ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Identifying'Backwardness' in Maharashtra

If affirmative action is to remain meaningful, it is necessary that politically-motivated, erroneous inclusion of castes and communities as 'backwards' is checked and reversed. A study of classification of castes/communities in Maharashtra.

The Constitution of India uses the terms ‘scheduled castes’, ‘scheduled tribes’, ‘other backward classes’ (Article 338(10)), ‘socially and educationally backward classes’ (Article 15(4)) and ‘weaker sections’ (Article 46), but it does not define any term. It is because of the undefined feature of the above terms in the Constitution that the union government and the state governments are tempted to schedule communities according to their convenience in their lists. So we do not find a uniform pattern in scheduling communities. For example, the gond community which has been scheduled as ‘tribe’ in Maharashtra has been listed as scheduled caste in Uttar Pradesh; similarly banjara/lambani scheduled as ‘denotified’ in Maharashtra has been included in the list of SCs in Karnataka. There are several other anomalies reported.

In the 1920s, the term ‘backward classes’ was used in a wider sense to count the ‘depressed classes’, ‘aboriginals’, ‘hill tribes’, ‘criminal tribes’ and ‘wandering tribes’, but since 1930s we find an attempt to give a definite denotation to all the terms in usages [Galanter 1984: 154-59]. When the question was asked in the constituent assembly: “What is a backward community?” Ambedkar explained: “We have left it to be determined by each local government. A backward community is a community which is backward in the opinion of the government” [Government of Maharashtra 1994:393]. And about defining the term “backward classes”, he explained: “Everybody in the province knows who are backward classes” [ibid 846]. The constituent assembly did not define the term, perhaps because its members considered the varying social conditions of social groups in different areas of the country and improvement in the social level of the scheduled groups over a period of time. Under articles 340,341 and 342 of the Constitution the president is empowered to appoint a commission to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes and revise the lists of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes(STs). Under articles 15(4) and 46, the state is required to make certain provisions to protect the interests of the weaker sections. Under these constitutional provisions, a government can set up commission(s)/committee(s) to seek advice for the inclusion/exclusion of certain castes/tribes/groups in the schedule. For this purpose certain criteria have been evolved to determine eligibility.

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