By RL Francis & Joseph G Anthony
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) also known as Ranganath Misra Commission after its chairman Justice (Retd) Ranganath Misra was constituted in October 2004 by the Government of India to recommend practical measures for the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities and to include the modalities of implementations for the same.
The final report of the Ranganath Misra Commission (NCRLM) was submitted to the government in May 2007 but it was not tabled in the Parliament until it got leaked to the media. Amidst sustained pressure from Members of Parliament the NCRLM Report was finally tabled in the Lok Sabha on Friday, Dec 18, 2009 by Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
The Ranganath Misra Report recommendations and contentions are given below in brief:
Contending that caste is a totally social concept in India and does not have any religious basis, it is understood to have said that appropriate action should be taken so as to completely delink the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.
The Commission has recommended that Muslims and Christians of whose counterparts among the Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists are included in the central or state Scheduled Castes list should also be covered by the Scheduled Castes net.
If any such group or class among the Muslims and Christians etc is now included in an OBC list, it should also be deleted from there while transferring it to the Scheduled Castes. Placing the same persons in the Scheduled Caste list if they are Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhist but in the OBC list if they follow any other religion—which is the case in many states—clearly amounts to religion-based discrimination, the report said.
The commission has further recommended that as the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religious freedom as a Fundamental Right, once a person has been included in a Scheduled Caste list a willful change of religion on his part should not affect adversely his or her Scheduled Caste status.
These recommendations have come as part of the additional terms of reference put forward by the commission.
Indian social setup is based upon caste system from cradle to grave irrespective of the religious faith, caste considerations rule the roost. Dalits of all religions live in the same society ruled by caste values. A change of religion does not alter the socio-economic status of Dalits [Gandhiji says so in Harijan December 26, 1936]. The social stigma and stracism in society continue to haunt them wherever they go. A Dalit is considered untouchable, irrespective of the religious faith he or she may profess. As for atrocities, there is no discrimination between a Hindu Dalit and a Muslim/Christian Dalit.
The commission has recommended certain measures for the educational backwardness for the religious minorities, including earmarking 15 per cent seats in the non-minority educational institutions for the minorities. The commission, in its report submitted to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, recommended that the break up within the 15 per cent should be 10 per cent for the Muslims and the rest five per cent for the remaining minority communities.
Among the economic measures recommended, are 15 per cent share be earmarked for the minorities in all government schemes like the Rural Employment Generation Programme, Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojna and Gramin Rozgar Yojna.
The commission has suggested that para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 should be wholly deleted. This provision gives reservation to Scheduled Caste Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.
Background of religious conversion
A dictionary gives the meaning of the word religion as “monastic condition, monastic order, practice of sacred rites, one of the prevalent systems of faith and worship” etc. All these definitions would fit well to describe Hinduism as a religion. The concept of an organised religion arose, as far as India is concerned, from the time Buddhism and Jainism came into existence with religious philosophies distinct from those of Hinduism—or that which existed at the time of their birth. Basically the philosophy of pre-Buddhist and Jainism times was based on the Vedas and the Upanishads and the concepts and teachings conveyed by the great seers and saints.
It would be inadequate to say that Hindu society is nothing more than the caste system, whose foundations rest on the earliest Vedic sources. Nevertheless, the social ethics of the Hindu religion is certainly governed by jati or caste.
Apart from its religious justification, the caste system is a complex phenomenon which it is hard to define. However, there are certain characteristics that stand out to distinguish it from any comparable structure in other religions. Each caste may be considered a closed social group, theoretically based on heredity, so that a person belongs to the caste in which he is born.
The evolution of caste system postulating hereditary orders functioning within rigid system spheres of social intercourse is a phenomenon peculiar to the organisation of Hindu society. In other communities the principal factor determining class and status are wealth, pedigree, or profession. In case of Hindus, however, membership of a caste is determined by birth.
Contrary to this, Christianity propagates that all men are equal and made in the image of God. A Christian from any background can choose to become a priest or a nun. This distinction must be remembered while suggesting the caste-based reservation for Christians.
What is so great about Christianity?
