New Delhi: The Union government on Wednesday, December 7, told the Supreme Court that it was not willing to consider the recommendations of the 2007 Justice Ranganath Misra Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which suggested that reservations benefits be extended to Dalits who accepted Christianity and Islam.
The government affidavit called the 2007 commission’s report “flawed”, as it was composed within the “four walls of a room”, according to a The Hindu report.
“It was written within the four walls of a room. There was no field study done… The Commission (Misra) took a myopic view of the social milieu in India. The findings of the Ranganath Misra Commission have not been accepted by the government,” solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the court, according to the newspaper.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, was hearing a batch of petitions on Wednesday seeking Scheduled Caste reservation benefits to Dalits who accepted Christianity.
Mehta told the court that the government would wait until the Justice K.G. Balakrishnan Commission – which the current Narendra Modi government had constituted in October this year – will submit its report to consider the pleas of Dalits Christians and Muslims to be included in reservation quotas. The time period granted to the Justice Balakrishnan Commission is two years.
In response to the government’s view of waiting, the apex court bench said it would examine the question of whether the court should wait for the Balakrishnan Commission report or go ahead and hear a series of petitions seeking Scheduled Castes quota benefits for Dalit converts. The court listed the matter for hearing in January 2023.
“The first aspect to be dealt with is whether this court should stay its hands till the report of this Commission comes or whether it should proceed on the basis of the material on record,” the three-judge bench said, according to LiveLaw.
According to the existing framework of Scheduled Caste reservations, only those who follow Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism can avail the benefits of reservation. Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity cannot claim reservation, as they lose their Scheduled Caste status once they move out of the fold of Hinduism and the two other religions. The Scheduled Caste reservation is provided to caste groups listed under Clause 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, which mandates that communities demonstrate “extreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of the traditional practice of untouchability”. Although when the said constitutional provision was brought out in 1950, it was only confined to Hindus, it was extended to adherents of Sikhism in 1956 through an amendment, and later to Buddhists through another amendment in 1991.
The government lawyer, Mehta, told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the Justice Balakrishnan committee would re-examine the issue, and suggest whether or not Scheduled Caste status should be granted to “new persons” who follow religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
The government, in its affidavit, argued that Dalits who accepted Christianity or Islam to fight caste-based oppression cannot now turn around to claim reservation benefits enjoyed by those who chose to remain in the Hinduism fold. It further said Christianity as a religion is “egalitarian”, as it does not follow any caste system.
“One of the reasons for which people from Scheduled Castes have been converting to religions like Islam and Christianity is so that they can come out of the oppressive system of untouchability which is not prevalent at all in Christianity and Islam. Therefore, once they have come out and ameliorated their social status by converting themselves to Christianity or Islam they cannot claim to be backward since backwardness based on untouchability is only prevalent in the Hindu society or its branches and not in any other religion,” the government affidavit said.
The government stated that Dalit converts to Buddhism and Sikhism cannot be equated to those who accepted Christianity and Islam. The affidavit said Dalits accepted Buddhism at the call of B.R. Ambedkar in 1956 due to “some innate socio-political imperatives”, adding that the “original castes” of such converts could be determined clearly.
“This cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims who might have converted on account of other factors since the process of such conversions had taken place over the centuries,” the affidavit added.
One of the petitioners in the matter, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, alleged 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.
As The Wire reported earlier, the government in its earlier affidavit filed before the Supreme Court in the matter on November 9 had cited Islam and Christianity’s alleged “foreign” contributions as reasons for keeping such communities out of the Scheduled Castes list.