NEW DELHI: The Union government has opposed before the Supreme Court a plea for recognition of Scheduled Caste status to Dalits converted to Christianity and Islam, saying they were no longer suffered the stigma like untouchability attached to their previous social order.
The Centre said that identification of SC status is centered around a specific social stigma and the connected backwardness which is limited to the communities recognised under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950.
Notably, the constitutional right to reservations in jobs and education as a member of the SC community is extended only to people from Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist faiths, in accordance with the 1950 order.
The written response from the Union government came to a batch of petitions for a direction to extend the umbrella of reservation also to Dalits who have converted to Christianity or Islam.
Acting on the PILs filed by the 'National Council of Dalit Christians' and others for grant of SC status to Dalit converts, the top court had on August 31 asked the Narendra Modi to clarify its stand on the subject.
“The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950 was based on historical data which clearly established that no such backwardness or oppression was ever faced by members of Christian or Islamic Society. In fact, one of the reasons for which people from Scheduled Castes have been converting to religions like Islam or Christianity is so that they can come out of the oppressive system of untouchability which is not prevalent at all in Christianity or Islam,” the government said.
In October, the Centre has appointed a Commission of Inquiry under chairmanship of former Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan to examine claims of granting Scheduled Caste status to the Dalits who have converted to other religions.
The Commission, also comprising retired IAS officer Dr Ravinder Kumar Jain, former member, UGC Prof Sushma Yadav as members, would examine the matter of according SC status to new persons, who claim to have belonged to the SCs historically, but have converted to religion other than those mentioned in the Presidential Orders issued from time to time under article 341 of the Constitution.
In reply to the PILs, the government also pointed out there is also no documented research and precise authenticated information available to establish that the disabilities and handicaps suffered by Scheduled Caste members in the social order of its origin (Hinduism) persists with their oppressive severity in the environment.
The Centre claimed that it would cause a grave injustice and would be an abuse of the process of law, consequently affecting the rights of the SC groups if all the converts are arbitrarily given the perks of reservation without examining the aspect of social disability.
It also justified extending the reservation benefits to Buddhists while denying it to Muslims and Christians, saying that not only the nature of conversions is different but the original caste of those converting to Buddhism can also be ascertained.
“The Scheduled Castes embraced Buddhism voluntarily at the call of Dr B R Ambedkar in 1956 on account of some innate socio-political imperatives. The original castes/ community of such converts can clearly be determined. This cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims, who might have converted on account of other factors, since the process of such conversions has been taken place over the centuries,” the response said.
The Centre also termed the 2007 Report of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission that which favoured SC status for Dalits in all religions as “flawed".
The report has not been accepted by the Centre because it was prepared without conducting any field studies and also failed to into account the effect that the inclusion would have on the present castes listed as SCs, it pointed out.