Information on the groups referred to in India's constitution as backward classes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and untouchables [IND26707.E]

The term "scheduled caste" "was first adopted in 1935, when the lowest-ranking Hindu castes were listed in a 'schedule' appended to the Government of India Act for purposes of statutory safeguards and other benefits" (Dushkin 1972, 166). Although India's constitution mentions "scheduled castes" and "scheduled tribes," the "schedules" listing those groups are not included in the constitution (Blaustein 1994, 1-353). Rather, Articles 341 and 342 of the constitution give the president the power to decree which castes and tribes will be considered to be "scheduled" (Blaustein 1994, 227). An exhaustive list of which castes and tribes the president has so named could not be found among the sources consulted by the DIRB.

According to S. Radhakrishnan and Rajana Kumari,

[s]cheduled castes belong to the lowest rung of Hindu caste society. They are often the former untouchables who are condemned to perform the menial and often "unclean" occupations. Hard agricultural labour in villages, removing dead carcasses, scavenging, handling leather, laundering, etc. are assigned to them. The traditional Hindu caste system divided the society in a hierarchical manner into four main castes, or varnas largely on the basis of occupation. These four are the castes of priests or the Brahmins, the castes of rulers and soldiers, the Kshatriyas, the castes of merchants or the Vaisyas and, Sudras. The untouchables come below the Sudras, and hence outside the varna system, and are assigned to performing only servile tasks (1989, 10)

According to the Social and Economic Atlas of India, for the most part the scheduled castes do not differ ethnically from their higher-caste compatriots; the difference is largely based on historical socio-economic deprivation (1987, 26). The same source adds that the scheduled tribes differ from the rest of the population "because their origins are tribal and they profess none of the major religions of the subcontinent" (ibid.).

Although untouchability has been abolished by Article 17 of India's constitution (Blaustein 1994, 45), the concept of "untouchablility" is a social reality which relates to the stigma attached to the lowest of the castes (Dushkin 1972, 167). All members of scheduled castes may be considered "untouchable" by some higher-caste Indians, and so the terms "scheduled castes" and "untouchables" - also known as Harijans (Dushkin 1972, 166; Sharma 1986, 38) - may be synonymous for some people (Social and Economic Atlas of India 1987, 26; Sharma 1986, 38). For example, see page 26 of the Social and Economic Atlas of India, where the term "Scheduled Castes" is immediately followed by the words "the 'Untouchables' " in parentheses (1987). Moreover, according to Louis Dumont, certain very low castes who are considered untouchable by several other low castes, may in turn consider certain other very low castes untouchable (Dumont 1980, 135). For example, the Dharkar consider the Chamar, the Dhobi, and the Dom to be untouchable for their members (ibid.). The Dharkar, in turn, are untouchable for the Basor, the Bhuiya, the Bhuiyar, the Khatik, the Majhwar, the Bhar, the Byar, the Bind, the Dusadh, and the Kharwar. For additional information on this please see the attached chart from Dumont.

Dumont names 25 Indian castes in a chart entitled "Which of Five Untouchable Castes are Untouchable for Twenty-Five Very Low Castes." In alphabetical order, they are the Agariya, Audhiya, Baheliya, Bajgi, Bansphor, Basor, Bhangi, Bhar, Bhot, Bhuiya, Bhuiyar, Bind, Byar, Chamar, Dangi, Dom, Majhwar, Dusadh, Dharkar, Gharuk, Ghasiya, Golapurab, Khangar, Khatik, Kharwa castes (1980, 135).

C.L. Sharma, writing about the state of Rajasthan, states that there are approximately 100 scheduled castes in that state (1986, 37-38). He specifically mentions (in alphabetical order) the Bhangi, Bola, Chamar, Dhed, Jatav, Meghwal, Mehtar, Mochi and Regar castes (ibid.).

Another source, speaking of the scheduled castes of Bihar, says that "23 castes have been scheduled" in that state (Sachidananda and Sinha 1989, 1). They are (in alphabetical order) the Bhangi, Banri, Bantar, Bhogta, Bhuiya, Bhumij, Chamar, Chaupal, Dabgar, Dhobi, Dom, Dusadh, Ghasi, Halakhor, Kanjar, Kuririar, Lalbagi, Musahar, Nat, Pan, Pasi, Rajwar, and Turi castes (ibid., 3).

