Dalit

The social groups whose development is more linked to radical social change are the Scheduled Castes (SCs) in Odisha. The Government of India Scheduled Castes Order 1936 had identified 54 sub-caste groups of Odisha as SCs but during last 70 years, the number of sub caste has increased in State and currently till 2015 it is 95 while some sub –caste groups are still in queue to be enlisted as SCs. It is told that in comparison to other States the SC list of Odisha has included a few non-deserving castes because of political considerations and not following the original criteria of untouchability while identifying the SCs.  It has subsequently diluted the benefit sharing among SCs of the State. But largely a majority of these communities are socially distinguished and economically poor.

As it is revealed from various periodic Government reports, the last 70 years of constitutional governance has failed in many ways to ensure a proportionate share in development to the people belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) who comprise around one-fifth of the population of Odisha. Now the question is how long it will take to bridge the socioeconomic gaps among various social groups while many recent reports such as periodic Labour force survey by NSSO 2019-20 shows a rise in poverty and also related reports indicate increase in many forms of inequality, including discrimination and atrocities against SCs.

Let’s see the situation of SCs in Odisha by using various Government data on specific issues such as atrocity, poverty, landlessness and employment status. It is a fact that the core issue of SCs is linked to their low caste identity by birth that decides their status. In spite of many legal measures and social reform movements, still the practices of untouchability and caste based atrocities are rampant in rural areas. The Home department, Government of Odisha, in its annual white papers has reported thousands of such cases of atrocities while equal amount of such cases remain unreported for various reasons. The two important protective legislations that primarily address the issues of atrocities are PCR Act -1955 and SCs and STs POA Act 1989. For last 10 years there were about 20,000 reported cases booked under these two Acts whereas about 10,000 cases are pending for trial in special courts and most shockingly the annual conviction rate has been between 0 to 3 per cent as revealed in the NCRB data. The Prisoner statistics says that the presence of inmates from SCs were disproportionately in higher number. Why the conviction rate is so less? Is there any study or discussion by the appropriate bodies? The Government of Odisha has paid around Rs 20 crore to 1,883 atrocity victims as monetary relief in the year 2020, and has engaged 700 full time legal retainers and hundreds of public prosecutors to provide free legal aid to victims. The Government made operational three exclusive special courts at Balasore, Balangir and Cuttack added to the existing 92 designated special courts for speedy trial of atrocity cases.

As part of all India approach to reduce untouchability and caste discrimination, inter caste marriage between non-SC Hindu and SCs are being promoted with cash incentive of Rs 2.5 lakh to couples of inter caste marriage and last year the State Government has spent around Rs 20 crore for 978 couples. As per legal provision of the POA Act, the matter of atrocity cases needs to be discussed in the State Assembly, but in spite of presence of 57 SC and ST MLAs in the House out of total 147, there is no review to arrest the growing of atrocities.

Not just social discrimination, the SCs are also reeling under acute poverty as 42 per cent of SC households are featured among the people below poverty line (BPL) and the poverty ratio among SCs and STs is much higher in comparison to other social groups. Their children are prominently featured among dropouts and child labourers and adults are among migrant workers in current Government’s data.  There have been targeted anti-poverty schemes in operation for last so many years but mostly used as advertisement of Government.

The SCs’ livelihood and development are connected to ownership over land, access to quality education and equal opportunity to access employment.