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published recently explains that the name of Christ is the way of salvation. The Book of Genesis says that ‘man’ was created in the image of God. Christianity also propagates equality and human dignity. Created in such salvation is not only achieved in the new life after death, “but it also permeates this world in the realities of the economy and labour, of
technology and communications, of society and politics, of the international community and the relations among cultures and peoples,” the Compendium says in part No. 1.
The salvation offered by Christ is of the whole person in all dimensions, personal, social, spiritual and corporeal. This salvation is also universal. Thus, there is a link “between the relationship that the person is called to have with God and the responsibility he has towards his neighbour in the concrete circumstances of history” (No. 40).
The Compendium also defends the Church’s right to proclaim its teaching on social matters. This proclamation is part of the role of the Church as a teacher and the truths in its content stem from human nature itself and from the Gospel. The Church has a right, and a duty, to proclaim “the liberating word of the Gospel” (No. 70), to the world.
The Compendium observes that the Church’s social doctrine has gradually been formed over time, through a series of statements on diverse issues. This helps to understand that over time some changes have taken place regarding its nature and structure.
This process is still under way. In No. 86 the Compendium refers to social doctrine as a “work site,” in which “perennial truth penetrates and permeates new circumstances, indicating paths of justice and peace.”
But this teaching cannot be reduced to a socio-economic level. Social doctrine is theological in nature and has its foundation in biblical revelation and in the tradition of the Church (Nos. 72-4). In this sense faith interacts with reason in a process whereby “the mystery of Christ illuminates the mystery of man” (No. 75). Along with revelation and tradition, social doctrine is also enriched by philosophy and the social sciences.
“In all its activities the Church seeks to preach and act in ways that lead to greater justice for all people. Its ministry cannot neglect the violations of human rights resulting from racism, poverty, poor housing, inadequate education and health care, widespread apathy and indifference, and a lack of freedom. These realities are fundamentally incompatible with our faith, and the Church is required to oppose them.”
Many Dalit Catholics have spoken out against discrimination against them by the Church. A famous Dalit activist Bama has written books that are critical of the discrimination by the nuns and priests in Churches in South India. Pope John Paul II also criticised the caste discrimination in the Roman Catholic Church of India when addressing the bishops of: Madras, Mylapore, Madurai, Cuddalore, and Puducherry in late 2003. He went on to say “It is the Church’s obligation to work unceasingly to change hearts, helping all people to see every human being as a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, and therefore a member of our own family”
It is in the light of these facts that the Ranganath Commission Report needs to be understood. What is the nature or problem and where is the problem. The Times of India reported (20 July 2007 ) that the campaign of Dalit Christians for Scheduled Caste status took an interesting turn when the Supreme Court asked the petitioners whether Christians also practiced caste system.
“Would the Christians admit that they practice caste system and that Dalits (among them) face social discrimination requiring reservation to uplift their cause? This is not all that easy,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan said.
Resisting demand for instant recognition, SC’s poser can put the Christian leaders in a quandary. They have been demanding SC status for Dalit Christians saying that the change of faith does not improve social status, but may find it difficult to admit that Dalits in the fold faced the same sort of discrimination as their counterparts in the Hindu community.
Christians claim to be a casteless society. Dalit Christian activists, who have agitated for Dalit status for long, recently got a shot in arm when the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission endorsed their case.
The petitioner’s lawyer stated that previously the Congress government had brought in a Bill in 1996 with the objective of giving Dalits equal rights irrespective of the religion they profess.
Additional Solicitor said the
government is seeking the opinion of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes on the report of the Misra Commission and sought time for this purpose.
The bill presented by the congress party in 1996 was nothing but “vote politics”. When the Bhartiya Janta Party came to power at the centre the minority communities receiving overseas support and funding got worried. On November 25, 1995 the Christian leaders organised a huge rally demanding reservation to Christians of Dalit background. Even Mother Teresa participated in the dharna at New Delhi.
In their long struggle for equality, India’s Dalits, or “untouchables,” have often exchanged their Hinduism for Islam, Christianity, Sikhism or Buddhism, believing that they will better their lives by doing so. They have been persuaded that Hinduism, with its varna ashramas (caste distinctions), has been solely responsible for all their ills. But when they switch to other religious faiths and experience the same distinctions—albeit in different forms—they realise that such a change neither improves their social status nor remedies their economic problems of unemployment and poverty—the real source of their social discrimination.
