“The ultimate measure of a man (or a woman) is not where he (or she) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he (or she) stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
The demand for SC status for the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims is a long standing one. The word Dalit is derived from the root Dal, incidentally common to both Sanskrit and Hebrew. In both languages it has the same meaning i.e. weak, crushed, split open and trampled upon. The various lexicographical declensions connote these various meanings from physical to psychological levels of the oppressed and excluded people. For centuries, Dalits were not treated as part of the mainstream Indian Society and were traditionally assigned menial and degrading jobs.
Prior to 1947, the British, in response to growing demands from the oppressed and marginalised castes led by Babasaheb Ambedkar, arranged for a number of castes, whose names were specified in a schedule (hence called “Scheduled Castes”), to be given reservations in government jobs and elected bodies. The Simon Commission drew up an official list of socially excluded castes and tribes in 1930 called the “Schedule Castes” (SC) and “Schedule Tribes” (ST). “Scheduled” means they are on a government schedule that entitles them to certain protection and affirmative action (or reservations). These castes had historically been treated as despised “untouchables”, considered by the wider society and the Hindu religion as subhuman or worse. They were not defined by any religious label and included a number of castes or sections whose ancestors had converted to various religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism, in search of liberation from the shackles of caste that are sanctioned in Hinduism which, as Ambedkar rightly insisted, was a code designed to consign the Dalits to eternal, religiously sanctioned slavery. SCs thus included were not just those who were defined as following “Hinduism” (although the very term “Hinduism” was recognised as vague and amorphous and although the Dalits, being despised outcastes, were treated by the “upper” castes as actually outside the caste system and the Hindu religion), but also those classified as following other religions, mostly Christianity and Islam.
- Amendment proposed by K.M. Munshi
India has its share of minorities—generally defined in religious terms—though the Constitution does acknowledge the existence of linguistic minorities. Indeed the Constitution of India has taken the identification of Indian minority from the report prepared by the Advisory Committee on minorities submitted to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947. As the report records, till this stage, the seven minority communities as officially accepted were (1) Anglo-Indian; (2) Parsees; (3) Plain tribesman in Assam; (4) Indian Christians; (5) Sikhs; (6) Muslims; (7) Scheduled Caste. While the Constituent Assembly in the process of “practically unanimously” accepting the Report, K.M. Munshi cunningly convinced the floor into approving an amendment to the Report. This ardent Brahmin leader asked for a seemingly innocent amendment: To (a) delete Scheduled Castes from the list of the minorities, (b) include the following addition, “I-A: The section of the Hindu Community referred to as Scheduled Castes as defined 1 of the Government of India Act 1935, shall have the same rights and benefits, which are herein provided for minorities specified in the Schedule to para 1.” That day the forum was preoccupied fully and only with the electoral structuring of the society especially of the minority communities, and so missed completely the religious implication of this “constitutional fraud”. The inner motive for the amendment is best expressed by the words of Munshi himself. He said, “Any safeguard as a minority, so far as the Schedule Castes are concerned, will possibly prevent their complete absorption in the Hindu fold.” He stated, “Harijans are part and parcel of the Hindu community. Safeguards are given to them till they are completely absorbed in the community.”
This debate and Munshi’s affirmation was fatal to the Schedule Caste people who became Christians. They were denied the same privileges enjoyed by the Schedule Caste who were not Christian.
2. Presidential Order
The expression “Scheduled castes” is defined in Article 366, Clause 24 as meaning: “Such castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within such castes, races or tribes as are deemed under Article 341 to be scheduled castes for the purpose of this Constitution.”
Article 341(1) now runs as follows:
“The President may, with respect to any State, or where it is a State specified in Part A or Part B of the First schedule, after consultation with the Governor or Rajpramukh thereof, by public notification, specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled castes in relation to that State.”
In exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (1) of Article 341, the President made an order called the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950.
The material provisions of this Order are paragraphs 2 and 3 which are as follows:
“2. Subject to the provisions of this Order, the castes, races or tribes, or parts of, or groups within, castes, races, or tribes, specified in Parts 1 to XVI of the Schedule to this Order shall, in relation to the States to which those parts respectively relate, be deemed to be scheduled castes so far as regards members thereof resident in the localities specified in relation to them in those Parts of that schedule.”
“3. Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.”
Sikh Dalits protested to be included in Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order 1950 and got after six years of denial of their birth, fundamental and constitutional rights of being Scheduled Caste origin converted to Sikhism. They were listed in Presidential SC/ST Order 1950 by amending Para 3 of Article 341 in 1956.
Buddhist Dalits were denied of their right for 40 years until the Para 3 of Article 341 was amended in 1990 to include Scheduled Caste people converted to Buddhism.
But the birth, fundamental and constitutional rights of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslim have been denied for the past 65 years. Since they are not included in the Presidential SC/ST Order, they are ineligible for enjoying the benefits of affirmative action of the government.
Some serious questions arise from this presidential order.
- The Presidential Order allowed religious based reservation in total violation of Constitutional provisions in Article 15.
