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Reservation for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians

The third part of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) states that:
No person who professes a religion different from Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste.[1]

In India, most people in the Dalit community of Muslims and Christians consist of people who have converted into Christianity and Islam due to discrimination. In India, there is not much data on the Dalit Muslima and the Dalit Christians. The caste factor is not traditionally associated with Islam or Christianity. It is traditionally associated with Hindu Culture.[2]

Estimated Population of Dalits in Major Religions

(NSSO estimate of caste shares applied to Census religion totals)
Rural India Urban India
Major
Religious
Communities
Census 2001 Count of Population (Lakhs) NSSO 2004-05 Estimate of Dalit Pop Share (%) Estimated Dalit Population (Lakhs)  Census 2001 Count of Population (Lakhs) NSSO 2004-05 Estimate of Dalit Pop Share (%) Estimated Dalit Population (Lakhs)
Hindus 61,12.6 23.35 14,27.3 21,63.2 18.20 3,93.7
Muslims 8,87.9 0.55 4.9 4,93.9 0.63 3.1
Christians 1,58.9 9.40 14.9 81.9 10.51 8.6
Source: National Commission for Minorities, NSS, 61st Round, 2004-05.[3]

What is Reservation?

The reservation system in India is an affirmative action system that provides quota to the backward classes of the country in terms of education, jobs, and politics. It allows the Indian government to create reserved quotas or seats for "socially and economically backward persons" based on provisions in the Indian Constitution that lower the criteria required in tests, job vacancies, and other situations.[4]

The caste system in India is one of the oldest social systems, which still has huge control over the Hindu religion. One of Hinduism's distinguishing feature is caste, which refers to a complex set of social systems based on ceremonial purity. A person's caste is determined from his birth. It is based on a system called the 'varna system; which has four varnas; Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Shudras.[5] During the Vedic era, they were categorized based on their occupation. There is one more category under the Shudra that does not fall under the varna system. They are called 'Avarnas.' They are also known as Dalits, Harijans, Lower Caste. This category is the present-day Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The Scheduled Castes have faced discrimination along with the practice of untouchability for centuries. Untouchability, in its overt and covert forms, was made a cognizable and non-compoundable offence under the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and strict punishment was given for any such offence.[6]

Though the practice of untouchability is abolished in the constitution in 1950, it is still present in rural India. In the urban areas of India, one would not see the practice of untouchability physically, but it can be seen with the segregation of resident housing. In many rural areas, people are not allowed to use basic amenities like wells, enter temples, etc. The 2006 Khairlanji massacre and the 2020 Hathras gang rape[7] and murder case also showed the situation of the present-day Scheduled Castes in rural areas.[8]

The aim of providing reservations in facilities to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) is to provide employment to certain members of these groups. It primarily aims to inspire them and ensure their inclusion in the state's decision-making process.

Conversion

There is not enough data on Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in India. It is estimated that 20 million Christians in India, out of which seventy percent belong to the Dalit community. They include Pulayans in Kerala, Parihas in Tamil Nadu, Tigalas in Karnataka, Malas in Andhra Pradesh, Chamars in MP, UP, and Bihar, Churahas in Punjab, Wankars in Gujrat, Mahars in Maharashtra, etc. The Dalit Muslims are scattered in all the parts of India.[9]

The people who converted into other religions from Hinduism to escape from the discrimination had to face discrimination even after converting. Many people did not convert to Buddhism as the Neo-Buddhists had to face discrimination after converting, so they chose Christianity and Islam.[10]

There have been many cases where Dalits have converted themselves into clusters. In 2020, 430 people from the Dalit community converted themselves into Islam due to the injustice faced.[11] Many people from the Hindu Dalit community believe that converting to another religion will help them escape the prejudices from the caste system. But even after converting, they are discriminated against into sub caste. Despite their conversion, Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are still denied access to "land, water, and dignity." And among them, the women have to face more discrimination; one for being of a lower caste and the second for being a woman.[12]

