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Supreme Court Notice to Centre: Why Should Dalit Christians not get Reservations as Scheduled Castes

Supreme Court Notice to Centre: Why Should Dalit Christians not get Reservations as Scheduled Castes

The Supreme Court has, one again, sought the Centre’s response on a plea by Dalit Christians seeking parity in quota with their counterparts among the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities. On Monday, August 21, a bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and D Y Chandrachud issued that notice.

The SC bench was hearing the plea filed by All India Catholic Union (AICU) challenging the validity of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950, which says no person who professes a religion different from Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste. This is a long-standing issue before the Court on which a Constitutional bench is supposed to decide.The plea has sought inclusion of Dalit Christians in the Scheduled Caste category for enabling them to get benefits of reservation under the Constitution.

Background:

The matter has been agitated before the Supreme Court of India where it has been hanging for more than a decade. It has since been transferred to a constitutional bench, which is still to be set up. The government is yet to tell its mind to the court, though senior ministers of the NDA have made clear, (including finance minister Jaitley)  that no one who is not of the “indict Faith’ will get the benefits.

Intervening in the Constitutional Day Debate, on November 26, 2014, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley argued vehemently against appointing Scheduled Caste status to Muslims and Christians of the same category. This stance of a senior member of this government flies in the face of the recommendations of the Ranganath Misra National Commission Report on Linguistic and Religious Minorities(2007) tabled in Parliament only in 2009. This will also adversely affect the long standing movement for justice for Dalit Christians and pasmandaMuslims. A Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court is also slated to adjudicate the matter of amending the Constitutional Order, 1950.  An executive summary of the report had been published by Communalism Combat in April 2010.

Former Chief Justice Ranganath Misra’s report is crucial evidence before the court, and the religious minorities have set much hope by it. The Misra panel report, which was tabled in Parliament December 18, 2009, has defined religious and linguistic minorities as backward classes and recommended 15 percent reservation for all minorities in jobs, education and welfare schemes.

According to an IANS report, India’s then (2009) 1.2 billion population, Muslims form the largest minority at close to 14 per cent, followed by Christians at 2.3 per cent, Sikhs at 1.9 per cent, Buddhists at 0.8 per cent, Jains at 0.4 per cent and others including Parsis at 0.6 per cent. “Within the recommended 15 per cent earmarked seats in institutions shall be 10 per cent for the Muslims and the remaining 5 per cent for the other minorities,” the report had said.

The Commission, inter alia, made recommendations to give 15 percent reservation to minorities under Backward Class quota in education, government employment and social welfare schemes. Out of this 15 percent reservation, 10 percent reservation has been recommended to the Muslim Community and remaining 5 percent to other minority communities. The Commission has further recommended to include convert Dalit Christian and Dalit Muslims in the list of Scheduled Castes.

Politically for the BJP and RSS, inclduing the Dalits within it, the core issue is that of representation within electoral politics. Once, and if Dalit Muslims and Christians get recognised as such and get the benefit of reservations in this this category, they will be eligible for contesting elections from village Panchayats to the LokSabha. If the government accepts Ramnath Mishra Commission recommendations, the convert Christians and Muslims would become eligible to contest on seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. Thus, the people of Scheduled Castes would have to share their reservation in government jobs and political fields with convert Christians and Muslims.

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