S. Radhakrishnan and Ranjana Kumari note the following "important Scheduled Castes in [the state of] Madhya Pradesh" (in alphabetical order): Bhangi, Chamar, Gonda, Koli, and Mahar (1989, 21).

Please see the Stephen Fuchs attachment for an index of 623 castes.

The attached page from A Social and Economic Atlas of India lists the following 73 scheduled tribes (in alphabetical order): Baiga, Bathudi, Bharia-Bhumia, Bhil, Bhils and Bhilalas, Bhot, Bhumij, Boro/Borokachari, Chakma, Chandhri, Dimasa, Dhanka, Dhodia, Dhoras, Dubla, Gamit, Gond, Gond/Naikpod, Gujjar, Halba, Haltam, Hasalaru, Ho, Irular, Jamatia, Kachari/Sonwal, Kathodi, Kattunayakan, Kharia, Khasi Jaintiya, Khond, Kisan, Kokna, Kol, Kolha, Koli Mahadev, Konaura, Konda, Kora, Koraga, Korku, Koya, Koraga, Kuruba, Lodha, Lohara/Lohru, Mag, Mao, Marati, Mikir, Mina, Mizo (Lushai), Munda, Naga, Naikda, Nicobarese, Noatia, Oraon, Pangwala, Pareja, Rabha, Rathawa, Riang, Sahariya/Soharia/Saharia, Santal, Soligaru, Sugalis/Lambadis, Tangkhul, Thadon, Thakur/Thakar, Varli, Yenadis, and Yerukulas (1987, 26).

A list of who is designated as "backward classes" for the purposes of Article 15 of India's constitution1 could not be found among the sources consulted by the DIRB. Implementation of Article 15 with regard to "backward classes," scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as mentioned in article 15 is determined by other articles in India's constitution (Blaustein 1994, 42). A commentary on this aspect of India's constitution reads as follows:

[i]n article 46, (a directive principle of State policy) it is the obligation of 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" which is provided for. By article 335, it is provided that the claim of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration ... . But this article does not mention backward classes" (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below a list of additional sources consulted in preparing this Information Request.


Blaustein, Albert P. September 1994. Vol. 8. "India," Constitutions of the Countries of the World. Edited by Albert P. Blaustein and Gisbert H. Flanz. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications.

Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus:The Caste System and its Implications. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dushkin, Lelah. 1972. "Scheduled Caste Politics," The Untouchables in Contemporary India. Edited by J. Michael Mahar. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press.

Fuchs, Stephen. 1981. At the Bottom of Indian Society: The Harijan and Other Low Castes. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Radhakrishnan, S. and Ranjana Kumari. 1989. Impact of Education on Scheduled Caste Youth in India: A Study of Social Transformation in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. New Delhi: Radiant Publishers.

Sachidananda, and Ramesh P. Sinha. 1989. Education and the Disadvantaged: A Study of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. New Delhi: Uppal Publishing House.

Sharma, C.L. "The Problem of Scheduled Castes in Urban Rajasthan," The Depressed Classes of India: Problems and Prospects. Edited by R. G. Singh. New Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Social and Economic Atlas of India. 1987. Edited by S. Muthiah. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Blaustein, Albert P. September 1994. Vol. 8. "India," Constitutions of the Countries of the World. Edited by Albert P. Blaustein and Gisbert H. Flanz. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, pp. 41-42, 45, 227.

Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: the Caste System and Its Implications.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 134-35.

Fuchs, Stephen. 1981. At the Bottom of Indian Society: The Harijan and Other Low Castes. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, pp. v, vi, 318-325.

Social and Economic Atlas of India. 1987. Edited by S. Muthia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 27-28.

Additional Sources Consulted

Area Handbook for India. 1975.

The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives. 1989.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996. 1997.

Encyclopaedia of India. 1992, 1994

Government of India. 1977. Census Atlas.

Human Rights in Developing Countries Yearbook 1986, 1987-88, 1991, 1996.

India: A Country Study. 1975.

"Inde," Juris-Classeur Nationalit├ę.1983.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1989. Vol. 21.