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

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State, Enumeration and Marginalised Communities in India

Data and Development Policies

It is well known that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been among the most marginalised sections of Indian society. Successive governments have attempted to improve their conditions in different ways, including affirmative action and welfare programmes. This paper attempts a comparative study of size and related issues of these marginalised communities and highlights data gaps in evaluating state policies for their development. It also argues that while the state policy on data is ambivalent and incongruent, the existing policies of socio-economic development for the deprived and marginalised communities are populist in nature and centred on electoral politics.

This paper was presented at the 20th World Sociology Congress, Melbourne, 25 June–1 July 2023. The author gratefully acknowledges the support from the International Sociological Association. He would also like to thank Walter Bartl, Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg, Germany and the participants of Research Committee 41, Sociology of Population for their comments and suggestions.

In India, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are two major marginalised communities that constitute 16.6% and 8.6% of the total population, respectively (Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner 2011c). The Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1936 was the first attempt at listing castes in every province of British India. However, there was no such recognition for tribes in British India. In independent India, the provisions under Article 341 of the Indian Constitution recognised the SCs and STs as new official social categories for their social upliftment and economic development. The power was bestowed on the President of India to declare a caste as SC or a tribe as ST for state benefits and social protection, also termed as positive discrimination. The list of SCs and STs kept on expanding in each census. In the 2011 Census, there were 1,221 individual castes within the SC category and 663 distinct tribes within the ST category. Along with the census, the National Sample Survey (NSS) and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) also provide data on the socio-economic conditions of these marginalised communities.

However, the census provides data even for individual SC and ST groups, making it most useful, while sample surveys are not designed to provide information at individual caste and tribe levels. Further, the census counts the population according to a prior list supplied to the enumerators, while NSS and NFHS enumerate SCs and STs on a self-reported basis. It is important to mention that STs constitute the most backward groups of Indian society and are unique in terms of sociocultural and economic organisation, spread far and wide mostly in the forested and hilly tracts, which have remained isolated for many centuries.

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Published On : 9th Mar, 2024

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