A letter written by M. Mary John, president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, to Pope John Paul II during his 1999 visit to India speaks volumes about the treatment meted out to dalit Christians within the churches of India. The dalits are oppressed and persecuted by “the hierarchy, the congregation, the authorities and the institutions of the Catholic Church.” Despite the condemnation of such practices by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), casteism still persists among Christian communities. A state commission on Dalits has pointed out that they are “twice discriminated against”—in society and within the church. At the time of conversion, they are assured that they are being inducted into a religious fold that is egalitarian and free from the twin curses of caste and untouchability. But the reality is altogether different.
Sikh places of worship have separate quarters for Dalit Sikhs. High-caste Muslims do not marry Dalit Muslims. Dalit Christians can hardly hope to reach any high position within the church. (They are not even allowed to occupy the pews meant for higher-caste Christians.) And Buddhist monasteries have not been able to prevent their converts from continuing their earlier caste practices.
At the same time, in breaking away from Hinduism, dalits lose out on the basic safeguards provided to them in the Indian Constitution. In 1981, thousands of Dalits in southern India converted to Islam to escape social victimisation—only to find that they had forfeited whatever state privileges they enjoyed earlier as Scheduled Caste Hindus. Converted Dalits are now fighting for these privileges, having perceived the age-old caste system still dogging their footsteps. The very fact that they still have to label themselves as “Dalits” even after conversion in order to seek special privileges exposes the futility of that exercise.
A mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism in recent months in India poses the question once again whether religious conversion alone can improve the social and economic status of people who have been marginalised for centuries. Some 50,000 Dalits assembled in New Delhi in November 2000 to embrace Buddhism. In January another 25,000 followed suit in the southern state of Kerala. Such conversions expose the hypocrisy of the religious and political leaders who exploit the socially and economically backward groups for their own ends.
The Ranganath Misra Commission Report has once again has raised the issue of caste among Christians in India. On theological ground all Christians are equal and made in the image of God. The creation of ‘man’ is different from Hinduism which believes origin from different part of the body. In 1939 Bishop Azariah wrote: “We do not wish to call our Christians Harijan (read Dalit here) for the sake of concessions.” It is worth recalling that in Travencore State the Dalit women were not allowed to cover their breast. The Women from Christian families defied this. When the princely state objected the missionaries argued that these women are no more Dalits
hence this rule does not apply to them. Protestant missionaries aggressively and consistently attacked caste and carried on a relentless onslaught against it as being inconsistent with Christianity. Caste was in the world of a preacher, as the most cursed invention of the devil that ever existed… and masterpiece of hell ( Forrester 1979:27). An Anglican bishop of Calcutta declared that “the distinction of caste must be abandoned decidedly, immediately and finally…”. The statement issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in 1982 is representative of all church discourse:” We state categorically that caste, with its consequent effects on discrimination and “caste mentality”, has no place in Christianity… It violates the God-given dignity and we quality of the human person.” CBCI, (1982:148 quoted by J Tharamangalam).
The Struggle Of Dalit Muslims And Dalit Christians For Scheduled Caste Status
There is no reason to not include Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in the category of Scheduled Castes because these Dalits share the same socio-economic status, and stigma also, as their counterparts in the Hindu community, concludes the report prepared by National Commission of Minorities (NCM).
The report titled Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities: A Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge reveals that economically and educationally, the condition of Dalit Muslims is generally poorer than other Dalits, and Dalit Christians too lag behind upper-caste Christians on that front. The NCM thinks that the report is an important development in that the courts have been repeatedly asking for objective data for providing constitutional facilities to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.
Some may disagree with the NCM conclusions, but there is no denying the fact that Dalits in Muslim and Christian communities are not taken socially at par with other castes in them.
Equipped with the much sought-after study, the NCM would like to present the case of reservation for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians before the government. But there are some legal hurdles in the way. Not only NCM but social and political pressure groups from the communities concerned will have to work extra time to remove these hurdles first.
Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians cannot be included among Scheduled Castes, and thus they cannot be granted reservation, thanks to the Presidential Order of 1950. That order denies inclusion of Dalits of any community other than Hindu in the Scheduled Castes category. The third paragraph of the order says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in para 2, no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of
the Scheduled Castes.”
For announcing the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order 1950, paragraph 3 as ultra virus and ultra motive against the secularism of our esteemed Indian Constitution, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) (represented by former Law Minister of India and eminent Advocate Mr Shanthi Bhushan and Advocate Mr Prashant Bhushan) and Franklin Caesar Thomas had collectively filed a civil writ petition in the Supreme Court of India on 22.03.2004. This petition was filed by CPIL for getting the Scheduled Castes status to converted Christian, Muslim members of the enumerated castes people of India.
Concerned with the above-said civil writ petition No. 180, year 2004, Union of India had referred this matter to National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM). NCRLM had positively recommended to Union of India for granting Scheduled Castes status to the above-said people by deleting the, paragraph 3 as per the media report. After agreeing in the Supreme Court, based up on the NCRLM Report, Ministry of Social Justice asked the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to give comment regarding the extension of Scheduled Castes privileges to these people by giving one set of the NCRLM report to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
By accepting the social, educational, economical and cultural backwardness of the Christians and Muslims of the Scheduled Castes origin people, Scheduled Castes Commission asked the Union of India for granting them the Scheduled Castes status. As per the constitutional power of the Indian Constitution Article 338, sub-division 9, National Commission for Scheduled Castes accepted and recommended to grant Scheduled Castes status to these people.
As per the above-said recommendation, the above-said Dalit Muslim and Dalit Christian people are facing and are affected by the traditional practice of untouchability in the major civil society and in their religious society.
As per the revised modalities of the Union of India for getting Scheduled Castes status to particular communities, state governments should recommend to Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Then Census Commissioner and the Registrar General of India should give recommendations for these communities to be treated as Scheduled Castes. Then finally, National Scheduled Castes Commission for Scheduled Castes should give positive recommendation regarding the proposal. Then the Group of Ministers or the Cabinet should pass a resolution to bring a bill in the Parliament.
As of today, twelve state governments and Union Territories have recommended to Union of India for granting the SC status to these people. (In the year 2000, Bihar state assembly had passed a resolution for granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims; in the year 2006 Uttar Pradesh State Assembly had passed a resolution in the state assembly for granting the SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims; in the year 2009, Andhra Pradesh state government had passed a resolution in its assembly for granting the SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. Without referring the matter to the Registrar General of India, directly Union of India asked the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to give its comments. As per the government’s desire, NCSC asked the Union of India to grant SC status to these people. Scheduled Castes Commission’s entire recommendation was submitted in the apex court of India by the Additional Solicitor of India concerned with the above-said civil writ petition No. 180, year 2004. On 23.01.2008, the Additional Solicitor General of India asked the apex court to grant eight weeks time to take a decision in the Cabinet, Group of Ministers meeting for bringing a reply to the apex court of India. Still Union of India did not file any reply in the Supreme Court of India as per its commitment.
Without proper evidences, materials, Union of India granted Scheduled Castes status to Dalit Sikhs and Dalit Buddhist. If question is raised for granting the Scheduled Castes status to Dalit Buddhist and Dalit Sikhs, it is told that Sikhism and Buddhism are the offshoot of Hinduism. If it was so, in the year 1950 itself these people would have been treated as Scheduled Castes. Why did the Union of India
separately added Sikhism in the year 1956 and Buddhism in the year 1990, particularly in the Presidential Order 1950, paragraph 3?
As per the National Commission of Minorities Act 1993, Buddhism and Sikhism are the seperate religions from Hinduism. When the Sikhism and Buddhism do not recognise the untouchability and casteism, they were given the Scheduled Castes status.
