Commission to study Dalit converts, a repetition, say Christian activists

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By Matters India Reporter

New Delhi, Sept 19, 2022: The federal government’s reported move to set up a national commission to study the socio-economic and educational status of Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam will prolong the issue of granting reservation to the poorest in the country, bemoan Christian activists.

The national media on September 19 reported that the government was all set to constitute the commission.

Franklin Caesar Thomas, coordinator of the National Council of Dalit Christians, and John Dayal, a veteran journalist and activist, say several commissions and committees set up by previous governments have endorsed the socio-educational backwardness of Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin people.

“The government is repeating what was done two decades ago by retired chief justice of India Ranganath Misra commission, Justice Rajender Sachar commission and a high powered committee led by Prof Satish Deshpande who found religion did not matter where social status of Dalits in India was concerned,” Dayal told Matters India.

Dalits, he added, deserved affirmative action irrespective of religion. Article 341 part three discriminated against Pasmanda Muslims and Dalit Christians, he added.

Franklin cited several government commissions and committees and studies that have found the socioeconomic and educational backwardness among Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam.

They included the Kalelkar Commission report, Mandal Commission report, parliamentary committee on untouchability headed by Elayaperumal, high power committee on minorities 1983, cabinet Note of 1996 and the related bill, national commission on review of the Constitution, Sachar committee recommendation, and Ranganath Misra Commission report.

“Affidavits of the National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes filed in the Supreme Court have endorsed the socio-educational backwardness arising out of the practice of untouchability concerning the plight of Christians and Muslims of SC origin people,” Franklin told Matters India September 19.

The proposed commission is being formed to prolong the issue and avoid granting the Scheduled Caste status to the poorest people, he added.

Meanwhile the Indian Express reported that the government move will have far-reaching implications.

The proposal to set up such a commission is being actively discussed at the federal government level, and a decision is likely to be taken soon, the newspaper reported.

It quoted unnamed sources in the federal Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Department of Personnel and Training as saying that they have given the green signal for such a move. Consultations on the proposal are ongoing among the ministries of Home, Law, Social Justice and Empowerment, and Finance.

The newspaper quoted Minority Affairs Ministry officials that the proposal was necessitated because of the unavailability of definitive data to study the issue and find a solution.

The proposed commission assumes significance amid several petitions pending before the Supreme Court seeking Scheduled Caste reservation benefits for Dalit converts to Christianity or Islam.

On August 30, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a Supreme Court Bench that he would place on record the government’s stand on the issue raised by the petitioners. The bench granted him three weeks’ time and listed the matter on October 11.

The new commission will reportedly get more than a year to submit its report.

The proposed commission will also study the impact of adding more members to the current Scheduled Caste list.

Among the key benefits available to the Scheduled Caste people is 15 percent reservation for direct recruitment in federal government jobs. The Scheduled Tribes are entitled to 7.5 percent reservation and Other Backward Classes 27 percent quota.

Even earlier governments too had addressed without a conclusion the issue of granting quota to Christian converts to Christianity or Islam.

In October 2004, the government headed by Manmohan Singh set up the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed Misra, to recommend measures for the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities.

The commission’s report in May 2007 recommended delinking the SC status from religion and be made religion-neutral like the Scheduled Tribes. The government did not accept the recommendation on the grounds that it was not substantiated by field studies.

In another study commissioned by the National Commission for Minorities in 2007 concluded that Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims need to be accorded SC status. That finding, too, was not accepted on the grounds that it was based on minuscule sample sizes that could have led to unreliable estimates.

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