Sub-categorisation within Castes

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Background
  • Legality of Sub-categorisation within Castes
  • Union Government’s Stand
  • Arguments in Favour of Sub-Categorisation within SCs
  • Arguments Against Favour of Sub-Categorisation within SCs


  • In an election rally in Telangana, PM Modi promised to look into the sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes (SCs) to identify and help the most backward among them.
  • This move has been read as an attempt by the ruling party to woo the Madiga community.
    • The Madigas are the most populous of all SC communities in the State.
    • However, they have claimed that their share of representation was being taken up by another SC community, the Malas.
    • Following agitation by Madigas, the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh split the state’s scheduled caste quota in 1997 into four categories.

Legality of Sub-categorisation within Castes

  • In the last two decades, multiple States like Punjab, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu have tried to bring in reservation laws at the State level in a bid to sub-categorise SCs.
  • However, all plans are held up in courts as the Supreme Court forms its larger Constitution Bench to decide the matter.
  • E.V. Chinnaiah v State of Andhra Pradesh (2004):
    • In 2004, the 5-Judge Bench in E.V. Chinnaiah held that once a community is included in the Presidential List for Scheduled Castes under Article 341 of the Constitution, they become part of a single larger class of people, casting a wide net for the purposes of reservation.
    • The Bench held that the State did not have the legislative power to create sub-classifications within this single class and that such an action would violate the Right to Equality.
    • The Constitution has provided that these lists can only be made by Parliament and notified by the President.
  • In 2020, another five-member Supreme Court bench in the Davinder Singh case unanimously ruled that sub-categorisation is constitutionally valid and suggested a larger constitutional bench rule on the matter.

Union Government’s Stand

  • The Union government formed a National Commission to look into the question of sub-categorising SCs in Andhra Pradesh and the then Cabinet recommended an amendment to Article 341 of the Constitution of India to allow for it.
  • But both the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) had opined that a constitutional amendment was not necessary.
  • They said that Article 16(4) of the Constitution already provided for States to create special laws for any backward classes it felt was under-represented.

Arguments in Favour of Sub-Categorisation within SCs

  • From the Justice Raju Commission to the National Commission, the principal argument for sub-categorisation of SCs has been the graded inequalities among SC communities.
    • Justice Raju Commission was formed by the Andhra Pradesh state government in 1996 to look into the matter.
  • The thrust of it has been that even among the marginalised, there are communities that have lesser access to basic facilities.
  • As a result, the relatively more forward communities among them have managed to avail benefits consistently while crowding the more backward ones out.
  • The solution, therefore is to sub-categorise the communities and provide separate reservation to the more backward communities within the reservation meant for SCs.

Arguments Against Favour of Sub-Categorisation within SCs

  • Both the SC and ST Commissions have noted that allotting separate reservations within the categories would not really address the root cause of the problem.
  • In an internal note prepared by the NCST, it had explained that the most backward SCs are lagging so far behind forward SC communities that a separate quota would not help.
  • It said that the idea was to ensure representation at all levels.
  • But given the disparity, even if posts were reserved at higher levels, these most backward SCs would not have enough candidates to be considered for it in the first place.
  • Both the NCSC and the NCST had thus recommended that existing schemes and government benefits should first reach these sections before any sub-categorisation.
  • Legal experts have pointed out the necessity to have concrete data to support sub-categorisation.

Q1) When was the Mandal Commission established?

Mandal Commission was set up in 1979 January by Morarji Desai government to identify the socially or educationally backward classes to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination, and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness.

Q2) What did Indra Sawhney Judgement on reservation in promotion?

A nine-judge Bench held that Article 16(4) does not grant reservation in promotion because it pertains only to reservation in appointments.

Source: On the sub-categorisation within castes | Explained | ToI