Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

What is the Affinity Test to Identify Scheduled Tribes?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Affinity Test

Mains level: Scheduled Tribes and issues

The Supreme Court wants to fix foolproof parameters to determine if a person belongs to a Scheduled Tribe and is entitled to the benefits due to the community as it is no longer sure about an “affinity test”.

What is the Affinity Test?

  • Affinity Test is used to shift through anthropological and ethnological traits to link a person to a tribe.
  • There is the likelihood that contact with other cultures, migration and modernization would have erased the traditional characteristics of a tribe.
  • The claim by an applicant that he is a part of a Scheduled Tribe and is entitled to the benefit extended to that tribe, cannot per se be disregarded on the ground that his present traits do not match his tribes.
  • These include peculiar anthropological and ethnological traits, deity, rituals, mode of marriage, death ceremonies, method of burial of dead bodies etc.
  • Worship is an integral part of the life of a community and tribes have specific modes which need to be ascertained by the officers who decide the claims (for ST status).

Who are the Scheduled Tribes?

  • The term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ first appeared in the Constitution of India.
  • Article 366 (25) defined scheduled tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution”.
  • Article 342, which is reproduced below, prescribes procedure to be followed in the matter of specification of scheduled tribes.
  • The first specification of Scheduled Tribes in relation to a particular State/ Union Territory is by a notified order of the President, after consultation with the State governments concerned.
  • These orders can be modified subsequently only through an Act of Parliament.
  • The above Article also provides for listing of scheduled tribes State/Union Territory wise and not on an all India basis.

What did the Supreme Court say?

  • It has been considered it best to refer the question of fixing the parameters to a larger Bench.
  • The Bench emphasized that the issue was a “matter of importance” when it came to the issuance of caste certificates.
  • The affinity test may be used to corroborate the documentary evidence and should not be the sole criteria to reject a claim the apex court had warned.

Why discuss this?

  • The Supreme Court has decided to refer the question to a larger Bench for an authoritative decision.
  • It realised that the courts were faced with varied opinions about the efficacy of the affinity test.

Status of STs in India

  • The Census 2011 has revealed that there are said to be 705 ethnic groups notified as Scheduled Tribes (STs).
  • Over 10 crore Indians are notified as STs, of which 1.04 crore live in urban areas.
  • The STs constitute 8.6% of the population and 11.3% of the rural population.

Precursor to this Judgements

  • On one side, a full Bench of the Bombay High Court in Shilpa Vishnu Thakur v State of Maharashtra accepted the “relevance and importance of the affinity test”.
  • The full Bench, in a decision in 2009, held that the affinity test was an “integral part” of the verification process for caste certificates.
  • Scrutiny committees could easily determine the authenticity of a claim by running an affinity test on the basis of ethnicity and anthropology.
  • The HC had said that the term ‘affinity’ meant the ‘association’ of the applicant for a caste certificate with a Scheduled Tribe into which he or she has been born.
  • However, two years later, in 2011, the Supreme Court adopted a cautionary note. It indicated that the affinity test may have run its course.


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