The urgent need for empowerment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the country was realized in India on the eve of independence to reduce the regional disparities and uplift the status of these communities. Constitution of India makes a number of commitments under its various provisions for the development of these groups. Towards fulfilling the commitments, the Government of India has adopted a three-pronged strategy of
- Social Empowerment;
- Economic Empowerment; and
- Social Justice to ensure removal of disparities, elimination of exploitation and suppression and to provide protection to these disadvantaged groups.
- Social Empowerment
Education being the most effective instrument for socio-economic empowerment of the disadvantaged groups, high priority continues to be accorded to improve the educational status of these groups. The following measures are important:
- With respect to elementary education, various incentives in the form of abolition of tuition fee, free supply of books, mid-day meals, and scholarships are provided. Special focus has also been on ST students in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Navodaya Vidyalaya and National Talent Search Scheme.
- There are also major scholarship programmes. Post-Matric Scholarships are awarded to promote higher education beyond matriculation. Pre-Matric Scholarships are given to encourage children of scavengers and those engaged in menial works to pursue education. Upgradation of Merit Scheme is aimed at extending remedial and special coaching. Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowships for SC students provide special incentives to pursue higher studies and research.
- Coaching facilities are provided to students preparing for various competitive examinations.
- Hostel facilities are provided to both girls and boys for pursuing education from upper primary stage onwards.
- Economic Empowerment
Employment and income generation programmes have been launched for the economic empowerment of socially disadvantaged groups. The following apex financial organizations have been set up:
- The National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) provides financial and other support to beneficiaries for taking up various income-generating activities.
- The National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) provides financial and other support to safai karamcharis for taking up various income-generating activities.
- The National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSTFDC) supports various income and employment generating activities through loans, marketing support, training and so on.
- The Scheduled Castes Development Corporations (SCDCs) finance employment oriented schemes that cover agriculture and allied activities including minor irrigation, small scale industry, transport and trade and service sector.
- The Scheduled Tribes Development Corporations (STDCs) function as channelizing agencies and extending financial and other assistance to beneficiaries. The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Ltd. (TRIFED) provides marketing assistance to STs for collection of minor forest produce and surplus agricultural produce.
- Social Justice
The Constitution of India guarantees protection from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Some protective legislations have also been made. The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 are important.