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Why India Needs Scheduled Tribes to Educate its Future Judges, 28 April 2020
- The recent five-judge bench Supreme Court judgment in Chebrolu Leela Prasad Rao and Ors v State of AP and Ors, shows us once again how little the 5th Schedule of the Indian constitution which is meant to protect adivasi rights is understood. The reasoning in the judgment – which struck down an Andhra Pradesh government order from 2000 providing 100% reservation for Scheduled Tribe teachers in Scheduled Areas of the state – moves perilously close to dismantling the entire edifice of the 5th Schedule. If 100% reservation for teaching jobs is not permissible, the next step will be for someone to argue against the ban on alienation of tribal land, or overturn the Samata judgment prohibiting mining leases being given to non-tribals in 5th Schedule Areas in undivided Andhra Pradesh. After all, both these ‘discriminate’ against non-tribals. As non-adivasis from other districts flood scheduled areas leading to clear demographic change, the clamour to do away with the protective provisions of the 5th Schedule is only getting louder.
- The Andhra Pradesh G.O. of 2000 was aimed at promoting education in tribal areas and addressing the problem of rampant teacher absenteeism. As anyone even slightly acquainted with the problems of tribal areas knows, non-tribal teachers are often reluctant to travel to or live in remote adivasi hamlets. Another big problem is language. Many non-tribals, including lower government officials, have lived for years in tribal areas without feeling the need to learn tribal languages. At the primary level, mutual incomprehension between non-tribal teachers and tribal students hampers the basic education of children. The judges tell us that “It is an obnoxious idea that tribals only should teach the tribals” (para 133), but for far too long, the really obnoxious idea that has pervaded the educational system and is reflected in judgments like this one is that only non-tribals should teach tribals, to “uplift and mainstream” them because “their language and their primitive way of life makes them unfit to put up with the mainstream and to be governed by the ordinary laws” (para 107).
- A standard view is that expressed by Justice S.B. Sinha in his (minority) judgment of the Andhra high court on the same issue in 2001, where non-tribal teachers are axiomatically assumed to be more efficient and meritorious (para 86); and “(f)or upliftment of the educationally backward people, it is necessary to impart education through teachers who are more informed and more meritorious regardless of their caste”(para 126). For the Supreme Court to say, “They are not supposed to be seen as a human zoo and source of enjoyment of primitive culture and for dance performances” (para 107 of Chebrolu) betrays a mentality that thinks of Scheduled Tribes precisely in those terms rather than as people with the right to define their own educational future. For far too long, education in India has been seen by the establishment as a ‘civilising’ mission designed to make adivasis and dalits into mental clones of the upper castes, even if they continue in their subordinate jobs. Merit is defined merely as efficiency in achieving this goal, rather than in terms of success in tapping indigenous ecological knowledge, preserving adivasi languages and culture and giving confidence to adivasi students by acting as role models. Even though many adivasi teachers have also internalised this idea of non-tribal superiority, having hundred per cent adivasi teachers in Scheduled areas is a small step towards reversing this condescension.
- The Supreme Court judgment came in response to an appeal by non-tribals against the majority 2001 high court judgment, which upheld the G.O. of 2000. The Supreme Court verdict essentially replicates the minority view in the high court in favour of non-tribals. The court framed four questions for itself:
• the first deals with the power of the governor in 5th Schedule areas to make laws, and whether this can override Part III of the constitution or fundamental rights;
• the second, whether 100% reservation is constitutionally permissible;
• the third, whether the GO involves a classification under Article 16 (1) dealing with equal access to state employment, rather than under 16 (4) which provides for reservation;
• the fourth, to do with the reasonableness of the eligibility requirement for reservation, i.e. continuous residence in the area since 1950.
In answering each of the questions, sadly, the court shows itself unmindful of the realities of the country and the history of the constitution it has inherited.
- [I]t is important to remember that when the law-making power of the governor under the 5th Schedule was discussed in the constituent assembly’s Sub-Committee on Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas, the concern raised was not whether s/he could or should make fresh law, but that this power should not be used undemocratically, exercised over and above the elected legislature. It is for this reason that a Tribes Advisory Council was created and the governor was required to refer matters to it. (Para 11b of the sub-committee report). In this case, the Tribes Advisory Council had concurred with the 100% rule. On the question it posed to itself – of whether the legislative powers of the governor under Section 5 of the 5th Schedule could override fundamental rights – the Supreme Court answered in the negative.
- Judging by the continued over-representation of Hindu upper castes in gainful employment in this country, one might well say that the same has come to be fixed in a "highly unreasonable and arbitrary manner" and there is no rhyme or reason to the upper caste Hindu conviction that it is only they who have the natural right to rule over, provide justice to, or teach in this country, and that children of all other castes and religions must be grateful for the education and justice they get.