For proving the social, educational, economical and cultural backwardness of Dalit Christians par with Dalit Hindus, Union of India is having the Mandal Commission’s recommendation, NCRLM recommendation, National Commission for Minorities recommendation, National Commission for Scheduled Castes recommendation, Detailed study done by Delhi University’s Professor Dr. Satish Despande (financed by Union of India’s National Commission for Minorities), Sachar Committee (High Power Committee of the Prime Minister of India) recommendation regarding the extension of Scheduled Castes privileges to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, Cabinet Note of the Year 1996 for granting the Scheduled Castes status to Christians of Scheduled Castes Origin and various state governments’ state commission’s recommendations. The above-said Commission’s reports prove the traditional practice of untouchability which are faced by Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the civil society and in their religious society at par with Hindu Scheduled Castes. Untouchability is a professional oriented discrimination in the society.
We do not want reservation to the elite people among Christians and Muslims. But we want the Scheduled Castes reservation to the people whose castes names are there in the Schedule of the Union of India who are socially, educationally, economically and culturally backward at par with Dalit Hindus. The only stumbling block, paragraph 3 of the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order 1950 should be deleted or amended to take the religious ban (by bringing a bill in the Parliament). Or it should be striked by the apex court of India as unconstitutional one.
United Nations Human Rights Council’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had strongly recommended to Union of India in the March 2007, for granting the Scheduled Castes status to these people. United Nations Socio Economic Council and the Special Rapporteur on Religious Tolerance of UN Human Rights Council had stressed the Union of India for granting the Scheduled Castes status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims based upon violation of human rights basis.
Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are not living in their worshipping places, but they dwell in the society where casteism prevails. Upper strata of the Christian, Muslim and Hindu high castes people are treating these people as untouchables. So Scheduled Castes reservation should be extended to these people forthwith.
By Shariq Parvez
Christianity is unique. Downtrodden people adopt it for equality, human dignity and liberty and not for bread alone. Even if one gives million rupees a true Christian will not change the side except few who are ‘rice and curry Christians, ‘chapatti Christian’ and so on, but the majority wants to be identified as Christians and not as Dalit Christians. Once they adopted Christianity they are no more Dalits.
They have a new birth. And what ever ‘evil’ has followed them must be removed within the Church. Let us see this remark in the light of conversion. Conversion is a deliberate, definite, conscious, positive turning over to someone for something. Conversion is an individual affirmation essentially an independent action. Conversion at the root is an inward movement but it gets manifested in the outward life.
It is true that in India there are many violations of human rights of minorities but the Constitution of India provides several protections and in real sense offers a balance between the national unity and the cultural as well as social diversity. Nevertheless, the tension is increasing between minority and majority. But the people have not left their faith. Even the poor Christians witnessed Christ.
In such a situation the Ranganath Misra Commission has submitted controversial recommendations. Many Christian groups are rejoicing but we prayed to the Holy Spirit before venturing this report. An inner voice told us that while it is duty to emphasise on social concern but it should not be at cost of our basic belief that all man are created equal and are made in the image of God.
We pray to Our Lord Jesus to guide our leaders to rethink about the caste- religion based reservations for Christians. The Ranganath Misra Commission Report is a satanic versus and would do a great harm to the Christianity in India in the long run.
THE OTHER VIEW
The principal arguments of the section demanding Scheduled Caste status for persons of Scheduled Caste origin converted to Christianity or Islam, both as per writ petitions and arguments made available to the Commission, are primarily two. First, that such converts continue to face discrimination, disabilities and handicaps, as also social, educational and economic backwardness, as their Hindu counterparts, notwithstanding their conversion, whether voluntarily or otherwise, to Christianity or Islam. The second important argument is that, given the situation that persons of Scheduled Caste origin converted to Christianity or Islam continue to be subjected to caste-based disabilities and discriminations, the distinction made by the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 between followers of Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist religion on the one hand and Christianity and Islam on the other hand are alleged to be discriminatory and violative of fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15, 16 and 25 of the Constitution.
Viewed in this background the eligibility of Christians and Muslims for inclusion in SC list is examined below:
Admitting, for arguments sake, that persons of Scheduled Caste origin converted to Islam/ Christianity face discrimination within their own community, a pertinent question that needs to be answered is whether the discrimination or the disabilities/handicaps arising therefrom is comparable in their oppressive severity to the discrimination faced by depressed classes in Hindu religion. Separate enclosures in prayer halls of churches or in burial grounds or the reluctance on the part of certain sections within their community to socialise with converts, though reprehensible, do not appear to match the oppression and consequential disability that has to be braided by depressed classes or untouchables in Hindu religion. There is also no documented research and precise authenticated information available to establish that the disabilities and handicaps suffered by Scheduled Caste members in the social order of its origin (Hinduism) persists with their oppressive severity in the environment of Christianity/Islam.
