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Government forms commission to review granting of Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Muslims

14 Oct 2022

The Central Government of India announced on 6 October that it had formed a three-member commission to review the issue of granting Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Dalits who have converted to religions other than Buddhism and Sikhism.

The commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India Justice K G Balakrishnan, is expected to study the socio-economic and educational status of SC members who have converted to religions other than Buddhism and Sikhism and the impact of including more members in the SC List. It is expected to submit a report in 2024.

At present, 15% of central government jobs are reserved for those with SC status. However, there are an estimated 3.2 million Dalit Christians and Muslims in the country who do not enjoy SC status and therefore are excluded from these and other benefits. SC status was first linked to Hindus via a Presidential Order in 1950, and later to Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990.    

Dalit Christians and Muslims have been advocating for the right to be included in the SC category for several decades, and the formation of the commission follows a Supreme Court hearing on 30 August on multiple petitions seeking to extend SC status to Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity.    

While studies have highlighted the discrimination faced by Dalit Muslims and Christians, there has been no attempt made by successive governments to extend the benefits of reservation to these communities. In 2007, a report by the Ranganath Misra Commission recommended that SC status be completely delinked from religion and be made religion-neutral like Scheduled Tribes. However, the recommendation was dismissed by the government on grounds that it was not substantiated by sufficient data.

Another study by the National Minorities Commission in 2008 found that Dalits who had converted to Christianity and Islam were still being treated as ‘untouchables’, i.e. separated from members of other castes in education, burial grounds, public celebrations and places of worship. The study recommended that Christians and Muslims be given SC status, but that recommendation was also rejected by the government on the argument that the sample size for the study was too small.

Some groups, such as the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, have expressed pessimism that the current proposal by the central government will produce a favourable outcome, with many believing that this could be another exercise to appease minorities ahead of the 2024 elections.

John Dayal, a senior journalist and human rights activist, likened the creation of the commission to “a British-era tactic to defer a decision indefinitely,” adding that “caste barriers don’t break with time, as the killings of Hindu Dalits by upper caste Hindus has shown.”

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW welcomes the proposal by the government to review whether Dalit Christians and Muslims should be included in the Schedule Caste list. These communities have been facing double marginalisation on account of their caste and religious identity for decades, and the measures taken should ultimately ensure that this cycle of injustice is reversed.”



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