By Robancy A Helen
April 19 is indeed a day of social justice and a happy day for the Dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu and all those who fought for the justice of giving Scheduled Caste status to the Dalit Christians.
On April 18, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin declared in the State Legislature that a centenary memorial would be built in Chidambaram, in the Cuddalore district, for social activist and former Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) President L Ilaya Perumal.
Ilaya Perumal, according to the chief minister, has been a tireless advocate for the eradication of untouchability since his very young age.
Marking this an important event, Stalin proposed that the State Legislative Assembly passes the resolution granting Scheduled Caste status to the Dalit Christians.
Many members of the assembly supported it and spoke in favor of it. The Constitutional Scheduled Caste Order of 1950 issued under Article 341 of the Constitution is a religion based, “notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Castes.”
It is a 72-year struggle of Dalit Christians in India to fight for their constitutional rights. There have been continuous protests, rallies, and campaigns from all over the country demanding Scheduled Caste status from the federal government.
Though many commissions, like the Mandal Commission Report of 1980, the National Commission for Minorities (1981–82), and the Ranganath Misra Commission of 2007, supported the Scheduled Caste status for the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, the federal government of India rejected all the recommendations.
The federal government recently constituted a new commission headed by former Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, gave it two years to prepare a report on the question of granting Scheduled Caste status to “new persons who have historically belonged to the Scheduled Castes but have converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.”
To support the new commission, the Tamil Nadu government, headed by M.K. Stalin, President of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) passed this resolution.
Thirumavalavan, a Member of Lok Sabha, and the President of Viduthalai Siruthaikal Katchi (VCK) supported the cause and requested that the ruling party raise this issue in Parliament.
The Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly started on April 9, 2023, and will be closed by April 21, 2023.
“I propose in this Legislative Assembly that we need to pay special attention to the Scheduled Castes who were converted to Christianity. Because they still experience caste discrimination such as ‘untouchability,’” said the Chief Minister of the Tamil Nadu State.
Historically speaking, it would be relevant to grant Scheduled Caste status to the concerted Christians of the Scheduled Castes as it was for the Sikhs and the Buddhists, added the head of the State.
“We are very grateful to the Chief Minister for the resolution passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly during the case hearing in the Supreme Court. It is an inspiration to other States to do the same,” says Father Lourdusamy, former executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes.
Thol Thirumavalavhn, President of Viduthalai Siruthaikal Katchi, and the Member of Parliament constantly raised this issue in the Parliament.
Many Legislative Assembly members, such as Sinthanai Selvan of Kattumannarkoil, Inigo Irudhayaraj (Member Trichy–West), Prince (Colachel), O. Paneer Selvam (Podinayakkanur), T. Vel Murugan (Panruti), E.R. Eswaran (Namakkal), Dr. Sathan Thirumalai Kumar (Reformed Dravida Munetra Kazhakam), T. Ramachandran (Indian Communist Party), Chinnadurai (Kantharva Kottai), and M.H. Jawaharullah (Papanasam), supported the proposal of the Chief Minister.
“We thank the Chief Minister Stalin for proposing to the Union Government grant Scheduled Caste status to the Dalit Christians,” said Mathew Gnanapragasam, convener of the Tamil Nadu Dalit Christians coalition (TNDCC).
This positive move by the Tamil Nadu state government will help K.G. Balakrishnan’s commission defend the Scheduled Caste status of the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, he added.