian judicial system. Nevertheless, both the judgments have strengthened the way the members of the higher caste enjoy their privilege. It failed to protect the basic legal and fundamental rights of the lower castes.

  • Attitudinal change need to brought about among the upper caste through the use of local Panchayat level officials who need to disseminate information regarding the rights, legal provisions and ensure community places are open to all.
  • Police need to sensitised to take due notice of violation of dalits rights and act stringently rather than turning a blind eye.
  • Dalits fear reporting such crimes fearing backlash in the community they live. Such barriers need to be dispelled by strengthening and reaching out to them through institution already in place namely Nation commission for SCs etc.
  • Schools ,college administration, the staff and students need to be sensitized as attitudinal change can effectively be brought about through education and textbooks
  • Sensible labour laws reforms to give exit options to Dalits trapped in a system.
  • Integrating social and cultural transformation with an economic alternative is critical.
  • Huge investments will be needed in upskilling and educating dalits and government needs to create an abundance of new jobs within the formal sector and lowering barriers to job creation
  • Increased availability of stable-wage jobs for women is critical to preventing their socio-economic exploitation
  • Bridging the deep-rooted biases through sustained reconditioning: It is only possible by promoting the idea of gender equality and uprooting social ideology of male child preferability.
  • They should be given decision-making powers and due position in governance. Thus, the Women Reservation Bill should be passed as soon as possible to increase the effective participation of women in the politics of India.
  • Bridging implementation gaps: Government or community-based bodies must be set up to monitor the programs devised for the welfare of the society.
  • Dalit women need group and gender specific policies and programmes to address the issue of multiple deprivations.
  • Dalit women require comprehensive policies on health, especially on the maternal and child health
  • Make credit available by pooling the women to form self-help groups. The example of Kudumbashree model of Kerala can be emulated.
  • Providing Education and awareness to the scheduled castes to avail the various benefits provided to them.
  • Rehabilitation of the workers who are rescued from manual scavenging.
  • a mechanism for monitoring the nutritional status of SCs and STs. The proposal requires the district administration to do the monitoring on their own or with the help of voluntary organisations.
  • it is necessary to identify and groom talent amongst boys and girls belonging to SC, ST and other BCs and train them in special talent schools. This will enable them to compete with the rest of society in an equal manner.
  • Sensitization of the public servants to treat all citizens equally.