Supreme Court dismisses plea against panel on SC status for Dalit converts
- A Supreme Court Bench of Justices has dismissed a petition challenging the formation of a Commission of Inquiry to examine whether Scheduled Caste status can be accorded to Dalit Christians and Muslims.
What’s the issue?
- In 2019 rejected the possibility of including Dalit Christians as members of SCs.
- Central Government justification for the exclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims from the Scheduled Castes list are:
- “Foreign” origins of Islam and Christianity as opposed to Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism (although the government has not directly said so)
- The identification of Scheduled Castes is centred around a specific social stigma [and the connected backwardness with such stigma] that is limited to the communities identified in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950
- Scheduled Castes converts to Buddhism embraced Buddhism voluntarily at the call of Dr Ambedkar in 1956 on account of some innate socio-political imperatives. The original castes/community of such converts can clearly be determined.
- However, this cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims who might have converted on account of other factors, since the process of conversions has taken place over the centuries
- Article 14 forbids class legislation but does not forbid classification.
Who is included in the Constitution Order of 1950?
- The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950: recognised only Hindus as SCs.
- Amendment 1956 and 1990:
- Included Dalits who had converted to Sikhism (1956)
- Included Dalits who had converted to Buddhism (1990).
- Both amendments were aided by the reports of:
- Kaka Kalelkar Commission in 1955
- High Powered Panel (HPP) on Minorities, SC/ST in 1983.
- Union government: In 2019 rejected the possibility of including Dalit Christians as members of SCs.
- Imperial Order of 1936: Classified a list of the Depressed Classes and specifically excluded “Indian Christians” from it.
Why are Dalit Christians excluded?
- The practice of “untouchability: It was a feature of the Hindu religion and its branches, not Islam or Christianity.
- The Registrar General of India: It had cautioned the government that SC status is meant for communities suffering from social disabilities arising out of the practice of untouchability.
- A mandate in rules for inclusion: It was framed in 1999 and requires RGI approval.
- Amendment to include Buddhist converts as SCs was passed in 1990.
- Clause (2) of Article 341 for inclusion: Dalits who converted to Islam or Christianity belonged to different caste groups, as a result of which they cannot be categorised as a “single ethnic group (required for inclusion)”.
Case for inclusion:
- Several Independent Commission reports: They have documented the existence of caste and caste inequalities among Indian Christians and Indian Muslims.
- Casteism: Even in Sikhism and Buddhism, casteism is not present and yet they have been included as SCs.
- Advocate representing Dalit Christian bodies: Empirical evidence did not exist for including Sikh or Buddhist converts either and yet they were included as SCs.
Registrar General of India:
- Established in 1949 under the Ministry of Home Affairs. To develop a systematic collection of statistics on the size of the population, its growth, etc. Later, this office was also entrusted with the responsibility of implementing of Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 in the country. It arranges, conducts and analyses the results of the demographic surveys of India including the Census of India and Linguistic Survey of India.