Incidentally, available social indicators in regard to Christians (separate figures for persons of Scheduled Castes origin converted to Christianity are not available) reveal that in terms of literacy and education levels, work participation rate, etc. Christians are way ahead of other major religious groups (other than Jains) like Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Buddhists. For example, as per 2001 census, the literacy rate for Christians is 80.3 per cent against 65.1 per cent for Hindu 59.1 per cent for Muslims, 69.4 per cent for Sikhs, 72.7 per cent for Buddhists and 64.8 per cent for all religions. This lead holds good both for males and for females. In the case of Scheduled Castes the literacy rate is 54.60 per cent and work participation rate is 42.9 per cent. The work participation rate for Christians at 39.7 per cent is the highest among religious communities after Buddhist (40.6 per cent) and Hindus (40.4 per cent). However, the work participation rate in respect of females in Christian community (28.7 per cent) is the second highest after female Buddhists (31.7 per cent) and ahead of Hindu (27.5 per cent), Muslims (14.1 per cent) and Sikhs (20.2 per cent). Literacy rate of Muslims at 59.1 per cent is lower than the all India average (64.8 per cent) though higher than that of Scheduled Castes. However, up to the primary education level, the per centage of Muslims is highest at 66.31 per cent as compared to Hindus 54.91 per cent, Christians 45.79 per cent, Sikhs 46.70 per cent Buddhist 54.69 per cent and Jains 29.51 per cent. The above indicators are pointers to the fact that in terms of important indices like literacy and work participation, Christians are somewhat better off compared to their counterparts in other religions while Muslims are by and large comparable.
Both Islam and Christianity do not accept ‘caste system’ which is a basic feature of Hinduism. It may also be mentioned that discrimination on the grounds of caste/ untouchability within a religious community that does not recognise, much less sanctify, caste system calls for internal reforms within the religion and community-based interventions rather than governmental intervention for inducting them into the caste system from which they chose to move to an egalitarian religion.
Granting Scheduled Castes status to such converts by the government may amount to formal introduction of caste system in Islam/Christianity and changing the basic tenets of the religion, which will be outside the
jurisdiction of both the Parliament and the Judiciary.
Any procedure adopted to identify the SC converts to Christianity and Islam at this stage even if a cut-off date is fixed is bound to produce innumerable problems that will hazard rational and equitable decision for identifying those truly eligible. The chances of abuse and of the ineligible siphoning benefits at the cost of deserving are tremendous. Even for the castes that are listed there is enough evidence that false certificates are being obtained. In fact, what is necessary is to ensure equitable treatment to converts from Hinduism or any other religion to another who continue to be socially and economically backward, for protection and access to services for their socio-economic uplift. Uniform law for dealing with untouchability already exists. PCR Act is applicable to all.
During the workshop held on “Social Economic and Educational Status of Muslims: Problems and Policy Options” organised by the Commission in collaboration with Indian Institute of Public Administration the Muslim scholars opined that there are three globally accepted determinants of socio-economic backwardness, namely child mortality, degree of urbanisation and the average life expectancy at birth. As far as the Muslim community is concerned, they are ahead of the majority community in this regard. In the circumstances, they were of the view that the frequent attempts to provide religion-based reservations to Muslims cannot be justified either constitutionally or ethically. They were also of the opinion that non-acceptance of small family norm and abysmally low female work participation are responsible for relatively lower per capita income of the Muslim community. Both of these are controlled by the powerful clergy of the community. No amount of reservations can cure this situation. The solution lies in rescuing the community from clutches of fundamentalist scholars and mullahs. Therefore, the Constitution should be amended to introduce affirmative action programmes for those minorities, which are educationally backward and under represented in legislative bodies and civil services. They also suggested that a common civil code should be formulated.
The Scheduled Castes organisations have also been demanding that if despite their request the Scheduled Caste status is given to converts to Christianity and Islam, this should not be at their cost, i.e. it should not affect the reservation quota and other privileges/benefits available to them.
