Who are Schedule Castes?
- Scheduled Castes (SCs) are the castes that were at the bottom of the old caste hierarchy.
- Sub-communities under the Hindu Caste system known as scheduled castes have traditionally endured poverty, tyranny, and severe social isolation in India due to their perceived “low rank.”
- The term “Scheduled Caste” was coined by the Simon Commission and the Government of India Act in 1935.
- Mahatma Gandhi referred to them as “Harijans” or “children of God,” while Dr Ambedkar used the term “depressed class.”
- Scheduled Castes are castes/races identified as such according to Article 341 of the Constitution.
- Only marginalized Hindu communities can be deemed Scheduled Castes in India, according to The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950.
- 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.
Constitutional Mechanism for Upliftment of SC
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 favor 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 the reservation of seats in favor of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People and 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.
National commission for scheduled caste
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) is a constitutional body that works to safeguard the interests of the scheduled castes in India. It seeks to offer the SC community protection from discrimination and exploitation, as well as providing facilities to uplift the SC community. Article 338 of the constitution of India deals with this commission.
Composition of commission:
- The NCSC comprises a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson, and three additional Members.
- These positions are filled through the President’s appointment, indicated by a warrant under his hand and seal.
- Their conditions of service and tenure of office are also determined by the President.
Functions of commission:
- Monitoring and investigating all issues concerning the safeguards provided for the SCs under the constitution.
- Enquiring into complaints relating to the deprivation of the rights and safeguards of the SCs.
- Taking part in and advising the central or state governments for the planning of the socio-economic development of the SCs.
- Regular reporting to the President of the country on the implementation of these safeguards.
- Recommending steps to be taken to further the socio-economic development and other welfare activities of the SCs.
- Any other function for the welfare, protection, development, and advancement of the SC community.
Issues related to the role of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes:
- Non-binding recommendations: Atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes account for 89% of the crimes against SCs and STs combined. Even though the Commission has extensive powers of investigation and inquiry in this area and can fix responsibility and recommend action, its recommendations are not binding.
- Less sensitive: The existing priorities of the Commission are visibly lopsided in favor of the elite of these communities. Since the Commission, for the most part, acts on complaints, it is said that the Commission has been less than sensitive to the poor Dalits which are engendered by the lack of education or information. The Commission has not used its powers of suo motu cognizance actively enough.
- Litigation: In the matter of criminal investigation, that would require it to follow prevailing rules and procedures on evidence and prosecution. This retard the effectiveness of the commission by rendering it vulnerable to litigation in the form of appeals to higher judicial bodies and thereby nullifying its operational effectiveness.
- Delays: There are delays in conducting the inquiry and in delivering judgments. Moreover, there is a perception that the Commission tends to confirm the government’s position in most cases.
- Irregularity: The Commission is supposed to prepare an annual report for presentation to Parliament. Reports are often tabled two or more years after they have been submitted to the President. Even when Reports are tabled in Parliament, they are frequently not discussed.
- Proliferation: In many policy sectors, as in the case of the Scheduled Castes, the proliferation of institutions has created an institutional confusion in which the roles and powers of each are obfuscated. The duplication and multiplication of institutions have created more confusion.