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SC Quota for Dalit Muslims and Christians

Context:

The Supreme Court of India has sought the most recent position of the Union government on a batch of petitions challenging the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950, which allows only members of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions to be recognised as SCs.

Relevance:

GS II: Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Who all are included in the Constitution Order of 1950?
  2. Why don’t Dalits who convert to Christianity and Islam get quota benefits?
  3. Does this religion-based bar apply to converted STs and OBCs as well?
  4. What efforts have been made to include Muslims and Christians of Dalit origin among SCs?

Who all are included in the Constitution Order of 1950?

  • When enacted, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950, initially provided for recognising only Hindus as SCs, to address the social disability arising out of the practice of untouchability.
  • The Order was amended in 1956 to include Dalits who had converted to Sikhism and once more in 1990 to include Dalits who had converted to Buddhism.
  • Both amendments were aided by the reports of the Kaka Kalelkar Commission in 1955 and the High Powered Panel (HPP) on Minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in 1983 respectively.
  • On the other hand, the Union government in 2019 rejected the possibility of including Dalit Christians as members of SCs, rooting the exclusion on an Imperial Order of 1936 of the then colonial government, which had first classified a list of the Depressed Classes and specifically excluded “Indian Christians” from it.

Why don’t Dalits who convert to Christianity and Islam get quota benefits?

  • The original rationale behind giving reservation to Scheduled Castes was that these sections had suffered from the social evil of untouchability, which was practised among Hindus.
  • Under Article 341 of the Constitution, the President may “specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall…be deemed to be Scheduled Castes”.
  • The first order under this 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, and the order was revised to state: “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.”

Does this religion-based bar apply to converted STs and OBCs as well?

  • It does not. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) website states, “The rights of a person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe are independent of his/her religious faith.”
  • Following the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, several Christian and Muslim communities have found place in the Central and state lists of OBCs.

What efforts have been made to include Muslims and Christians of Dalit origin among SCs?

  • After 1990, a number of Private Member’s Bills were brought in Parliament for this purpose.
  • In 1996, a government Bill called The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders (Amendment) Bill was drafted, but in view of a divergence of opinions, the Bill was not introduced in Parliament.
Then government headed by PM Manmohan Singh set up two important panels:
  • Ranganath Misra Commission: The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as the Ranganath Misra Commission, in October 2004 and
  • Sachar Committee: A seven-member high-level committee headed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar to study the social, economic, and educational condition of Muslims in March 2005.

What did they recommend?

  • The Sachar Committee Report observed that the social and economic situation of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians did not improve after conversion.
  • The Ranganath Misra Commission, which submitted its report in May 2007, recommended that SC status should be completely de-linked from religion and Scheduled Castes should be made fully religion-neutral like Scheduled Tribes.
  • Reception to these recommendations
  • The report was tabled in Parliament in 2009, but its recommendation was not accepted in view of inadequate field data and corroboration with the actual situation on the ground.
  • Few studies, commissioned by the National Commission for Minorities, was also not considered reliable due to insufficient data.

-Source: The Hindu


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