'Religious Conversion Won't Change a Person's Caste': Madras HC

Justice S.M. Subramaniam refused to direct Salem district authorities to issue an inter-caste marriage certificate to a petitioner who had converted to Christianity after his marriage.

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New Delhi: The Madras high court, in an order dated Wednesday, November 17, held that an individual’s caste couldn’t change on account of their conversion from one religion to another, Live Law reported.

Justice S.M. Subramaniam issued his order while hearing a writ petition filed by S. Paul Raj, who belonged to the Adi Dravidar community and who had married G. Amutha, a woman from the Hindu Arunthathiyar community, both of which are categorised as Scheduled Castes (SC).

When Raj converted to Christianity, he was given a ‘Backwards Class’ (BC) community certificate, on the basis of which he applied for an inter-caste marriage certificate.

In Tamil Nadu, a marriage between a member of the SC/ST community and someone from any other community or between a member of the BC community and someone from another community is considered an ‘inter-caste’ marriage. Such unions are eligible for several welfare benefits, including priority consideration for government jobs, the Times of India reported.

When the Salem district authorities refused to issue the certificate, registering that both husband and wife in fact belonged to the SC community by birth, Raj filed a writ of mandamus petition seeking the inter-caste marriage certificate be issued.

The writ of mandamus is issued by a court to compel a public authority to perform legal duties it either has not performed or has refused to. In the present case, the petitioner sought the court’s directions to the relevant authorities to issue an inter-caste marriage certificate. 

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Raj’s legal counsel, P. Saravanan, argued that the petitioner’s marriage should be considered an inter-caste marriage according to Tamil Nadu government order GOM No. 188, dated December 28, 1976. It details that an inter-caste marriage is one in which one of the spouses belongs to the SC/ST community.

However, advocate C. Jayaprakash, appearing for the state government, stated that a clarification issued by the Social Welfare Department through letter no. 235, issued on July 21, 1997, notes that a community certificate obtained as a result of religious conversion does not warrant an inter-caste marriage certificate.

The court dismissed the writ petition and upheld the Salem government official’s refusal to issue an inter-caste marriage certificate to the petitioner. 

“When both the petitioner and his wife belong to the scheduled caste community by birth, merely because the petitioner by virtue of conversion changed his religion would not entail him to get the inter-caste marriage certificate,” Justice Subramanium wrote in his order.

“The very purpose and object of the issuance of an inter-caste marriage certificate is to provide certain welfare schemes, and in such circumstances the classification of various castes as Backwards Class, Scheduled Caste, Most Backwards Class and other classes cannot be a ground to claim inter-caste marriage certificate,” the order added.

Just S.M. Subramaniam also noted that the decision is pertinent to prevent the abuse of welfare schemes.