The solution lies not in expanding the list of castes and numbers for inclusion in the SC list. In fact a fresh assessment of the lists of SC persons is a dire necessity to identify those who still remain below pollution levels. After almost 60 years of concerted efforts, we need to move towards removing all differences as prescribed in the Constitution on the basis of religion, caste, creed, class, etc. and evolving a uniform methodology for identifying the socially and economically backward in the country so that benefits from services, programmes and policies and legal and other protections against abuse or exploitation are provided on an equal basis without any discrimination to the deprived and/or socially and economically backward.
In view of the preceding discussion with reference to the issues mentioned in para 3 of the note my views are as follows: (i) There is no justification for inclusion of SC converts to Christianity or SC converts to Islam as Scheduled Castes. (ii) The Constitution (SC) Order 1950 issued under Article 341 of the Constitution read with Article 15(4) is religion based. Therefore, the condition of ‘religion’ from para 3 of the order should not be deleted. (iii) The ceiling of 50 per cent of reservation should continue as has been adjudicated by the Supreme Court. (iv) As SC converts to Christianity/Islam do not qualify for inclusion as SCs, they should continue to form part of OBCs and avail of facilities and reservations given to the OBCs until a comprehensive list of SEBs is prepared.
Excerpts from Dissent Note on Conferment of Scheduled Caste Status on SC Converts to Christianity and Islam by the writer, Member-Secretary, Ranganath Misra Commission
Based on our deliberations, understanding, field visits and above all path; guidance by the Holy Spirit we suggest following steps for the future:
- Convinced that the ‘National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities’ (NCRLM) will bring great harm to the growth of Church in India in future we oppose the implementation of this report. It is also contrary to the principles of Christianity and will “legalise” caste system in Christianity. Reservation is being given on the basis of “religion” which is unconstitutional as the caste is not recognised under the Canon laws.
- It is deeply regretful that the commission has totally rejected and condemned the views and suggestions given by the member secretary Mrs. Asha Das, which was based on historical evidences and social root ground.
- We appeal to the World Council of Churches and the Vatican to appoint a religious commission to determine whether caste system is applicable in Christianity or not. We also appeal to the Islamic intellectuals around the world to examine the recommendations of the Ranganath Misra Report in the light of the teachings of the Holy Quran. If the world wide religious leaders and theologians agree with the recommendations of the Ranganath Commission Report then we have no objections to accept it. Currently not all Christians are in favour of clubbing Christians (from whatever previous caste background) under the Dalit Christians.
- In view that the Church in India runs largest number of schools and hospitals we urge the church authorities in India to implement the main recommendations of the NCRLM (Ranganath Misra report) in the Church institutions.
- We urge the Hindu Dalit intellectuals to carefully examine the recommendations. We are in favour of reservations to Christians on the basis of poverty not on the basis of their caste background. The government may identify Below Poverty Line (BPL) Christian families and give them all the facilities.
- All over the country the Christian public properties are being sold. We demand that the Government of India nationalise the public institutions like hospitals, colleges and church land which are being sold to private parties due to various reasons. We oppose the sale of Christian hospital, church land of Barely, Jaipur, Jhansi, Jabalpur, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Delhi and other places.
In fact the problems related to the Christians of Dalit background is more within the Church structure and not outside. There is a strong need for internal reform which no legal provisions can bring. Can we really expect that reservations based on caste tag would remove the problems? The experience shows that it would rather further strengthen it. Because after getting reservations no one would like to do away with the caste tag in order to get the benefits. Church in India must help and design a long term rehabilitation plan to remove the Christians form “polluted jobs”.
Today the Christians are employed in the private sector in good numbers this is due to their sincerity, honesty and dedication to their jobs. This is a Christian value. Once the reservation on the basis of caste is accepted the jobs in private sector would dry up even for deserving Christians. These are reflections on the current situation which regrettably sound negative. But the very fact that we are aware and concerned about this matter is cause for optimism. Our sole motivation is the honour of God and the well being of God’s people. We continue to pray.”Thy Kingdom Come”
(Excerpts from Ranganath Misra Commission Report: A Brief Description and a Critique)