“Scheduled Castes” is the legal and constitutional name collectively given to the Sudra and the 'Outcaste' untouchable Dalit communities who have traditionally occupied the lowest status in Indian society and the Hindu religion.
Today, discrimination on the basis of caste and untouchability is outlawed, and the outcaste, untouchable groups are recognized by the Indian Constitution to be especially disadvantaged because of their past history of inferior treatment, and are therefore entitled to certain rights and preferential treatment.
The Scheduled Castes are not an homogenous group and are divided into many castes and sub-castes, as well as by language and geography. Collectively they are now best known as “Dalit-bahujans”.
Members of the Scheduled Castes are found all over India in some areas rising to over 25% of the population. With total numbers of over 160 million, they are the largest minority group in the world.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the British Indian government began to take an interest in the condition of “untouchable groups” and “depressed classes” and their special position was recognized under the term “Scheduled Castes”.
Afetr independence, Article 341 of the Indian constituion authorizes the President of India to specify “castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes”.
The First Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1951 allowed the state to make special provision for advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Almost 90% of the Dalit Scheduled Castes still live in rural areas and economic exploitation remains their most acute problem. They are overwhelmingly marginal farmers or landless labourers. Large numbers migrate to cities or labour-scarce rural areas.