India Untouched

India Untouched is a documentary directed by Stalin K. It covers the caste-based prejudices all over India. In the words of Stalin K, "Quite sadly, many of the practices documented in this film still continue after more than ten years of making it. I had made this with an intention to cut through the denial surrounding untouchability and discrimination. Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards finding a solution."[13]

It was observed in the documentary Caste-based discrimination is still common in India today. Separate churches for Dalit and non-Dalit Christians existed in the states of Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. There were separate cemeteries as well. In Gujrat, the Christians who converted from Wankar, Valmiki, and other Dalit communities into Christianity were not allowed to get housing in the Patel-dominated area. In the state of Kerala, the religion of Christianity is less followed from the bible and more from the caste consciousness. There are different Churches for Pulaya Christians and Paraya Christians. Since the Dalits have started converting into Christianity, other religions have started to distance themselves from Christianity.

The Dalit Muslims are scattered in all the parts of India. It was observed in the documentary that there is a division of Muslims on the basis of caste. Untouchability is practiced by many people belonging to Khan, Sheikh, Syed, and Pathan community against the Nat, Pamadiya, Halalkhor, Bhangi, Bhat, and Dhobi Muslim communities. In many states, the mosques and the cemeteries are different for the Dalit Muslims and the non-Dalit Muslims.

Reservation

Many people from the Dalit community still faced discrimination even after converting to another religion. The First Backward Classes Commission, also known as the Kalelkar Commission headed by Kaka Kalelkar, recommended in 1955 that "before the disease of caste is killed, all information about it must be recorded and classified in a scientific manner as in a clinical record" and that this could be done in the 1961 Census, if not earlier in 1957.[14]

In 1969, the first Parliamentary Committee on Untouchability, Economic and Educational Advancement of the Scheduled Castes, determined that "all Scheduled Castes who convert to religions other than Hinduism should be given all concessions available to Scheduled Castes."[15]

Christians and neo-Buddhists (Dalit Buddhist converts) demand caste concessions as well, according to a 1983 report by a High-Power Panel on Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Weaker Sections. It said, "the Presidential Order of 1950 is suitably amended to include all Scheduled Caste converts irrespective of the religion of their conversion so as to make them eligible for all these concessions".[16]

Following the recommendations, converted Sikhs were included to the Scheduled Castes group in 1956, and Buddhists were added in 1990, but Muslims and Christians were left out.

The Dalit Muslims are scattered in all the parts of India. It was observed in the documentary that there is a division of Muslims on the basis of caste. In recent years, the wider Muslim identity has been under such strain that internal distinction has become blurred. Even class, which used to be a trustworthy protector for all religions in India, no longer protects Muslims. Muslims have the least economic disparity because they are mainly poor, while Christians have far more inequality because some parts are wealthy.[17]

The Constitution of India provides SCs with a variety of protections and advantages that Dalit Muslims and Christians do not have. The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act establishes special courts to prosecute crimes against marginalized communities and provide victims with redress and rehabilitation. Muslims and Christians from Dalit communities are unable to run for seats in constituencies reserved for SCs.

In India, there is a lack of data regarding Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians. In a separate endeavour called the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), the Centre planned to enumerate overall caste data prior to the previous Census in 2011, but the data were not published.

There are approximately 3.2 million Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in India, according to a 2008 report done by the National Commission for Minorities. However, since the caste information it uses is focused entirely on responses obtained by enumerators, who are not allowed to check the data they collect, this is likely to be an underestimation. According to the report, 47% of Dalit Muslims in urban India stay below the poverty line in 2004-2005. This is a higher percentage when compared to Hindu Dalits and Christian Dalits.[18] Limited data on various caste groups will make it difficult to make informed policy and welfare decisions.

