Indian activists dismayed by quota ruling for Dalits

Supreme Court decides that caste or tribe members cannot claim benefits outside their home states
Indian activists dismayed by quota ruling for Dalits

Tribal people in Ranchi, the state capital of Jharkhand, protest against a proposed government land bill in in September 2016. They now fear that they will lose quota benefits if they migrate to other states. (Photo supplied)

The Indian Supreme Court's ruling that Dalit and tribal people cannot get quota benefits in jobs and education outside their home states is a retrograde step, according to church leaders, academics and activists.

India's top court on Aug. 30 ruled that a member of a particular caste or tribe entitled to benefits in one state cannot claim those benefits in another state if his or her caste is not notified there.

Percentages of seats in government jobs and educational institutions are allocated in each state depending on the nature and extent of the disadvantages each group faces.

A caste or tribe considered disadvantaged in one state cannot be deemed to be disadvantaged in another to which they have migrated because that would decrease the quota meant for disadvantaged natives.

India's constitution allows such reservations to help lift poor people socially, but court orders mean that less than half of available seats are generally reserved.

Dalit activist Franklin Caesar Thomas said the quota order holds inherent dangers. "If a Dalit migrates and loses his identity and protection guaranteed under the constitution, how does he protect his dignity?" he asked.

Constitutional rights do not change if you move out of your state, Rumki Basu, a lecturer at Jamia Millia University, told ucanews.com. "The sons of soil theory is valid but I am surprised about the judicial overreach," Basu added.

India's constitution guarantees the freedom to travel and work anywhere in the country, said political analyst Narinder Kumar, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

"A Dalit person carries the social baggage of discrimination with him even if he migrates. But if he also loses the constitutional guarantees to safeguard his right to live with dignity with a good education and a job, then it is not in the interests of justice," Kumar said.

Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian bishops' office for tribal and low-caste people, said it is "an unnecessary hue and cry" over helping the poorest group of people.

"A majority of Dalit people cannot avail these services as they are not qualified, so many quota seats go back to general candidates. The states can give first preference to natives and then consider migrant low-caste and tribal people. It is an unjust move to totally deny all benefits to migrants," he said.

Many Dalit migrants educate their children by working as manual scavengers in big cities but their children will be denied educational opportunities and jobs based on this court order, Father Devasagayaraj said.

Supreme Court lawyer M.P. Raju said people migrate for a better life and migration continues to increase with better transport and communication systems. He said the issue could be solved if parliament evolved criteria for uniform listing of disadvantaged people.

Nabore Ekka, president of the Delhi region of Bharatiya Adivasi Sangamam (Indian Indigenous People's Forum), said the judgment will receive a mixed reception. "Migrants to different states will be badly hit but natives will be happy," he noted.

He said in his native Jharkhand many outsiders get jobs meant for tribal people, some by using fake identity certificates. "The current verdict will help local people like tribal people in Jharkhand," he said.

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