The Article states:
- The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
- No citizen shall, on ground only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to
- Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
- The use of wells, tanks, bathing Ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained whole or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of general public.
- Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and
- Nothing in this Article or in Clause (2) or Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
The Presidential Order 1950 uses religion (i.e. Hinduism) as a criterion to define who shall be Scheduled Caste. On that basis all other Dalits professing Islam, Christianity and other religions are left out. The amended Presidential Order included Sikh and Buddhist religions along with Hinduism as criterion to define who shall be Scheduled Caste.
In 1990 in the Parliament, while stating the object and reason for proposing to include Buddhists of Scheduled Caste origin in the list of Scheduled Castes, Ram Vilas Paswan, then Union Minister of Welfare and Labour, made clear the criterion saying, “Neo-Buddhists are a religious group which has come into existence in 1956 as a result of a wave of conversion of Scheduled Caster under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Upon conversion to Buddhism they became ineligible for statutory concession and facilities available to the Scheduled Castes to them also. On the grounds that change of religion has not altered their social and economic conditions…As they objectively deserve to be treated as the Scheduled Castes….”
The important points in Paswan’s argument are:
- Neo-Buddhists are a separate religious group.
- Dalits’ conversion to Buddhism has not altered their socio-economic conditions.
Paswan’s statement has been accepted and approved by the Parliament of India at the time of the second amendment of the Presidential Order 1950.
Both Sikhism and Buddhism are egalitarian religions, and they do not accept or promote caste system, although in actual practice caste exists in Sikhism and Buddhism just like in Christianity. One of the reasons for denying same privileges to the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims is that they both are egalitarian religions, and they do not have caste system, for the basis of caste system is Hinduism. If that is so, how did the Parliament extend privileges of Scheduled Castes to the egalitarian religions like Sikhism and Buddhism? If Dalits’ conversion to Buddhism has not altered their socio-economic conditions, then why government affirmative action is not extended to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, although their change of religion has not changed their socio-economic conditions?
Is the government reservation policy based on certain religions (i.e. Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism) or the socio-economic conditions of certain sections or castes of people?
- It is also in violation of Articles 14 (equality before the law), 16 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion), and 25 (freedom to profess, practice and propagate any religion).
Article 14 says, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
Article 16 says that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
Article 25 (1) says, “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”
Recommendations of Various Commissions
The government of India set up several commissions to investigate the conditions of socially, economically and educationally backward classes in India.
- In 1953 Indian Central Government appointed “First Backward Classes Commission” under Article 340 of Indian Constitution to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within Indian Territory. The Commission submitted its report in 1955. It states, “We discovered with deep pain and sorrow that untouchability did obtain in the extreme south among Indian Christians, and Indian Christians were prepared in many places to assert that they were still guided by caste, not only in the matter of untouchability, but in social hierarchy of high and low. While the harijans amongst the Hindus, classified as scheduled castes, stand a fair chance of bettering their condition under the Indian Government’s reservation policy, their Christian counterparts stand twice discriminated.” The Report says that within the Christian society and church the converts from Scheduled Caste origins are discriminated in matters like not being allowed to sit together inside the church, no inter caste marriages and separate cemetery etc.
The Commission’s Report proves that although Christianity does not preach caste, but practices it.
- Elayaperumal Commission (1969): Report of the Elayaperumal Commission in Para 32 says, “The Committee found during tours that all Scheduled Castes who got themselves converted to religions other than Hinduism should be given all concessions which are available to Scheduled Castes. This is because the Committee found during tours that they suffer from the same disabilities which the Scheduled Castes suffer.”
- The Chidambaram report in 1975 admitted that “casteism is practiced widely among the members of the Christian fold as judged by the characteristic of the caste system and going by the economic status of the Harijan Christians. It is evident that they are a poverty stricken lot.”
- Mandal Commission (1980): The Commission admitted that “conversion from the faith to another did not change the socio-economic status of a person. It was, therefore, desirable that converts from Scheduled Castes to Buddhism, Christianity and etc. should be treated as Scheduled Castes, but until this change was brought about by legislation, all such converts should be listed as Other Backward Classes (OBCs).” The Mandal Commission also stated that “though caste system is peculiar to Hindu society yet, in actual practice, it also pervades the non-Hindu communities in India in varying degrees.” It reported that the Christian community is not only divided into various denominations on the basis of beliefs and rituals, but also “into various ethnic groups on the basis of their caste background.”
On the basis of its findings the Commission proposed, “The Commission has prima facie felt that since the Christians, Muslims and Buddhists of Scheduled Caste origin continue to suffer from social and economic disabilities even after their conversion, there should be no objection to their availing of the concessions admissible to them before their conversion.”
- Justice Ranganath Misra Commission (2007): One of the recommendations of the Commission: Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste only to Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc. – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.
Thus, the government appointed Commissions in their study found that the change of religion to Christianity, Islam and others by the Dalits has not significantly changed their socio-economic and educational conditions. The Dalit Christians still suffer caste stigma, and are socially oppressed and economically, educationally and socially backward. They have observed that Dalit Christians are exposed to all sorts of misery both in the Church and in the society, such as violence and exclusion from the use of ordinary facilities like wells, roads, restaurants, schools, etc.
