Odisha Dalit Christians mark ‘protest day’ demanding Scheduled Caste status

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By Purushottam Nayak

Bhubaneswar: Dalit Christians observed August 10 as “PROTEST DAY” all over India as they are denied the Constitutional Scheduled Caste status in 1950 vide Para 3 of the Scheduled Caste Order. 

“We humbly appeal to the Prime Minister of India to take early steps to extend the Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians as per the recommendation of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission by deleting Paragraph 3 of the Constitutions Order (Scheduled Caste) 1950,” said Prafulla Kumar Lima, President of National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC)- Odisha Chapter.

Let justice be done to the Dalit Christians by making legislation in the parliament to eliminate the religion-based discrimination, demanded Prafulla Kumar Lima, a Christian leader.

“We wish to humbly draw the attention of the Prime Minister that Dalit Christians continue to suffer the same stigma, of untouchability and the same discriminations as other Dalits with whom they reside side by side in the segregated area which is evident in the villages in India,” said Bikash Kumar Bardhan Secretary of NCDC.

They suffer without protection against untouchability and caste atrocity, which is provided under the Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955 and the Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Caste (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, said Bardhan.

Dalit Christians were excluded from the Scheduled castes by the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950, Paragraph 3 promulgated by the President of India on August 10, 1950. The said paragraph 3 states that “no person profession a religion other than Hindus will be deemed to be a member of the Scheduled Castes.”

Paragraph 3 is religion-based discrimination that still remains, and Dalit Christians have been suffering without the Scheduled Caste rights and safeguards even though they suffer the stigma of untouchability and are discriminated against like the other Dalits in Indian society. So, to protect themselves, Dalit Christians have been demanding the Scheduled Castes status from the Union Government ever since the above Order 1950 was promulgated.

Many studies on Dalit Christians and various Commissions on Backward Classes constituted by the Central and State Governments, including the Mandal Commission have found that change of religion does not change the stigma of untouchability and the socio-economic conditions of a person, but he/she continues to suffer the same caste discrimination in the new religious community to which he/she belongs.

The Union Government assigned to the National Commission for the Religious and Linguistic, Minorities (NCRLM) headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Justice Mishra to study the socio-economic and educational conditions of Dalit Christians for the purpose of extending the Scheduled Caste status to them.

Justice Mishra’s report submitted to the Prime Minister in 2007 justified and recommended in unambiguous terms to extend the Scheduled Caste status to them by deleting Paragraph 3 of the said Constitution Order 1950. Subsequently, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) endorsing the Ranganath Misra report recommended the same to the Union Government. The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) continues to recommend it. 

Following Ranganath Mishra’s recommendations, most of the National Political Parties wrote to the then Prime Minister and recommended it. But, despite all these, the Union government did not take action to extend the Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians.

Moreover, a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India (WP No, 180/2004) appealing for equal constitutional Scheduled Caste right to Dalit Christians, which is pending for about 17 years.

A group of six Dalit Christian leaders led by Prafulla Kumar Lima submitted the memorandum to the Chief Secretary of Governor of Odisha at Raj Vavan, Bhubaneswar on August 10, with COVID-19 protocol.

Dalit Christians form about 20 million all over India.

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