Scheduled Castes are those castes/races in the country that suffer from extreme social, educational, and economic backwardness arising out of the 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. They have historically faced deprivation, oppression, and extreme social isolation in India on account of their perceived ‘low status’.
Only marginalized 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 adopted 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,”. They 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.
Major reason behind the miserable conditions of SC
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.
Dalit movement, like identity movements across the world, has really narrowed its focus to forms of oppression.
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’s 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.
The rising living standards of Dalits appear to have led to a backlash from historically privileged communities.
In a study by the 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, and 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.
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.
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% of 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.
The risky workplaces compounded with a lack of labour rights protection measures render migrant Dalit women more vulnerable to occupational injury.
Further, the emerging problem of sub-contracting short-term labor makes it more difficult for them to claim compensation when they are injured at the workplace.
Dalit women are most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by employers, migration agents, corrupt bureaucrats, and criminal gangs.
The enslavement trafficking also contributes to the migration of a large proportion of Dalit women.
A constitutional mechanism for the 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 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, and 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 especially 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.
Also, check out PVTGs https://launchpadeducation.in/pvtg-particularly-vulnerable-tribal-groups/