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Indian court refuses to scrap panel on Dalit Christian quotas

The petition by a Christian of Dalit origin pointed out that the government has been studying the issue since 1955

Dalit Christians protest against the discrimination they face in Kumbakonam Diocese in southern India in February 2021

Dalit Christians protest against the discrimination they face in Kumbakonam Diocese in southern India in February 2021. (Photo supplied)

Published: January 26, 2023 12:11 PM GMT

Updated: January 27, 2023 04:35 AM GMT

India’s top court has dismissed a petition challenging the appointment of a panel to examine if Dalit people who converted to Christianity or Islam are eligible for the government's social welfare programs.

The federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Oct. 6 last year set up a three-member commission to consider granting converted Dalit people the Scheduled Caste status,  making them eligible for the government's affirmative action programs.

The committee was also asked to study the implications of extending the benefits to Dalit Christians and Muslims, and submit a report within two years.

Dalit Christian leaders dismissed the appointment of the panel as a tactic to delay their recognition as SC, which will ensure them a share in the 15 percent reserved quota in parliament and state legislatures, government jobs and education.

Currently, Dalit people among Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist religions enjoy these benefits but Christian and Muslim people from Dalit backgrounds are denied the benefits on the ground that their religions are caste-free.

The petitioner, Pratap Baburao Pandit, who claims to be a Dalit Christian, wanted the Supreme Court to quash the appointment of the panel on grounds that the court is already hearing a two-decade-old petition seeking the benefits for Dalit Christians and Muslims.

But the court dismissed the petition.  “The government in its wisdom has appointed a commission. Which rule or which law allows you to do that?” said Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said during the hearing on Jan. 23, reported Livelaw, a legal news portal.

Pandit also said in his petition that the federal government has been looking into the same issue since 1955 when the first Backward Classes Commission was appointed. 

The two-judge division bench, however, disagreed saying, “We find no relevant ground to quash the appointment of the commission.”

India's former Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, who heads the panel, is from a Dalit community while the other panel members are Dr. Ravindra Kumar Jain, a retired bureaucrat, and Professor Sushma Yadav, a member of the University Grants Commission.

Dalit Christians say there was no need for a third commission as the Ranganath Misra Commission in 2004 and Rajinder Sachar Commission in 2005 had recommended quotas and other benefits while observing that conversion to Christianity and Islam had not improved the socio-economic conditions of Dalit people.

Yet, Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin are denied the SC status on grounds that their religion does not follow the Indian caste system.

Political parties including the ruling BJP also fear adverse reactions from existing SC communities whose quotas will have to be cut down to accommodate those from Christian and Muslim communities. 

Dalit Christians and Muslims have been fighting to end this discrimination since 1950.

In their petitions to the Supreme Court, Dalit Christians and Muslims have alleged that their conversion to the Abrahamic religions has not improved their socio-economic status.

Dalits, who figure the lowest in the Hindu caste system, have converted to Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam in large numbers in India. According to official data, there are 201 million Dalits among India’s 1.2 billion people.

Some 60 percent of India’s 25 million Christians trace their origins to Dalit and other marginalized communities.


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1 Comments on this Story
the issue of dalith christian SC Status is of misunderstanding. p,v.narsimha rao government had extended SC Status to church members among Membership of SC Hindu Communities through subordinate legislation .However the demand is to come outside sc hindu communities and get minority sc rights ,there need constitutions amendment like for OBC.

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