Educational & Professional Status of Scheduled Castes/Tribes: Attainment & Challenges

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Bharat Chandra Rout

Bharat Chandra Rout submitted his doctoral thesis on social justice and higher education in the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. Currently he is a research fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research and assistant editor of the journal ‘College Post’, a quarterly journal of the Indian Colleges Forum.

Scheduled Castes [SC] and Scheduled Tribes [ST] constitute around one-fourth of the total population of India. Both of these communities are considered as deprived and exploited for various reasons. While SCs were (and even now are) subjected to discrimination and marginalization through the processes of untouchability and rigid caste practices, STs were deprived and exploited because of their socio-cultural and geographical isolation in Indian society. The caste system presupposes a form of social stratification in which people in the society are divided into different ‘strata’. The essential characteristics of a caste-based division of society into different hierarchical caste groups are, amongst others, the rigid occupational entitlements by birth, rigid caste identity based on endogamy and a lack of social mobility. The dominant and depressed caste groups in India are characterized by the differential access to societal opportunities and entitlements, social mobility and larger social/public resources. It is the lower strata of the society, particularly that of SCs and STs, to which social opportunities and economic facilities have long been denied. Access to public resources, institutions and even to basic needs were structurally guided by the system of social stratification. In other words, the caste system legitimized the forms and contours of neglect and deprivation and wilfully rationalized marginalization and discrimination of SCs and STs.

Given the socio-structural denial of opportunities and freedoms historically, the representation of SCs and STs in various domains/sectors of public life has remained abysmally low. The broader concerns for upliftment of weaker sections was put in place with India adopting a social democratic form of government – in which explicit constitutional guidelines were placed to promote the participation and development of SCs and STs. Among others, the articles 15, 16(4), 16 (4A) and 17 under the Fundamental Rights ensure non-discrimination in education, employment/workplace; they formally abolish practices of untouchability and urge for positive discrimination in employment and promotion. Article 46, under Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), directs the state to promote the socio-economic and educational interest of weaker sections (i.e. SCs/STs) and secure them from all forms of exploitation and marginalization. Apart from these provisions, the article 320, 335, 338, 338A and 340 in their various provisioning ensure and promote the participation and development of weaker sections.

Education was considered as one of the substantial instruments to get away with the practices of caste and to promote opportunities and freedoms for better life chances of weaker sections. However, unfortunately, education as a socio-cultural site was not alien from the influences and practices of the caste system. Illustrations of large-scale social exclusion and denial of educational opportunities to SCs and STs were/are prevalent in Indian society. The concern for wider social reforms was rightly understood as that which starts primarily reforming the sector of education itself. The reform initiatives to promote the educational participation and development of SCs and STs took various forms – one significant being the constitutional mandate for positive discriminations and/or preferential treatment. Large scale nation-wide surveys (e.g. census) revealed under-participation and marginalization of SCs and STs in education – which required corrective measures. The positive measures included all kinds of support mechanisms and treatments that students from SCs and STs communities require to get access to and meaningfully participate in education – reservation/quota in admissions, financial assistance, remedial coaching/assistance, midday meal, school uniforms, and many others.

With the passage of time, there has been tremendous growth both in terms of the increase in the number of educational institutions (both school and higher educational institutions) and the relative proportion of enrolment of various social groups, including SCs and STs. The new reform initiatives and increasing plan allocations to the education sector is also seen along with new policies and programs for weaker sections in education. In the light of this massive changes and developments of education, the guiding motivation of this study is to know the current educational status of SCs and STs.

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