New Delhi: The central government is likely to constitute a new panel to study the issue of extending Scheduled Caste benefits to the Dalits among Muslims and Christians. A proposal in this regard has already been placed before the government.
According to Article 341 of the Constitution, the orders issued by the government in 1950 and the subsequent amendments, Scheduled Caste categories are present only among Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. In case Scheduled Caste people belonging to these sections convert to either Christianity or Islam, they would lose their Scheduled Caste status and benefits such as reservations.
The Supreme Court of India has been considering several petitions filed over the issue for long. Incidentally, the new move of the central government is in view of these petitions and some of the orders issued by the apex court in the past.
Among the notable petitions was one filed by the National Council for Dalit Christians seeking an end to the practice of considering the religion for extending Scheduled Caste benefits. The court has sent a notice to the government in the case.
Meanwhile, the government is also considering another proposal to set up a separate commission for Scheduled Caste people converted to other religions. According to political observers, this plan is aimed at wooing a section of the minorities.
Union minister to head panel
There are indications that the new panel would have three members, headed by a union minister. The other two members would be a former judge of the Supreme Court or High Court and a retired secretary of a central ministry.
The panel would be examining whether Scheduled Caste people who convert to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism could continue to enjoy that status. It would also study the likely impact on the current Scheduled Caste population. Another topic to be analysed is the differences among the groups already enjoying Scheduled Caste status and those who had converted to Christianity and Islam.
The Ranganatha Mishra Commission appointed by the central government in 2007 had suggested abolishing paragraph 3 of the order regarding Scheduled Castes issued in 1950. Denying Scheduled Caste benefits to a section of people based on religion was a denial of justice, the Mishra Commission noted.
However, the central government felt that the Mishra Commission had not studied the impact of this recommendation on communities already enjoying the Scheduled status.
In 2008, the National Commission for Minorities submitted a report on the living conditions of Dalit Christians and Muslims. However, it was not considered by the government.
Even though the census of 2011 has clear data on the number of Christians and Muslims in India, it has no references on the Dalit sections in these religions.