IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Caste Discrimination in India:

2nd July, 2021 Society


  • A qualified faculty member of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras resigned alleging caste discrimination.

About Caste:

  • A defining feature of Hinduism, caste encompasses a complex ordering of social groups on the basis of ritual purity.
  • A person is considered a member of the caste into which he or she is born and remains within that caste until death, although the particular ranking of that caste may vary among regions and over time.
  • Differences in status are traditionally justified by the religious doctrine of karma, a belief that one's place in life is determined by one's deeds in previous lifetimes.

Caste Discrimination in Education:

  • Alienation, social exclusion, and physical abuse transcend all levels of education, from primary education to university.
  • Illiteracy and drop-out rates among Dalits are very high due to a number of social and physical factors.
  • Discriminatory practices are conducted by teachers, which may include corporal punishment, denial of access to school water supplies, segregation in class rooms and Dalits being made to eat separately.
  • Intolerance, prejudice and harassment towards Dalits are equally prevalent in institutions of higher education where discrimination is practiced by dominant caste students, teachers, faculties, and administrations.
  • The caste bias manifests itself in the way teachers ignore Dalit students and unjustly fail them in exams, in social exclusion and physical abuse, and in the unwillingness of the university administration to assist Dalits and support them.
  • Dalit children face discriminatory attitudes from fellow students and the community as a whole who perceive education for Dalits as a threat to village hierarchies and power relations.

Other Means of Caste Discrimination:

Access to justice and rising violence against Dalits:

  • According to the 2015 Equity Watch report “Access to Justice for Dalits in India”,violence and atrocities against Dalits are rising in India.
  • dominant castes in India are using violence against Dalits to reinforce the hierarchical caste related power structures and suppress Dalit rights assertions and claims.
  • Very often Dalit women are seen to bear the brunt of violence as they are used as a way to punish Dalit communities.

Discrimination against Dalit Women:

  • Dalit women are considered easy targets for sexual violence and other crimes, because the perpetrators are likely to get away with it.
  • Dalit women are also very vulnerable to caste-based slavery and forced prostitution, discriminated against on multiple grounds in education and face serious obstacles in access to basic services.

Prevalence of Child Labour and Bonded Labour:

  • In India there are specific forms of forced labour that certain castes (Dalits) are expected to perform including for example the practice of manual scavenging and the Devadasi practice of forced prostitution.
  • Most child labourers in India are either lower caste or minorities and that discrimination play a key part in sustaining slavery and child labour in the country.

Untouchability and access to basic services

  • Widespread discrimination and untouchablity in India is an obstacle for access to basic services including water & sanitation, housing, health care and food.
  • According to the Human Development survey:
    • merely five percent of Indians said they had married a person from a different caste, and 27 percent of households self-reported engaging in untouchability practices.
    • 52% Brahmins self-reported to not allow a Dalit to use their kitchen utensils.
    • In some states untouchability across castes was found to be almost 50%.

Social and economic rights including land rights

  • Generally land rights are an area of conflict and dispute between Dalits and dominant castes as dominant castes may try to seize Dalit land using force, threats and violence.

Constitutional mechanism for upliftment of SC

  • Article 17 abolishes Untouchability.
  • Article 46 requires the State ‘to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
  • Article 335 provides that the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.
  • Article 15(4) refers to the special provisions for their advancement.
  • Article 16(4A) speaks of “reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of SCs/STs, which are not adequately represented in the services under the State’.
  • Article 338 provides for a National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes with duties to investigate and monitor all matters relating to safeguards provided for them, to inquire into specific complaints and to participate and advise on the planning process of their socio-economic development etc.
  • Article 330 and Article 332 of the Constitution respectively provide for reservation of seats in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People and in the legislative assemblies of the States. Under Part IX relating to the Panchayats and Part IXA of the Constitution relating to the Municipalities, reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in local bodies has been envisaged and provided.

Government Action to Check the Caste Discrimination:

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

  • Financial assistance is provided to the States/ UTs for implementation of these Acts, by way of relief to atrocity victims, incentive for inter-caste marriages, awareness generation, setting up of exclusive Special courts.

The ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’ (MS Act, 2013)

  • Identify and eliminate the insanitary latrines.
  • Prohibit:- i) Employment as Manual Scavengers and ii) Hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks
  • Identify and rehabilitate the manual scavengers.

Schedules Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP)

  • It is an umbrella strategy to ensure flow of targeted financial and physical benefits from all the general sectors of development for the benefit of Scheduled Castes.
  • Under the strategy, States/UTs are required to formulate and implement Special Component Plan (SCP) for Scheduled Castes as part of their Annual Plans by earmarking resources.