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'Scheduling' Tribes: Why Kols aren’t STs in UP

The process of 'scheduling' (notifying) tribes can be traced to the 19th century, when there were several rebellions of tribal groups in Central India.

The protest was targeted at British policies which encouraged entry of outsiders such as money-lenders, government-appointed landlords and labour contractors into tribal habitats; these people were seen as destroyers of the tribal values and the tribal way of life.

In response to these movements, and in tacit acceptance of its inability gain total control over areas of the country with a large tribal population, the British deemed certain areas as 'non-regulated'. Essentially this meant that these areas were excluded from British laws and administration.

Two forms of non-regulation or exclusion were adopted. While some areas were 'wholly excluded', others were 'partially excluded'.

A large part of the North East, the Laccadive and Minicoy islands, and Lahaul and Spiti (now in Himachal Pradesh) were 'wholly excluded'. Tribal areas in the rest of the country were 'partially excluded'.

After Independence, the Constitution of India followed this classification. The North East was given special protection under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

For tribal areas in the rest of the country, the Constitution provided a Fifth Schedule, which listed 'scheduled areas' in different states, where tribal groups were to enjoy special protection and benefits.

The power to declare an area as 'scheduled' vested with the President. Accordingly, two Presidential orders were issued in 1950.

The scheduling exercise was done perfunctorily. In the country's largest district with a tribal population, Bastar, some teshils were 'scheduled' and others weren't, with no explanation for this strange differentiation.

The Constitution also gave the President the right to specify tribal communities as scheduled tribes (STs). There were two important riders. Firstly, the Constitution did not envisage according ST status to a tribe in the entire country; ST status was state-specific. Secondly, even within a state or a tribe, some groups living in some areas could be given ST status, while people of the same group living in other areas could be denied it.

The apparent reason behind such a provision was that ST status has to be linked to backwardness, which was a 'transient phenomenon'. The fundamental principle was that STs had to advance and assimilate with the development processes of the rest of the country.

Accordingly, the Constitution gave the President the power to 'deschedule' an area or a tribe after it had recorded progress.

The process of 'scheduling' tribes after Independence was done with the help of census reports prepared meticulously every ten years since the mid-19th century.

However, census officials have complained regularly that it is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between a tribal and a caste group.

Sheer bureaucratic bungling seems to have played a big part in the process of scheduling tribes.

For reasons unknown, in the 1931 Census report Kols living in the Rewa state of the Central India Agency (the northern half of present-day Madhya Pradesh) were classified as tribes, while Kols living in United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) bordering Rewa were categorized as an 'exterior caste'.

Apparently without giving the matter any thought, the categorisation was perpetuated after Independence.

Thus Kols who live in jungle tracts bordering Chitrakoot district of Madhya Pradesh are a 'scheduled tribe', but Kols who live along the same jungle tracts, across the imaginary line which tells you that you are in Uttar Pradesh, have the status of a 'scheduled caste'.

In many border villages, the distance between Kols who enjoy ST status and those who don't is less than a kilometre!

Read a story about Kols in the ABSSS website.

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