In 1984, The Supreme Court of India in the case of S. Anbalagan Vs. Devarajan AIR 1984 SC 411, said that “the practice of caste however irrational it may appear to our reason and however are repugnant it may appear to our moral and social sense, it is so deep rooted in the India people that its mark does not seem to disappear on conversion to a different religion.”
In spite of the recommendations of the government appointed Commissions to include Dalits, who embraced religions like Christianity, Islam and others, in the Scheduled Castes list as there is no significant change in their socio-economic and educational conditions, the political class is unwilling to bring about any legislation in this regard. In a report of March 2011, it was revealed that the Centre seems to be tilted against the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the Scheduled Caste list arguing the need for evidence to show that converts continued to face discrimination of the same degree as before their exit from the Hindu fold.
However, various studies have proved that Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam are thrice discriminated by the State, Caste Hindu society as well as by their co-religionists of non-Dalit background. A recent study was commissioned by the National Commission for Minorities. This scientific study on “‘Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities’: A Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge,” was conducted by Prof. Satish Deshpande with the assistance of Geetica Bapna of the Department of Sociology, University of New Delhi. They submitted the findings in 2008. The study observes, “There is no compelling evidence to justify denying SC (Scheduled Caste) status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians” (page 81).
It should also be remembered that in several cases of atrocities committed against Dalits, majority of the victims were Dalit Christians as in the case of Karamchedu and Tsundur in Andhra Pradesh. These victims were attacked not because they were Christians, but because they were Dalits and “Untouchables”. Therefore, the problem of Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam is more a social problem than a religious one. Despite their conversion, their socio-economic status has not changed. Rather, it has worsened their condition without the government affirmative action and protection. While Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits are eligible for job reservations, electoral representation, reservation in professional and educational institutions and other statutory benefits, including protection under the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 as amended in 1976 and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are denied these privileges. Therefore, the struggle of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims is a legitimate demand for equal rights and full citizenship. At the core remains the grievance of injustice.
Till today 12 States and Union Territories have recommended to the Union of India for granting SC status to the Dalits converted to religions like Christianity and Islam. In the year 2000 Bihar State Assembly, in 2006 Uttar Pradesh State government, and in 2009 Andhra Pradesh State government had passed resolution for granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. But the Central government is reluctant to take any decision on this important issue.
Dr. John Dayal, member of National Integration Council, President of All India Catholic Union and General Secretary of All India Christian Council, writes “Lest we forget – when neo-Buddhists wanted the right of reservation in government jobs after their conversion to Buddhism, the Late P.N. Rajhbhoj, member of Parliament from Pune, went to eminent jurist Nani Palkhiwala, in his time one of the most sought after lawyers in the Supreme Court, to take up the case. He (Palkhiwala) famously told the Dalit leaders, “Bring 10 lakh Dalits outside the Supreme Court when the case comes up, and I will get you your reservation back.””
Today Dalit Buddhists have SC status and benefits after 40 years of struggle. Christian churches and organisations, and Christian leaders and people need to learn from them.
“Cabinet Must Extend SC Status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims: Churches.” http://twocircles.net/2011mar07/cabinet_must_extend_sc_status_dalit_christians_dalit_muslims_churches.html
“Should Dalit Christians/Muslims be excluded from Reservation?” MAINSTREAM, VOL. XLVIII, NO 17, APRIL 17, 2010. http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article1977.html
Brindavan C. Moses, “Christian Dalits: Victims of Discrimination.” The Hindu, April 1997. http://dalitchristians.com/Html/P_ChristianDalits0497.htm
Christopher S. Raj, Christian Minority in Indian Multiculture Diversity: Issue of Equity in Identity and Empowerment.
Cornelius Lanah, “Glimpse of Anti-Conversion Law.” http://www.easternmirrornagaland.com/views/oped/item/2271-glimpse-of-anti-conversion-law.html
C.J. Rajamannar, “G. Michael vs Mr. S. Venkateswaran, Additional … on 6 November, 1951,
AIR 1952 Mad 474, (1952) 1 MLJ 239.” http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/496218/
Farman Ahmad Naqvi, “Indian Constitution Does not Allow Reservation on Religious Grounds – A Myth or Reality.”
Satish Deshpande and Geetika Bapna, “Dalits in the Muslim and Christian
Communities: A Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge.” Report Prepared for The National Commission for Minorities Government of India, 17th January 2008, New Delhi.
Sukhadeo Thorat and Chittaranjan Senapati, “Reservation in Employment and Education and Legislature – Status and Emerging Issues.” Working Paper Series, Vol II, No. 5 (New Delhi: Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 2007).
S. Japhet and Y. Moses, “The Unending Struggle of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims for Equality.” http://kafila.org/2011/07/28/the-unending-struggle-of-dalit-christians-and-dalit-muslims-for-equality-s-japhet-and-y-moses/