Introduction: The overwhelming fundamental concern of our founding fathers was to inaugurate a regime of “Justice – social, economic and political.” Justice, liberty equality and fraternity are the four basic pillars of our constitution.
But the traditional Indian society is marked by the existence of several distinct classes who are socially and economically far behind others. Justice requires that these backward classes should be pulled up to the level of equality with the advanced classes, to make liberty real for them.
The Scheduled castes (SC) and Scheduled tribes (ST) constitutes are the backward classes in India. In terms of Articles 341 and 342 of the constitution, the President in consultation with the Governor of a state specifies the castes or, tribes to include in the schedule, or, list of backward classes or tribes. Thus for example, the Bagdis or, the Bouris are scheduled castes and the Lapchas or, the Bhutias are scheduled tribes in West Bengal.
People belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes together constitutes over 24 percent of the total population of India. It is an irony, that despite social and economic success, India has such a large number of historically disadvantaged people.
The constitution also gives a very clear definition of Anglo-Indians. In terms of Article 366 (2) an Anglo-Indian is a person whose father or any one of his male progenitors is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India.
Provisions in Indian Constitution: For the welfare of the backward classes, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as also the Anglo-Indians have been given some special rights by the constitution.
The constitution also provides for the appointment of commission “to investigate the conditions of the backward classes.”
Firstly, three specific provisions in the constitution of India ensure that persons belonging to such categories are in no way discriminated against. Not only that, care has been taken to see that special privileges created for their upliftment are not struck down as being discriminatory against others. Thus, Article 13 forbids discrimination against any citizen on grounds of race, religion, caste etc, but constitutionalises special provisions made by the state for the advancement of socially or educationally backward classes i.e. the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In other words special benefits on scheduled castes and scheduled tribes cannot be struck down by the courts as being violative of the right to equality.
Secondly, Article 16 of the Indian constitution confer on citizens’ equal right in matters of employment under the state. But the state is fully within its rights to make special provisions for the employment of persons belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Thirdly, Article 29 guarantee that all citizens have equal rights of admission in state or, state-aided educational institutions. But this does not prevent the state from making special provisions for the admissions of students belonging to the backward classes, i.e. the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Reservation: Over and above these, the constitution contains special provisions for reservation of some seats for the members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes both in the Lok Sabha and in the State Legislative Assemblies. Further if the President is satisfied that the Anglo-Indian community is not adequately represented, in the House of People, he may nominate two members of that community to the Lok Sabha.
The Governor of a state has similar power to nominate one member of the Anglo-Indian community to the State Legislative Assembly.
Article 335, provides that consistent with the efficiency of the services, members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes shall be appointed in the services of the union and the state governments. Indeed seats are often kept reserved for such candidates.
The President is empowered to appoint a special officer to keep vigil over the interests of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The central government has the power to issue directives to the states for the execution of schemes beneficial to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
The constitution of India further enjoins that the ministers of certain specific states must have a minister in charges of welfare of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Again though every Indian may move freely arid acquire property anywhere in India, restrictions may be imposed by the state to prevent alienation of tribal property. In a bid to ‘abolish untouchability’, Hindu religious establishments have been thrown open to all Hindus.
Laws: The Government of India has enacted several laws for welfare of backward classes:
- The Untouchability Practices Act, 1955,
- Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Commissions: The following commissions were formed for the welfare of backward classes:
- National Commission for Scheduled Castes
- National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
Conclusion: Thus, the constitution of India grants elaborate privileges to the backward classes such as Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes. But such privileges cause much political tension. Evidently such privileges cannot be the permanent feature of a polity. A time must come when India will be a society without privileges.