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Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

ETHNONYMS: Adivasis, Backward Classes

The Indian constitution (1949) created broad categories of underprivileged groups in the Republic of India that were to be the object of special administrative and welfare efforts. Three categories were named, though not clearly defined: Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other Backward Classes. Very roughly, these were comprised respectively of (1) Untouchables or Harijans; (2) virtually all Adivasis or tribes; and (3) other economically disadvantaged groups not included in (1) or (2). In 1981 India had an estimated 105 million Scheduled Caste members and 52 million people in Scheduled Tribes. The category of other Backward Classes, always nebulous and fluctuating, is difficult to enumerate.

But which castes and tribes were to be singled out for this special attention, at the expense (literally and figuratively) of the remainder of the population? This burning and Economically important question was solved for millions of concerned people by the publication of lists or schedules (which have been revised several times) that listed by name those castes and tribes that were to be eligible. These lists were created at the national level for Scheduled Tribes and Castes, and at the provincial level for other Backward Classes. Tribal and Harijan welfare departments were set up in each state to administer the benefits that were made available. Over the first forty years of operation they have no doubt done much to outlaw the practice of Untouchability, raise educational Standards, and provide public health facilities. The framers of the Indian constitution thought that these benefits should be provided for twenty years; but, as it turned out, those eligible have fought tenaciously to retain their special benefitsand hence their "backward status"right up to the present. The great weakness in the whole concept of special privileges for select categories of the population, especially today, is that no means test is required of an individual beneficiary. Thus, a Scheduled Caste youth, for example, whose father is a very wealthy timber merchant, will still be eligible for free university tuition and perhaps a hotly contested place in a medical college, while a Brahman girl from a poor family, who has much higher examination marks than he, may be denied admission.


Béteille, André (1969). "The Future of the Backward Classes." In Castes: Old and New, Essays in Social Structure and Social Stratification, edited by André Béteille, 103-145. Bombay: Asia Publishing House.

Ghurye, G. S. (1963). The Scheduled Tribes. 3rd ed. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.

Mahar, J. Michael, ed. (1972). The Untouchables in Contemporary India. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


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