TCN special: Misra Commission report excerpts- Part 6

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Chapter 6: Criteria for Identifying Backward Sections among Religious Minorities

India is a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual country with wide variations and inequalities amongst people which have been accentuated by regional, traditional disparities over a period of time. The state has been conscious of these inherent inequalities in the society. There is, therefore a long history of affirmative action for the backward communities with a view to ensure equity and social justice.

Equality before the law is a basic Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. It places the strong and the handicapped on the same footing in the race of life. It is a dictum of social justice that there is equality only among equals. To treat unequals as equals is to perpetuate inequality. The humaneness of a society is determined by the degree of protection it provides to its weaker, handicapped and less gifted members.

‘Equality of opportunity’ and ‘equality of treatment’ places the weak and the strong on par and to that extent, it amounts to denial of social justice. In fact, it is ‘equality of results’ which is the acid test of society’s egalitarian protections. In a highly unequal society like ours, it is only by giving special protection and privileges to the under-privileged sections of society that we can enable the socially and economically weak to resist exploitation by the strong.

It was in view of these considerations that our Constitution makers made special provisions under Article 15(4), 16(4) and 46 etc. to protect the interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and socially and educationally Backward Classes and weaker sections. It was obligatory on the part of the State to take positive steps to lift backward sections to a level from where they can take advantage on equal footing. The identification of victims of the practice of untouchability, residents of inaccessible and isolated hill areas, the socially, educationally and economically backward classes of people and other weaker sections of society was necessary in order to focus on the interventions for their advancement.

In order to suggest criteria for indentifying the socially and economically backward among the religious minorities, it is important to examine the adequacy and effectiveness of the existing criteria in reaching out to them. It would be helpful to examine the strategies adopted for identifying different categories of backward.

Different Approaches Adopted to Identify SCs/STs and Other Backward Classes

In keeping with the diversities of people and different causes for backwardness, three distinct groups were recognised in the Constitution for making special provisions for their advancement. These were:

(i) Scheduled Castes

(ii) Scheduled Tribes

(iii) Socially and educationally backward classes – 15(4)

(iv) Any Backward Class- 16(4)

(v) Weaker Sections – 46

The groups at (ii) and (v) above were all inclusive and do not discriminate on the basis of religion or caste. Religious minorities form a part of these. Group at (i) is religion and caste based and arises out of the practices of untouchability among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists while even ignoring the same among Muslims and Christians.

Scheduled Castes

The Scheduled Castes numbering 429 recognised as a special group titled ‘Depressed Classes’ in the 1931 Census were notified for the first time as “Scheduled Castes” in the Government of India Act, 1935. Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order was, however issued in April 1936. the criteria adopted for purposes of specifying the Scheduled Castes was based on the obnoxious practice of untouchability. The test applied was the social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of the historical custom of untouchability. The Constitution of India in 1950 adopted the list drawn in 1936. No survey or investigation was undertaken to examine the eligibility of any caste included in the 1936 list. The first notification issued in 1950 included 607 communities which have now been raised to 1109 by 2002 with inclusion of 502 more castes. As against this 33 communities over the years have been excluded.

Specific provisions for the protection and development of Scheduled Castes are enshrined in Articles 16, 17, 46, 243, 330, 332, 334, 335, 338 and 341 of the Constitution of India.

Scheduled Tribes

The criteria for recognition of a separate category of ‘Scheduled Tribes’ was the geographical isolation of tribals living in inaccessible areas which led to their backwardness.

The first notification, specifying 240 communities as Scheduled Tribes was issued for 12 states in 1950. As on date the number of Scheduled Tribes communities in India stands at 628 as against 240 in 1950. The increase in Scheduled Tribes lists during the last five decades is nearly 156 percent or say one and half times and exclusions are barely 15 in number. Tribals inter-alia includes minorities as the criterion for identifying the Scheduled Tribes are religion and caste neutral. Christians, Buddhists in the NE and other tribal areas and Muslims residing in remote tribal areas are all entitled to the benefits available to the Scheduled Tribes.

For the protection, care and development of Scheduled Tribes, special provisions have been incorporated in the Constitution of India in Articles 16, 46, 164, 243, 244, 275(1), 330, 332, 334, 335, 338A and 342.

Socially, Educationally and Economically Backward Classes

The Constitution recognised that in addition to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes there may be other socially, educationally and economically backward classes who may require special attention under Article 15, 16(4), and 46.

Under Article 340, the Constitution of India provided for the Appointment of a Commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes in accordance with the above provision. The first Backward Classes Commission headed by Kaka Saheb Kalelkar was appointed by Government of India in 1953 to determine the criteria for treating any sections of the people, other than the SCs and STs, as socially and educationally backward. The commission in its report submitted in 1955 laid down four criteria for identifying socially and educationally backward classes, namely:

(i) Low social position in the traditional caste hierarchy of Hindu society;

(ii) Lack of general educational advancement among the major section of a caste or community;

(iii) Inadequate or no representation in Government services;

(iv) Inadequate representation in the field of trade, commerce and industry.

The Government of India did not accept the recommendations of the Kalekar Commission.

The Central Government informed the State Governments in 1961 that they had “after careful consideration, decided not to draw up any All-India list of backward classes (other than the existing list of SCs and STs) and while the State Governments had the discretion to choose their own criteria for defining backwardness, it would be better to apply economic tests than to go by caste.” The State Governments were asked to prepare lists of backward classes on the basis of their own criteria.

In pursuance of the above, State level Commissions were appointed by several State Governments and their recommendations in determining the criteria for listing of OBCs were accepted. The Criteria suggested by some of the Commissions such as, Gajendragadkar Commission of Jammu & Kashmir, Bakshi Commission in Gujarat, and Havanur Commission in Karnataka varied. But briefly they were the following:

(i) Social backwardness, low caste status or inferiority associated with castes making difficult for them to have access to cultural training, religious and secular education, resulting in apathy for education etc.

(ii) Economic backwardness, poverty-leading to incapability of owning land, house or other property, household income, employment status-current occupation, traditional occupation considered inferior, unremunerative or unclean, and whether depend only on manual labour.

(iii) Educational backwardness

(iv) Poor habitation and type of house, residence in rural, isolated and segregated areas, ownership of house site.

(v) Participation of women in supporting family income.

(vi) Families where child marriages are prevalent.

The lists prepared State-wise of OBCs were religion and caste neutral Minority community such as neo-Buddhists, SC converted to Christianity and Muslims in many States were included in these lists.