North-Eastern Areas – Scheduled Districts Act of 1874, political and constitutional changes

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Over six years after its signing, the Bodoland Accord is yet to usher in substantive changes on the ground [i.e. at the date of pulication in 2002].

[…] The Sixth Schedule, extensively amended since the adoption of the Constitution, along with the Fifth Schedule (applicable to the scheduled areas and the Scheduled Tribes outside the northeastern region) was described by the late Mohammed Hidayatullah, Chief Justice of India, as “miniature constitutions for certain scheduled areas of India” (“The Fifth and Sixth Schedules to the Constitution of India,” The Anundoram Barooah Law Lectures, Second Series, Guwahati, 1979). The Sixth Schedule, which contains the provisions for the administration of tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, is applicable only to the ‘hill areas’ of these States. Its origins go back to the very constitution of Assam as a separate province of British India in 1874. Parts of the province, described as ‘backward tracts’ which were to be administered under the Scheduled Districts Act of 1874, have, over the years and several political and constitutional changes, including the crucial North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act of 1971, became the States (or parts of the States) of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Schedule as it stands is applicable only to the two autonomous hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, as well as the tribal areas of Tripura and parts of the Chhimtuiupui district of Mizoram inhabited by the Chakmas, the Pawis and the Lakhers. The application of the provision of this Schedule is uniquely informed by a crucial geographical factor: that the Schedule is applicable only to the ‘hill areas’ of the given State.

The assumption behind this restrictive and specific application has been informed by a deeply entrenched colonial, paternalistic, perhaps even racist, mindset in the political and bureaucratic establishment regarding both the history of the people and the geography of Assam and the northeastern region, the last of the frontiers to be incorporated into British India. The “isolated and backward” people of these “remote hill areas” of a region, which itself was the back of beyond of the country, were uniquely handicapped and hence required special constitutional safeguards from the “rapacious exploiters from the plains”. Such provisions were never made applicable to the tribal communities in the plains of Assam because it was assumed that since they lived in close proximity to the non-tribal communities inhabiting the plains, they would in course of time become “assimilated” into the communities in their neighbourhood and indeed cease to be “tribal”.

The assumptions worked for a while, but not any longer. The hill tribal people are not more isolated than the more economically and socially backward people of the plains, tribal or non-tribal; and the tribal people of the plains are no more getting assimilated into neighbouring non-tribal caste Hindu (or Muslim) society. Indeed, as noted above, a reverse process of ‘re-tribalisation‘ among communities that were supposed to have ‘de-tribalised’ themselves is also on.

Anachronistic as such provisions may appear now, over a century and a quarter after they were conceptualised, they remain on the statue books and are jealously guarded by those who benefit from them. Hence, any move to extend the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the plains tribes (Bodos in this instance) is bound to find resistance from those who are exclusively covered by these provisions. […]

Source: The Bodo question by M.S. PRABHAKARA in Guwahati, Frontline (India’s National Magazinefrom the publishers of THE HINDU) Volume 19 – Issue 15, July 20 – August 02, 2002
Address :
Date Visited: Mon Jul 11 2011 15:13:32 GMT+0200 (CEST)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

See also

Adverse inclusion | Casteism | Rural poverty


Crafts and visual arts

Demographic Status of Scheduled Tribe Population of India (Census figures 2011)

Denotified Tribes, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes – Report and Recommendations (Technical Advisory Group)

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“What is the Forest Rights Act about?” – Campaign for Survival and Dignity

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[*] Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)

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“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)

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Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)

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“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2

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“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)

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