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

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Protection and Inequality among Backward Groups

Backward Groups Uma Ramaswamy Although the Scheduled Castes have been considered a homogeneous group, they are internally differentiated in terms of occupation, numerical strength, geographical spread and ritual status. While the awareness of a shared status stands them in good stead vis-a-vis the upper castes, the traditional cleavages and rivalry within have shown no signs of attentuation. This paper examines the manner in which the Mala and the Madiga, the two major untouchable castes of Andhra, have progressed during the three decades of preferential treatment. Any policy of protection and preference which operates along an ascriptive principle will inevitably bring to the fore micro- cleavages even as it succeeds at the macro level, as it has done in the case of the Mala and Madiga, THE Government of India is constitutionally pledged to uplift the backward sections of society. Caste and tribe, the basic units of Indian social structure, have been used by the government as major criteria for identifying backwardness. Clusters of castes with seemingly similar socio-economic status came to be treated as backward for the purpose of preference in education, government employment and election to political office. The Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes are the three major backward categories selected as target groups for development. The state has naturally been concerned to motivate the members of these castes to take advantage of the benefits. Rules and regulations governing their distribution have been relaxed from time to time to ensure that they actually reach the target groups. During the initial stages when the response was poor, the wisdom of the policy came under question. But the picture today is far different. The Scheduled Castes, for example, are not only taking advantage of the benefits earmarked for them, but are conscious of their privileged status as constitutionally protected people (Ramaswamy 1984).' Yet, the very success of the policy has brought in its wake a new set of problems. While, on the one hand, protectionism attempts to moderate the inequality between the Scheduled Castes and the rest, on the other hand it has engendered inequality among the Scheduled Castes themselves. The exploitation of benefits by some sections of these castes has pushed to the fore the differences rather than the uniformities among them. Obviously, it was not envisaged that some castes may be better placed to take advantage of the benefits than others. It was assumed that groups identified as backward have a measure of homogeneity in terms of their socio-economic characteristics. There was insufficient recognition of the fact that this homogeneity is only relative, that the Scheduled Castes could have a lot in common in relation to the upper castes and yet be differentiated amongst themselves. For its part, the administration which was under pressure to show results readily catered to those segments which aggressively exploited the opportunity. Under these conditions, it was but natural that the more advanced segments would take greater advantage of the benefits and steadily enhance the cleavage within the Scheduled Castes.

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