* Urban areas have seen the highest increase in SC/ST population, and a major factor is migration.

* Higher female literacy has led to narrowing of the gender gap in literacy to 18.7% for SCs and 19.1% for STs, which is comparable to the national average of 16.3%.

* Child sex ratio shows a worrying trend - for SCs, it has declined from 938 in 2001 to 933 in 2011 while for STs, it has declined from 973 to 957.

Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of the Indian National Congress, caused a stir a few days ago when he said that the “Dalit (or Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes) community needs the escape velocity of Jupiter" to achieve success while addressing a national awareness camp for Scheduled Castes Empowerment at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi in October 2013.

Success can and should be defined in many ways. One is the ability to move away from a poorer rural background to an urban setting with a livelihood and a higher standard of living. This, it would appear, is already happening and gathering pace.

Data just released by Census 2011 broadly reveals that members of the SC/ST communities in the country are moving towards cities and are gaining better education. On the flip side, there are concerns on the sex ratio and spread of education for women.

The move towards the cities should not be a surprise. Dalit movement founder Dr. B R Ambedkar urged his followers to pursue education as a means of escaping from poverty. He also encouraged them to move to the cities as they would experience fewer caste restrictions there.

The SC and ST list is prepared by each state and Union Territory under Article 341 and 342 of the Constitution of India. Hence, every year, new castes are added and removed from the lists. 20 new castes and 41 new tribes that have been added from 2002-2008 by states/UTs have been included in Census 2011.

This has led to SCs increasing from 1,221 to 1,241 and STs increasing from 664 to 705 in the last decade. When the first list was made after independence in 1950, the total number was 1,108 under scheduled castes and 744 under scheduled tribes.

Let us now look at individual factors like population, literacy, sex ratio and workforce participation:

Source: Planning Commission

We can see that the ST population increased from 30.1 million to 104.2 million between 1961 and 2011. And the percentage of ST population to the whole population increased from 6.9% to 8.6%.

A similar pattern can be seen with the SC population where it increased from 64.4 million in 1961 to 201.3 million in 2011. As a percentage to the whole population, it increased from 14.7% to 16.6% in that period.

The majority of SCs and STs live in rural areas though the population growth rate is the highest in urban areas with 41.3% for SCs and 49.7% for STs. Urban areas have seen the highest increase in SC and ST population, and a major factor responsible for this is migration.

Among states, Punjab has reported the highest percentage to total state’s population with 31.9% as SCs (and the state has not reported any ST population) while Mizoram reported only 0.1% of their population as SC.

One reason Punjab is witnessing an increase in SC population is possibly in response to demands to bring more communities under the classification. This could be happening elsewhere too.

In case of STs, Mizoram reported the highest percentage to total of state’s population with 94.4% (this could be explained by the fact that most of Mizoram falls in the tribal belt) while Uttar Pradesh reported the lowest population percentage with 0.6%.

In Punjab (2001), Mazhabi was numerically the largest SC, constituting 31.6% of the total SC population, followed by Chamar (26.2%), Adharmi (14.9%), Balmiki (11.2%) and Bazigar (3%).

UP had the highest share of SCs of the country with 20% followed by West Bengal with 10%. Madhya Pradesh had the highest share of STs of the country with 14.7% followed by the Maharashtra with 10.7%.

Source: Census

Children’s population as a proportion of the overall SC/ST population has come down in the last decade. Among SCs, the proportion of children has declined from 17.4% in 2001 to 14.5% in 2011. And the child population has come down by 2.4% in rural areas from 2001 to 2011 while it has increased by 1.4% in urban areas during the same time period.

For STs, child population in rural areas has increased by 6.2% while the population in urban areas has increased by 25% during the same time period. Both communities have a higher proportion to population than the nation level which 13.6%.

Even though the child population as a proportion of population is higher than the national average, we can see a steady decline over the past decade. This indicates that people from the SC and ST category prefer fewer children.

One reason for the decline in child population is attributed to declining total fertility rate, which has come down from 3.1 to 2.5 according to the National Family Health Survey 3 (2005-06).

Bihar and Jharkhand had the highest proportion of children to the total SC population with 21% and 18%, respectively, in 2011.

Source: Census

The overall sex ratio for both SCs and STs is better than the national average of 943. For SCs, it is 945 women per 1,000 men and it is 990 women/1,000 men for STs.

Among SCs, there was an increase from 923 in 2001 to 946 in 2011 in urban areas. A similar increase was observed for STs in urban areas from 944 to 980 during the same time.

Even though the overall sex ratio has increased, there is a worrying trend in the child sex ratio. For SCs, it has declined from 938 to 933 while for STs, it has declined from 973 to 957. However, it is still better than the overall national average of 919 girls per 1,000 boys.

One way of interpreting this could be that preference for a male child has led to the decrease in child population.

Kerala with 1,057 (per 1,000 males) had the highest overall sex ratio among SCs while Goa had the highest overall sex ratio among STs. Haryana had the lowest overall sex ratio with 887 among SCs and Rajasthan had the lowest overall sex ratio among STs.

Literacy Rate Increasing

There has been an overall increase of 51% (the numbers reflect a decade long change as this is Census data) in the number of literate persons among SCs and 59% among STs. In urban areas, the number of literates among SCs increased by 62% and by 71% among STs.

The effective literacy rate for SCs was 66% and for STs was 59% while the national average is 73%. In urban areas, the effective literacy rate was 76% for both SCs and STs the national average being 84.1%.

While Mizoram and Tripura have seen the highest literacy rates among SCs, Bihar and Jharkhand have the lowest literacy rates among SCs.

Among STs, the highest literacy rate is in Mizoram and Nagaland while the lowest was in Andhra Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

The literacy rate for SC males was 75.2% in 2011, an increase from 66.6% in 2001 while for ST males; it has gone up from 59.5% to 68.5%. The national for literacy rate among males was 809% and for females it was 68.5%. For females, literacy among SCs was 56.5% and it was 49.4% in STs.

Higher female literacy has led to a narrowing of the gender gap in literacy to 18.7% for SCs and 19.1% for STs, which is comparable to the national average of 16.3%.

Higher Labour Participation

A total of 17% of the country’s work force are SCs while 10% are STs. The worker participation rate for both SCs and STs is above the national average (39.8%) with 40% and 48%, respectively.

Both communities are doing better than the national average when it comes to the worker participation rate (WPR) for females too, especially in urban areas. The worker participation rate among ST females is 43.2% where as the national average is 25%. In the rural areas, it is 45.6% while the national average is 30%.

According to the 2009-10 poverty estimates of the Planning Commission, STs have the highest level of poverty in rural areas among all social groups with 47.4% of the population below the poverty line. This is followed by SCs with 42.3%. In urban areas, 34.1% of SCs are below the poverty line while for STs it is 30.4%.

There is a clamour for increased reservation in a host of areas, including for private sector jobs. It would be interesting to contrast these demands against the trends that we are seeing from some of this data. And infer what the policy approach in future ought to be.