Why the Supreme Court was wrong in denying Quota to Tribal Teachers

By Aditi Uniyal

On 22nd April, 2020, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgement quashing an order that provided a 100% quota for tribal teachers in scheduled areas. Justice Arun Mishra went as far as saying that to have only tribals teach tribals is an ‘obnoxious idea’. But is it really ‘obnoxious’ to ensure that tribal students are taught by teachers who can relate to their personal experiences? Is it ‘obnoxious’ to guarantee an opportunity of employment to a community that remains grossly underrepresented in the mainstream, and to carry out reparations in a system that essentially exists in prejudice to this same community?

The Learning Process: Student – Teacher Relations

One of the reasons stated by the Supreme Court in delivering its judgement was that a 100% quota for tribal teachers will be detrimental to the opportunities that other categories could have in this field. However, when it comes to the education of tribal students, it has been proven by various studies that having teachers from the same community is essential to ensure an effective learning process.

There is a very pertinent problem of a language barrier that occurs when a teacher is not fluent in the language of the tribal community in which they teach. Studies show that this creates obstacles in the students’ understanding of the subject matter. Additionally, when the teacher does not belong to the same community, a more personal problem largely rooted in identity arises. The students feel inadequately represented in the lived experiences of the teacher, which are bound to affect the way in which they teach and carry themselves in their profession. Due to this, it becomes crucial to ensure that teachers from the same community are appointed as teachers in the concerned areas, since this will ensure an authentic connection between the two forces of student and teacher. This becomes possible through a quota provided to tribal teachers.

The Issue of Representation

As for the question of representation in this field, the argument of imbalance between the reserved and unreserved categories has been raised time and again.

It is in light of this faulty reasoning that it becomes important to note that the All India Survey for Higher Education (AISHE) has found that teachers from Scheduled Tribes (ST) comprise only 2.27% of the total figure. This is the reality in spite of a UGC mandate that necessitates a reservation of 7.5% to ST teachers.

Source: All India Survey on Higher Education in India 2018-19

A quota of 100% for tribal teachers in scheduled areas, thus, can be seen as an act of reparation in this skewed system that fails to achieve the bare minimum representation of communities that have been systematically denied opportunities in the name of ‘merit’.

The Faulty Perception of Tribal Communities

Another reason why this judgement is problematic, is because of the saviour complex exhibited by an entirely upper caste bench. Tribal culture, in this judgement, has been called ‘primitive’ and ‘unfit to put up with the mainstream’, and restricting the teaching positions to tribal teachers, according to this line of reasoning, will slow down the progress of these communities. The aim as seen by the Bench is to bring the tribal communities ‘at par’ with the mainstream Indian society.

In wishing to assimilate the tribal communities into the ‘mainstream’, what the Bench really implies is that these communities are inherently at a lower level than that of their urban counterparts; a level from which they wish to ‘lift’ them up. This is clearly indicative of a mindset harboured in wrongly viewing the tribal communities as ‘uncivilised’ and in need of saving from their traditional ways of life.

It is this very mindset that factors into faulty decisions such as these. The Supreme Court, through its judgement, fails to appreciate the motive behind affirmative action, and effectively creates a delay in the progress of tribal justice in India.


  1. Krishnadas Rajagopal, No 100% Quota for Tribal Teachers: Supreme Court, The Hindu (Apr. 22, 2020, 11:14 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-100-quota-for-tribal-teachers-supreme-court/article31409071.ece.
  2. Dr. Kabita Kumari Sahu, Challenging Issues of Tribal Education in India, 3 IOSR Journal of Economics and Finance 48 (2014).
  3. Kritika Sharma, Nearly 57% of India’s teaching faculty belong to general category, STs least represented, The Print (Jul. 27, 2018, 5:27 PM), https://theprint.in/india/governance/57-of-indias-teaching-faculty-belong-to-general-category-sts-least-represented/89546/.

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