Dalit Christians demand to restore Scheduled Caste Status

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By DCD Reporter

National Dalit Christians Watch (NDCW) – Tamil Nadu Chapter and Alternative Front for Dalit Christian Liberation (AFDCL) marking the 71st year of injustice done to the Dalit Christians by adding the 1950 Presidential Order, Para 3, demand to restore Scheduled Caste status.

“Demand for the restoration of reservation (Scheduled Caste status) to the Dalit Christians is one of the longest struggles in the world. That means we are not asking anything new from the Government of India. Rather we are demanding to give back the reservation right which was taken away from us by the Presidential Order 1950 Para 3 which was brought in fraudulently through the back door,” says Father Devasagayayaj Zackarias, former national secretary to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes.

While addressing leaders of NDCW and AFDCL on August 9, he said that in 1874 Mysore Government brought job reservations for all the “Backward classes”. This Backward included all communities (except Brahmins and Anglo Indians) and therefore included the Dalits (Depressed Class) as well as all the religious minority communities. The Christian Dalits were thus granted reservation either under the Depressed Class or under the Minority category. 

In 1885 Madras Presidency brought Grant in Aid Program for Dalit Students (Depressed Class). This program embraced all Dalits including Christian Dalits. The Christian Dalits were notified as “Indian Christians (as distinct from Anglo Indians, Syrian Christians and Tribal Christians). 

In 1885, Mysore Government enhanced the reservation of jobs for the Backward communities based on castes and religious minorities. 

Till the year 1936, the word “Backward” always included the Dalits who were only later ‘Scheduled’ separately under article 341. 

In 1919, the Government of India brought Communal Job Reservation for Muslims, Sikhs, Anglo Indians, Indian Christians (Included Christian Dalits), Aboriginals (Tribals) and Depressed Classes. Please note that the Dalits (Depressed Classes) were recognised as a Minority community till the Poona Pact 1931. 

On August 17, 1931, the Government of India brought a reservation of a separate electorate for Dalits and all the religious minorities. 

Against this separate electorate for Dalits in 1931, M. K. Gandhi made fast unto death thereby forcing Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the entire Dalit Community to give up the separate minority status. From this date, the Dalits against their protest were clubbed with the Hindus in government records. This is called Poona Pact. 

In 1936, the Government of India brought Scheduled Caste Order on education and employment Reservation to (Hindu) Dalits-because the (Hindu) Dalits list their earlier reservation which was provided to them as a Minority Community under Government Order. 

This order covered only the ‘Hindu’ Dalits because the Christian Dalits who were called Indian Christians and Buddhist Dalits were enjoying the same reservation under Minority status.

Therefore to avoid double entry, the above order clarified: no Indian Christians shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste and in Bengal, no person who professes Buddhism shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste. 

The Government covered Christians under three Minority communities viz, Anglo Indians, Tribals of Bengal and Assam and Indian Christians. 

The Indian Christians thus covered 70% of all the Christians in India and 100% of all Christian Dalits of India. Thus, the Government used the term Indian Christian synonymously to denote the Christian Dalits.

On August 8, 1947, during the Constituent Assembly to bring communal harmony and a secular outlook the Christian leaders in the Constituent Assembly voluntarily gave up their Electoral Reservation (only) which they had from 1931 based on their minority status. This exemplary act was followed by Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities.

However, the Dalits (who had not become Christians or Buddhists, or Sikhs), as well as Anglo Indians wanted electoral reservation. All in the Assembly readily agreed. Thus, they continued to have a reservation. The Dalits joined the bigger Hindu group still retaining the minority reservation while minority communities voluntarily gave up their minority reservation. 

But this pertains only to the electoral reservation and not to a reservation in job, education and financial grants which continued for all communities and castes as per all the earlier acts. 

On November 29, 1949, the new constitution of India Article 341 brought scheduling of reservation for Dalits are under the power of the President and the Parliament. 

In 1950, the Presidential Order para 3 on Scheduled Caste was announced which was again the carbon copy of the 1936 order. “No person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.” 

On December 6, 1950, Jesuit Father Jerome and Dr. H.C Mookarjee made personal representation to President Rajendra Prasad. 

The Prime Minister’s office clarified that the reservation policy to Hindu Dalits was only regarding the Electoral reservation and other reservations will continue for Christian Dalits. 

But, in December 1950 abolished 1931 Reservation Act (Communal G.O) was based on Article 15 and thus abolished the Reservation to Minorities based on Religion. 

Women though educated and empowered, are enslaved by men. The Dalit Christian Women are discriminated against because they are women, because they are Dalits and because they are Dalit Christian women. They are discriminated against thrice. 

The Dalit Christian women are taken for granted by the Church and society. They must be empowered in the field of education, employment, economic and elections. Many Dalit Christian women leaders are counselors, Panchayat presidents and ward members but they cannot contest in the election of M.P or M.L.A, says Sister Robancy A Helen talking on the topic of Scheduled Caste status and Dalit Christian Women. 

The nation celebrates the victory of the dominant caste men and women but when Vantana Kataria, a Dalit woman from Uttar Pradesh lost in Olympics, her defeat was celebrated by the dominant caste men expressing that the team was defeated as there were many Dalits in the team. The attitude of Caste is cellulitised in the blood of the dominant caste people.

If the Dalit Christians are given the Scheduled Caste status, the Dalit Christian women would be protected under the prevention of Atrocities Act 1989. The Dalit Christian women are ill-treated and sexually abused for the past 71 years without the Scheduled Caste status. 

As per the record of the National Crime Records Bureau, at least 10 Dalit women are raped in a day and it has increased 44% in 10 years. Dalit Christian women need to be self-reliant and empowering them is the need of the hour, says Sister Helen.

The zoom meeting was headed by Advocate Baskaran, convenor of NDCW – Tamil Nadu chapter. Rev. Dr. Vincent Manoharan, chairperson of the NDCW shared the purpose and importance of the inclusion of Dalit Christians in the Scheduled Caste list.

“We need to train the Dalit youth and make them the future leaders,” concluded Dr. Richard Devadoss, director of Corner Stone and the former convenor of NDCW.

Advocate Franklin Ceasar Thomas and Mr. Ernest Nelson and other Dalit leaders shared their concerns.

Source: Frequently Asked Questions: Demand for Restoration of Equal Rights for Dalit Christians. Published by National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, 1996. Reprint by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Office for SC/BC in 2019. 

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