The Supreme Court has said that the genuineness of a caste claim has to be considered not only on the strength of documentary evidence but also on affinity test involving anthropological and ethnological traits of the applicant.
The “genuineness of a caste claim has to be considered not only on a thorough examination of the documents submitted in support of the claim but also on the affinity test, which would include the anthropological and ethnological traits of the applicant”, said the apex court bench of Justice D.K. Jain and Justice A.K. Ganguly in a recent judgment.
“However, it is neither feasible nor desirable to lay down an absolute rule, which could be applied mechanically to examine a caste claim,” the court said.
The court said this while allowing an appeal by Anand who had challenged the decisions of the Committee for Scrutiny and Verification of Tribe Claims, Amravati, and that of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court holding that he did not belong to the Halbi Scheduled Tribe.
The apex court directed the caste scrutiny committee to consider afresh Anand’s plea in accordance with the relevant rules and the broad guidelines enunciated by it.
The court called for a cautious approach while applying the affinity test, which focuses on the ethnological connections with the Scheduled Tribe.
“A few decades ago, when the tribes were somewhat immune to the cultural development happening around them, the affinity test could serve as a determinative factor,” the judgment said.
“However, with the migrations, modernisation and contact with other communities, these communities tend to develop and adopt new traits which may not essentially match with the traditional characteristics of the tribe,” the court said.
The affinity test could not be treated as a litmus test for establishing the link of the applicant with a Scheduled Tribe, the judges said.
The claim of a person being part of a tribe could not be disregarded merely because his present traits “do not match his tribes’ peculiar anthropological and ethnological traits, deity, rituals, customs, mode of marriage, death ceremonies or method of burial of dead bodies”, the judgment said.
“In case the applicant is the first generation ever to attend school, the availability of any documentary evidence becomes difficult, but that ipso facto does not call for the rejection of his claim,” the judgment said.
“Needless to add that in the event of a doubt on the credibility of a document, its veracity has to be tested on the basis of oral evidence, for which an opportunity has to be afforded to the applicant,” the judgment said.
Anand, who holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering, claimed to be from the Halbi tribe and got the job of field officer in the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board on the condition that he would present his caste certificate.
Though he had all the documentary evidence to support his claim, his application was rejected by the Committee for Scrutiny and Verification of Tribe Claims on the grounds that the vigilance officer found that Anand’s traits did not resemble those of members of the Halbi Scheduled Tribe.
The vigilance officer found that Anand’s mother tongue was Marathi which was not so in the Halbi Scheduled Tribe.