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New Delhi: An affidavit filed by the Union government with the Supreme Court claims Islam and Christianity’s allegedly “foreign” contributions as justification for keeping Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians out of the Scheduled Castes list, The Hindu has reported.
The report notes that the affidavit “contradicts itself at several junctures,” and that there is “a lack of clarity on its arguments defending the current criteria” for determining which communities can be included in the Scheduled Castes list.
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment filed the affidavit in October, in a case arising from a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, alleging that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 is violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the constitution as it discriminates against members of Scheduled Caste communities who have converted to religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.
“It is submitted that the present is a case of classification between Indian citizens and foreigners which cannot be doubted on any count. It is well established that Article 14 forbids class legislation but does not forbid classification,” the government has claimed.
“It is submitted that there exists a clear intelligible differentia between local contributions to the sector and foreign contributions,” it added.
The Hindu report notes that, of course, the case does not concern foreigners but Indian citizens.
The Union government thus makes a case to distinguish between Scheduled Caste communities practising Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism and Scheduled Caste communities practising other religions.
The Union government further submitted that a “twin test of classification” – purportedly laid down by a “bench of higher combinations than Shayara Bano Supra – states that Article 14 forbids class legislation but does not forbid classification.
“It is submitted that it postulates that permissible classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group, and the differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question,” the Union government says.
However, the government’s affidavit does not explain how it distinguishes between the two broad groups of Dalit people – those within the SC list and those outside – using this classification.
It also seems to claim that all people under the SC list who converted to Buddhism did so at the call of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar but that this “cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims who might have converted on account of other factors, since the process of conversions has been taken place over the centuries.” As to how this argument ensures that the social, economic or political advancement of the latter group is also not clear.
The Hindu report also notes glaring inconsistencies in the affidavit. In one paragraph, it says:
“…The exclusion of Christianity or Islam was due to the reason that the oppressive system of untouchability which leads to economic and social backwardness of some Hindu castes was not prevalent in Christian or Islamic Society.”
In the immediate next, it says:
“There is authentic data to suggest that the oppressive environment which existed in Hindu Society for hundreds of years qua Scheduled Castes also existed in Christian or Islamic Society.”
The report cites more such contradictions. The government at once claims that there is no research on whether Christian and Muslim Dalits faced the same oppression as those other Dalit communities and also that their exclusion is based on data.
Reports have pointed to such discrimination within religious communities, against Dalit people belonging to those religions as well.
The government has also constituted a three-member Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, to look into the “seminal and historically complex sociological and constitutional question” of whether Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims can be included in the SC list, the Hindu report notes.