Several petitions are pending before the Supreme Court seeking Scheduled Caste (SC) reservation benefits for Dalits who converted to Christianity or Islam. The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to clarify its stand on this matter.
The Centre is likely to soon decide on setting up a national commission to study the social, economic and educational status of Dalits who converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Existing provisions for SC reservation –
- The original rationale behind giving reservation to Scheduled Castes was that these sections had suffered from the social evil of untouchability. Untouchability was practised among Hindus.
- Article 341 of the Constitution empowers the President to specify the castes, races or tribes etc. which shall be deemed to be Scheduled Castes.
Why don’t Dalits who convert to Christianity and Islam get quota benefits?
- The first order under SC quota provision was issued in 1950, and covered only Hindus.
- Following demands from the Sikh community, an order was issued in 1956, including Sikhs of Dalit origin among the beneficiaries of the SC quota.
- In 1990, the government acceded to a similar demand from Buddhists of Dalit origin.
- The current order states that no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste.
- Hence, Dalits who get converted to Christianity and Islam are not covered and they do not get the quota benefits.
Status of converted STs and OBCs –
- Interestingly, the religion-based bar does not apply to converted STs and OBCs.
- As per the government, the rights of a person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe are independent of his/her religious faith.
- Also, following the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, several Christian and Muslim communities have found place in the Central and state lists of OBCs.
Previous efforts to include Muslims and Christians of Dalit origin among SCs –
- In 1996, a government Bill called The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders (Amendment) Bill was drafted. But, it was not introduced in Parliament.
- Two important panels were formed in this regard. These were —
- National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as the Ranganath Misra Commission, in October 2004;
- The Ranganath Misra Commission recommended that SC status should be completely de-linked from religion.
- A seven-member high-level committee headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar to study the social, economic, and educational condition of Muslims in March 2005.
- The Sachar Committee Report observed that the social and economic situation of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians did not improve after conversion.
- The report was tabled in both Houses of Parliament in December.
- However, its recommendation was not accepted in view of inadequate field data and corroboration with the actual situation on the ground.
- Later, a report by a team of sociologists led by Satish Deshpande said in January 2008 that there was a strong case for extending SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
- However, the study, which was commissioned by the National Commission for Minorities, was also not considered reliable due to insufficient data.