Caste Certificates: A Tool for Equity and Empowerment
By Vedant Manore and Isha Sharma
01 / Background
Located in the heart of Maharashtra, the Palghar District is known for its lush forests and winding rivers, and is home to the Warli tribe. When operating in the area, our team identified a widespread issue — the lack of Caste Certificates held by members of the community.
In response, Haqdarshak partnered with local government officials, including Block Development Officers, Sub-Divisional Magistrates, and Gram Panchayats, and set up enrolment camps across 21 villages between December 2020 and March 2021. The primary aim was to assist students in obtaining a Caste Certificate.
This was when we met Bhumika Dhodi (18). Bhumika’s father works as a manual rickshaw puller, and her mother is a contractual worker in a nearby factory. She has two younger sisters, and the family lives in a remote hamlet with limited basic amenities. Bhumika was eligible for various government-sponsored education schemes but needed a Caste Certificate to access them.
Since 2018, she had applied for the Certificate three times, but her applications were rejected each time, due to incomplete forms or incorrect proof of her Scheduled Tribe status. As a result, Bhumika missed out on a college scholarship and free accommodation reserved for tribal students. She had to find her own accommodation and pay a hefty two-year fee.
In December 2020, at one of the camps held, we helped Bhumika apply for a Caste Certificate. She received it in January 2021.
Bhumika is now eagerly looking forward to accessing government schemes to support her education and help her family access critical programs. Along with Bhumika, Haqdarshak has helped nearly 8,000 tribal students from the Palghar District obtain their Caste Certificates.
Caste Certificates in India establish an individual’s affiliation with a specific caste or community. They enable access to affirmative action programs and reservations, contributing to the social and economic development of marginalised communities.
Introduced in 1950, these Certificates provide reserved education and public employment seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes.
02 / Process of Obtaining
State Governments issue Caste Certificates, and each Government or Union Territory Administration has a set procedure for issuing the certificates. These certificates are bilingual, including both the state’s language and English. To obtain a valid Caste Certificate, one must follow the prescribed format issued by the following authorities and verified by the Central Government. Obtaining a Caste Certificate requires multiple forms of identification and verification.
The steps to obtain a Caste Certificate are as follows —
- Eligibility — To be eligible, the applicant must be a member of a caste or community recognised under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders of India’s Constitution. It is important to note that different states may have different listings, so verifying one’s caste or community from the respective state’s list is essential.
- Required Documents — Copies of Residence Proof, Copies of Birth Certificate, Ration Card, Income Certificate, Voter ID or electoral roll, Aadhar Card, and a Photograph.
- Application Form — One can obtain the certificate online or from the Revenue Department’s local or SDM offices.
- Issuing Authorities — Each State or Union Territory has a specified list of Issuing Authorities who can produce a verified Caste Certificate. This list typically includes a District Magistrate, Collector, and Chief Presidency Magistrate, among others.
- Verification — To ensure the authenticity of the Caste Certificate, the certifying authority verifies the candidate’s caste, tribe, and residence. The certificate is valid only if issued in the prescribed format by the respective authorities. ‘Migrant workers’ moving across different states can get Caste Certificates from a new state or Union Territory if they produce a genuine certificate initially issued to their parent by the state or Union Territory of their parent’s origin.
- Misuse of Caste Certificates is taken seriously, and appropriate action is taken against individuals holding a false Caste Certificate to secure their appointment in a job, education institute, or any other linked benefit. If a Government employee or any student in a Government institution is found to be holding a false Caste Certificate, their services/admission will be immediately terminated.
03 / Benefits and Impact
Individuals belonging to marginalised caste and tribal groups have been historically subjected to discrimination, which has limited their social, political, and legal access. To promote equality and provide opportunities to Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the Government has introduced various targeted welfare schemes and programs.
A Caste Certificate is vital in enabling individuals to avail themselves of the benefits they are entitled to, as it serves as proof of identity. Some benefits and rights linked to a Caste Certificate include reserved legislature and Government service seats, reduced or waived college fees, quotas in educational institutions, and relaxed upper-age limits for specific job applications.
These benefits help create a level playing field for marginalised communities, enabling them to participate in society equally.
04 / Challenges
Caste Certificates are crucial to access affirmative action policies, educational opportunities, and employment reservations aimed at uplifting historically marginalised groups. However, obtaining a Caste Certificate is complex, reflecting deeper issues within the country’s socio-political fabric.
One major hurdle in obtaining a Caste Certificate is the complex documentation process. Applicants often find themselves entangled in bureaucratic red tape, struggling to provide the necessary documents to establish their caste identity.
The caste system in India is intricate, with numerous sub-castes and communities. Determining an individual’s exact classification within this system can be challenging. The lack of clarity and standardised guidelines for caste classification can result in misidentification or rejection of applications.
Instances of corruption and bribery in issuing Caste Certificates are not uncommon. Individuals may find themselves compelled to pay bribes to expedite the process or obtain a Certificate through illegitimate means.
Caste-based politics in India often influences the process of obtaining Caste Certificates. Political interference may sometimes lead to favouritism or bias in issuing Certificates, diverting resources away from those who genuinely require affirmative action.
There exists a deep-rooted social stigma associated with caste identities in India. Many individuals hesitate to apply for Caste Certificates due to fear of discrimination or ostracisation within their communities. This reluctance further exacerbates the challenges faced by marginalised groups in accessing their entitled rights and opportunities.
The process of obtaining a Caste Certificate is subject to jurisdictional disparities, with different states and regions having distinct procedures and criteria. This lack of uniformity adds a layer of complexity, especially for individuals who move across regions for education or employment.
A significant challenge is the lack of awareness about the importance of Caste Certificates and the procedures involved. Many individuals from marginalised communities may not be well-informed about their rights and entitlements, leading to a lower application rate and hindering the overall goal of inclusive development.
Addressing the hurdles and challenges in obtaining Caste Certificates in India requires a multifaceted approach. It requires reforms in the application process, the establishment of standardised guidelines for caste classification, and expansive awareness campaigns.
Additionally, there is a need for a broader societal shift towards dismantling the deep-seated prejudices associated with caste, fostering an environment where individuals can assert their identities without fear of discrimination or bias. Through comprehensive efforts, India can realise the principles of equality and social justice embedded in its constitution.
05 / Haqdarshak's Work
The Caste Certificate plays a crucial role in the upward social mobility of people from Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Nominated Tribes, and Other Backward Castes. It grants them access to education and government jobs, accelerating their societal progress.
One such scheme is the Integrated Tribal Development Project, implemented by Tribal Ministries of the states and supported by the Central Government. Possessing a Caste Certificate is mandatory to avail of the benefits of this scheme.
Haqdarshak has helped 25,207 citizens, across 22 states, get their Caste Certificates. These citizens are from states including Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
A Caste Certificate is the key to accessing a multitude of benefits and Government-support schemes, and can play a critical role in improving recipients’ access and quality of life.