What is the land ownership status of SCs in Odisha? The agriculture census on land holing speaks more in details. A vast majority of SC households depend on land for livelihood, mostly as agricultural workers, sharecroppers and very few are small and marginal farmers owning less than minimum economic holding. About 20-30 per cent of the rural SC households have no record of rights over homestead land to construct a permanent house of their own. In spite of land settlement laws such OGLS Act and OPLE Act, still a sizable number of family lives inside coconut groves, bank of rivers and village ponds, former landlords’ land , and un-surveyed lands which is not yet demarcated and not being allowed a legal possession. Many of them are deprived of PMAY benefits though the scheme attaches priority to housing for SCs. There has been provision since 2013 to purchase private land for PMAY beneficiaries if Government land is not available for settlement but the Government of Odisha has done nothing in this regard. The OLR Act has provision of settlement of ceiling surplus land, Bhoodan land, waste land and many other categories of land with landless SC families but what is the status now? Long back, the State Government had made promises to make the State landless free. What changes has the department made in ensuring land to landless families including SCs? There are thousands of homestead-less families routinely languishing in Revenue offices. The sharecroppers have been suffering for so many years without any rights at par with land owning farmers. Majority of the SCs hamlets have no basic amenities such as drinking water, toilet, electricity and all-weather linking road which is largely linked to land entitlements. The Census 2011 revealed that not even 1 per cent of rural SC households was in salaried jobs in Government, corporate and private sector. The much propagated job reservation has only helped accommodate the SCs  in selective class 4 and class 3 jobs while class-2 and class -1 jobs still remain unfilled . Experience shows that the job reservation policy of the Government always has to pass through judicial scrutiny and dilution which has obstructed these sections of people from getting their legitimate share.The benefits of reservation in education and jobs remain vacant or unfulfilled and largely diluted and distracted. There has been no review of The Odisha Reservation of vacancies in post and services (for SCs and STs) Act 1975 by the department. These days a growing trend of outsourcing, contractual appointments and privatization are further debarring these sections of people from quality education and meaningful employment of organized sector while a vast majority of them still languish as casual workers of unorganized sector without benefits of Labour legislations and limited trade unionism. The emerging political trend shows the withdrawal of the State from its responsibility towards the historically vulnerable sections including the SCs and encouraging the market economy to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Currently, the costly quality technical education has become unreachable for SCs and other poor which has a bearing on their access to salaried jobs. The caste based hate campaign by a few so -called meritorious social groups against reserve category also has created an undeclared social exclusion in the private job market. Even that affected the technically qualified SCs in getting access to job market. Social barriers are a major stumbling block for self-employment of SC youths in rural areas. It is found that distress migration is quite high among rural SCs. The current liberalization phase witness the most flourishing business, trade, industry and mining sectors in the state but these private owned sector is socially non-inclusive to majority of deprived social groups including SCs. Odisha’s economic growth is not possible with this kind of continued social and economic exclusion of a sizeable historically neglected mass.

Is institutional mechanism for SCs effective in State?

The makers of modern India want to build a casteless society with abolition of untouchability and all forms of caste based discrimination and atrocities against SCs and others. As a matter of historical reparation towards justice and equality, there have been special provisions and affirmative action policy which address the continued social injustice while ensuring participation and equal opportunity for development of all social groups including the SCs. But the present socio-economic scenario of the State of Odisha shows a discomforting picture as majority of its people are in extreme poverty and backwardness where the SCs are more disadvantaged and vulnerable among the social groups. The last 70 years of constitutional rule and institutional mechanism have not created much impact; rather when the SCs are struggling for change, the new liberal economy has put new challenges before them.

It is time to relook the changing socio-economic conditions and re-strategies many of our constitutional promises and its implementation and also to evaluate the work of institutions existing to carry out the mandate of the constitution in building an egalitarian society. Take for example the major institutional mechanism of Government in primarily working to ensure the protection, participation and development of the SCs under the guidance and leadership of mostly the elected representatives of SCs. Currently, the State has 24 SC MLAs in the Assembly and three MPs in in Lok Sabha from reserve constituencies. No one from SCs represent in Rajya Sabha from Odisha. There are also Zilla Parisad Chairpersons from SCs as per their percentage. As per constitutional provisions, there are dedicated institutions such as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, National Commission for SCs, National Commission for Safai Karmacharies and National SCs Finance Development Corporation, to name a few. The State level institutions include Department of SCs and STs Development, where it is told in the constitution that the Minister heading the department must belong to ST (Article- 164). Besides, there is the SCs and STs Finance and Development Corporation, SCs and STs Research and Training Institutions, Odisha Scheduled Caste Advisory Board headed by Chief Minister with all SC MPs and MLAs as its members (The Odisha scheduled caste welfare Advisory Board Rules 1957) and State Vigilance and Monitoring Committee to monitor cases of atrocities.  While the Chief Minister is the chairperson of the committee, at the district level, the Collector is the chairperson.  Last but not the least, there is the SC and ST MLAs House Committee in the State Assembly for overall implementation of various policies.

Added to institutional mechanism there is a budgetary provision since 1979 as Scheduled Caste Sub Plan which speaks about a population percentage wise proportional share in budget for the development of SCs with separate account heads in demand grants. It is further told that the funds are non-divertible and non-lapsable and must primarily be targeted to generate employment to counter poverty and unemployment. It is to bridge the gap in socio-economic development to bring their level at par with other social groups of the State. Therefore the public institutions having budget, and armed with protective laws and Acts, have a greater role to play in upgrading the socio-economic condition of the SCs and make all efforts to fulfill the constitutional promises. It is the primary role of different institutions and statutory bodies mostly represented by elected SC leaders to monitor the implementation of various policies, laws, Acts, schemes and programs for the protection, participation and development of SCs of the State.  But how far these institutions are effective in discharging their job while they are being handsomely paid out of public treasury is a matter of discussion. It is time to evaluate the role of these institutions in ensuring justice and equality to SCs of the State.

Manas Jena, social activist, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Email: manasbbsr15@gmail.com


Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B. Subscribe to our Telegram channel


GET COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWSLETTER STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX


Tags: ,

Comments are closed.