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State and non state initiatives addressing caste and tribe discrimination

The Indian state has had special programmes for the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes since even before Independence.

The Schedules listing the castes and tribes recognized as deserving of special treatment because of the massive discrimination practiced against them were drawn up in 1935 by the British Indian Govt.

After Independence the same policies have been continued and many new ones added. Amongst the most significant additions is the extension of special programmes to the Other Backward Classes since the early 1990s.The most important state initiative attempting to compensate for past and present caste discrimination is the one popularly known as reservations. This involves the setting aside of some places or seats for members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in different spheres of public life. These include reservation of seats in the State and Central legislatures; reservation of jobs in government service across all departs and public sector companies and reservation of seats in educational institutions. The proportion of reserved seats is equal to the percentage share of the SC and STs in the total population. But for the OBCs this proportion is decided differently. The same principle is extended to other developmental programmes of the government, some of which are exclusively for the SC or ST while others give them preference.

In addition to the reservations there have been a number of laws passed to end, prohibit and punish caste discrimination; especially untouchability.One of the earliest such laws was the Caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1850 which disallowed the curtailment of rights of citizens due solely to change of religion or caste. The most recent such law was the Constitution Amendment Act of 2005 which became law on 23rd January 2006.Coincidentally both the 1850 law and the 2006 amendment related to Backward Classes in institutions of higher education while the 1850 Act was used to allow entry of dalits to government schools. In between there have been numerous laws of which the important ones are the Constitution of India itself, passed in 1950 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989.

The Constitution abolished untouchability and introduced the reservation provisions. The 1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act revised and strengthened the legal provisions punishing acts of violence or humiliation against Dalits and adivasis.The fact that legislation was passed repeatedly on this subject is proof of the fact that the law alone cannot end a social practice. State action alone cannot ensure social change. No social group however weak or oppressed is only a victim. Human beings are always capable of organizing and acting on their own –often against very heavy odds to struggle for justice and dignity. Dalits too have been increasingly active on the political, agitational and cultural fronts.

From the pre-Independence struggles and movements launched by people like Jyotiba Phule,Periyar ,Ambedkar and others to contemporary political organizations like the Bahujan Samaj Party in UP or the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti of Karnataka,Dalit political assertion has come a long way.Dalits have also made significant contributions to literature in several Indian languages specially Marathai,Kannada ,Tamil,Telugu and Hindi.

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