Of all the Historical Constitutions that put forward a constitutional vision, Political Demands of Scheduled Castes 1944 and States and Minorities 1945 were different in that they primarily focussed on protecting the sectional interests of the Scheduled Castes in India’s constitutional future. B.R. Ambedkar played a key role in drafting both. Most of the constitutional provisions were not new – they were demands that the Scheduled Caste movement had been making for a while: reservations, proportional representation in legislatures, executive, parliament etc. However, there was one provision that stood out: separate settlements for Scheduled Castes.
Political Demands was a set of resolutions passed by the Scheduled Castes Federation at its Working Committee meeting in 1944 to outline ‘the safeguards for untouchables in the new Constitution’. In one of these resolutions, the Federation demanded that the future Constitution should provide -
“ ..(1) For the transplantation of the Scheduled Castes from their present habitations and from separate Scheduled Caste villages away from and independent of Hindu villages;
(2) For the settlement of the Scheduled Castes in new villages, a provision shall be made by the Constitution for the establishment of a Settlement Commission…”
These were relatively extraordinary measures which Ambedkar took forward into the formal constitution-making process. In 1947, Ambedkar included similar provisions on separate settlements in States and Minorities – which he submitted to Constituent Assembly’s Sub-Committee of Fundamental Rights. Why did Ambedkar consider these provisions as constitutionally important? In his explanatory notes attached to the submission, Ambedkar argued that
‘ ..Untouchables who are socially separate should be made separate from geographically and territorially also, and be settled in separate villages exclusively of Untouchables in which the distinction of the high and the low and of Touchable and Untouchable will find no place..’
For Ambedkar, caste oppression was based on the proximity of the Dalits and the upper castes. This proximity, Ambedkar explained, has two effects: first, it marks out the Dalit community which
‘enables Hindus to identify them as being Untouchables. India is admittedly a land of villages and so long as the village system provides an easy method of marking out and identifying the Untouchables, the Untouchable has no escape from untouchability”
Second, the proximity of untouchables to upper castes establishes and propagates economic dependency:
“..the chief weapon in the Armory of the Hindus is economic power which they possess over the poor untouchables living in the village’
The proposal for separate settlements, however, did not get traction in the formal constitution-making the process. The provisions were not adopted by the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights nor did this come up in plenary discussions of the Constituent Assembly.