Economic and Political WeeklyOctober 6, 2001
colonialism and planning.
Viewed in thisperspective, scheduled castes and tribesare the historically deprived and backwardsections of Indian society who languish atthe lower portions of the social and eco-nomic pyramid. In a society of this kind,where inequality and domination are deeplyfrozen in the social structure and in thepsyche of the people, it is difficult to upliftand empower the deprived groups throughlegislative measures because any attemptto exercise the rights created by law isoften to challenge the existing order of relations [Beteille 1974]. The modes of living, working and the ideology that makeup this stratification constitute very realinhibitions and obstacles, and the strengthof the system is evidenced by the unwill-ingness of the underprivileged and ex-ploited lower strata to challenge them[Myrdal 1972:41].Though the scheduled castes and tribeshave a combined demographic strength of one-fourth of India’s population – whichis greater than the population of manycountries – they have not been able toemerge as a powerful combination. Theycontinue to be ruled by the dominant elitesof the upper castes
because of their sub-missiveness, tolerance and survival-mindedness. The ruling minorities, whofind the existing social order beneficial,remain apathetic or lukewarm towardsissues concerning the upliftment andempowerment of the people at the lowerrungs as it tends to challenge their spectraldominance. Though movements haveemerged time and again among scheduledpopulation, they were mostly sporadic,unorganised and fragmented, and weresuppressed or diluted by the dominantgroups through various strategies [Omvedt1974, Ranadive 1979, Desai 1979]. Never-theless, many of these movements haveenlightened the members of lower castesand tribes and also produced some percep-tible changes in agrarian social relations[Patankar and Omvedt 1979, Dhanagare1983, Kulkarni 1983]. Moreover, plan-ning in India, like in other south Asiancountries, which is viewed as a ‘demo-cratic planning’ in popular notion is funda-mentally a political programme throughwhich the state tries to impress the massesin order to get their support without muchcoercion and regimentation [Myrdal 1972:62]. Therefore, the state representing theprivileged minorities formulates policiesthat can concede the demands of the upperstrata on the one side and produce ideo-logical effect that is responsive to ‘popularwill’ on the other. To quote Myrdal(1972:44) “...the south-Asian plannersremain in their paradoxical position: on ageneral and non-committal level theyfreely and almost passionately proclaimthe need for radical social and economicchange, whereas in planning their policiesthey tread most warily in order to notdisrupt the traditional social order. Andwhen they do legislate radical institutionalreforms...they permit laws to containloopholes of all sorts and even let themunenforced.”Land distribution in India closely fol-lows social hierarchy. While the largelandowners invariably belong to the uppercastes, the cultivators belong to the middlecastes and the agricultural workers largelyto the scheduled castes and tribes [Beteille1972, Sankaran 1996]. Land being theimportant socially valued asset, its un-equal distribution helps maintain the hier-archical structure and strengthen the basisof dominance of the privileged groups byperpetuating inequality and deprivation invarious socio-economic spheres. Seen from
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