Ending the speculations over the reservations for Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity the Central Government on Thursday appointed a commission headed by former Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan to examine the matter of giving Scheduled Caste status to the people who despite being historically belonging to SC communities couldn’t find themselves enlisted due to their conversion to religion other than Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.
According to a gazette notification issued by Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry the three-member team also includes retired IAS officer Dr Ravinder Kumar Jain and UGC member Prof Sushma Yadav.
The commission will examine the matter in line with the Presidential Orders issued from time to time under article 341 of the Constitution. Under this article the president has the power to identify ‘race, tribes, castes or other groups’ who could be considered as SCs.
The very first order under this provision came in 1950 to include Dalit Hindus followed by 1956 and 1990 when Dalits of Sikh and Buddhist community had been accommodated.
The commission will also look into the implications of such reservation on the existing scheduled caste communities. To understand whether the discriminations go on even after the conversions, the panel will examine the changes in customs, traditions, and the status of social deprivation post-conversion.
The progress came following a hearing in Supreme Court on August 30 where solicitor general Tushar Mehta promised to submit the stand of the Government within three weeks on the possibilities of extending reservations to the Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity. The top court was hearing a bunch of petitions that asked for the delinking of caste reservation from the religion.
Commissions formed by Earlier Governments
There have been consecutive efforts by different governments to examine the life conditions of the religious minorities in the country. UPA I Government under the Prime Ministership of Dr. Manmohan Singh formed two panels – first, National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, known as Ranganath Mishra commission after the name of its chairperson and second, a high-level committee under the former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar.
Sachar committee found despicable socio-economic condition of the Muslims in the country and said in some cases the conditions of Muslims are even worse than Dalits. The reports couldn’t find any formidable improvements among Dalit converts to Islam as well.
On the other, Ranganath Mishra Commission recommended 10% reservation for Muslims and 5% for other minorities in the government jobs. One of the prominent suggestions of Mishra commission was the delinking of Scheduled Castes from religion. It recommended the abrogation of 1950 Scheduled Caste order that excludes ‘Christians, Muslims, Jains and Parsis from the SC net’. However, citing the inadequate data, the recommendations were not adopted.
In 2008, however, National Commission of Minorities commissioned a study under the renowned sociologist Satish Deshpande to look into three domains- the economic situation of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians, a comparison with their Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist brethren and an examination of their continuation of caste baggage.
On several grounds ranging from inter-caste marriage to spatial segregation, this commission found formidable discrimination against the Dalit converts. However, these reports also couldn’t lead to any prolific development.
A Certain Change in BJP’s voice
While the BJP has always attacked Congress-led Governments with the Muslim-appeasement jibes, the political observers say it is now BJP’s turn to prove otherwise for themselves. Politically known as Muslim-baiter, the far-right organisation historically never supported such steps of extending the reservation to the Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity.
During the debates on Ranganath Mishra commission, BJP leader Nitin Gadkari slammed the then Government for appeasement and called for throwing the reports to the dustbin. Interestingly, BJP has always been against such reservations to any religious group that they consider ‘alien’.
Their ideological forefather V D Savarkar’s idea of conflating of ‘holy land’ and ‘father land’ as determining ground to be ‘Indian’ doesn’t allow Muslims and Christians to be ‘fully Indians’ despite their centuries of belonging.
However, the recent softening in the stance of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat following his meeting with a few Muslim intellectuals may have encouraged the transition.
While the step is read as a welcome move by many, a few political cynics believe that it is another effort of the BJP to weaken the unity among Muslims through the caste card. In last few years Muslims have got united several times against several legislations that pitted them against the current ruling dispensation.