Source: Computed from NSSO 61st Round data.[19]

In the 2006 Rajinder Sachar Report, it was observed that the social and economic of Dalits Muslims and Dalit Christians did not change even after conversion. The report said, "Despite this, they have been deprived of SC status available to their Hindu counterparts."[20]

Soon after the Sachar Committee report, in 2007, the Rangnath Mishra Commission, or the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities acknowledged the vulnerable condition of Dalit Muslims and emphasized that their inclusion in the Scheduled Castes list, along with Dalit Christians, could reinforce Dalit unity and make them more assertive. It suggested a sub-quota of 8.4 percent for minorities within the OBC quota of 27 percent, as well as a reservation for Dalit minorities within the Scheduled Castes quota of 15 percent.[21]

If they ever find out I'm a Christian, I will lose my position, no question about it- says a Dalit schoolteacher who dresses in Hindu garb when teaching in a state school near Mediapalli, but decorates his Hyderabad flat with images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.[22]

In the book Masawat Ki Jung by activist turned politician by Ali Anwar, the author has covered the discrimination faced by Dalit Muslims by the upper caste. The author talks about lower-caste Muslims such as:
Julaha (weavers), halalkhor, lalbegi (scavengers), bhatiara, gorkan (gravediggers), bakkho, pamaria, mirshikar, darzi, nat, chik, rangrez, among others, and their hardships.[23] Professor Ashwini Deshpande speaking at the South Asia Centre, said that:
There is a strong view that asking respondents about their caste will solidify caste divisions, whereas the aim of independent India was towards obliterating caste distinctions.[24]

According to a report, the Scheduled Caste citizens earn 21% less than the national average income of the country.[25] This indicates that the Dalit community is economically weaker than the national average even in the present era. Dalits and other backward Muslims and Christians have been categorized as Other Backward Classes in several states, like as Kerala and Karnataka, allowing them to work and attend schools.[26]

Estimated Class Composition of Dalits in India, 2004-05

Rural India Urban India
Below Poverty Line  Rs.357-450 451-650 651-1200 Rs.1200 + Below Poverty Line Rs.539-800 801-1250 1251-2500 Rs.2500 +
Hindus 37.7 23.6 25.0 11.7 2.0 40.9 28.3 21.2 8.1 1.6
Muslims 39.6 15.8 37.1 4.9 2.6 46.8 33.1 9.8 10.3 0.0
Christians 30.1 33.5 14.0 16.4 6.1 32.3 30.9 22.0 12.7 2.1
Source: Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.[27]

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination formally rebuked India earlier this year for refusing Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam affirmative-action benefits and demanded that the prohibition be lifted.[28]


In January 2020, the Supreme Court of India decided to consider a case from the National Council of Dalit Christians, a private organisation, to make reservations "religious neutral" so that Dalits and Muslims might benefit equally. In court, the case is still pending.[29]

In the case of C.M Arumugam vs. S. Rajgopal, the appellant and the first respondent have long been adversaries in the electoral war. They have been running for election to the Mysore Legislative Assembly from the 68 KGF constituency. They stood against one other as candidates from this seat in the 1967 General Election to the Mysore Legislative Assembly.

Only members of scheduled castes were eligible to run for this seat because it was now a reserved seat for scheduled castes. The appellant subsequently filed an Election Petition challenging the first respondent's election on the grounds that, at the time he filed his nomination, he was not an Adi Dravida who followed Hinduism, and hence was not qualified to contest for the reserved seat from the 68 KGF constituency. The court had to decide whether a person who was a member of the Adi Dravida caste before converting to Christianity could rejoin his caste after converting to Hinduism.

The court has shifted the decision-making responsibility to the society in this ruling. It claims that switching from Hinduism to another religion does not necessarily mean losing one's caste. However, whether an individual will cease to belong to a caste after rejecting Hinduism must ultimately depend on the structure of caste and its rules and regulations.

As a result, it cannot be stated as a universally applicable absolute law that when a member of a caste converts from Hinduism to Christianity, he loses his caste membership. Real, he will normally cease to be a member of the caste upon conversion to Christianity, but this is not always the case. It will be determined by the caste's structure, laws, and regulations. There are castes in India, especially in South India, where conversion has no repercussions because such castes include both Hindus and Christians. Whether Adi Dravida is a caste that fits into this category or not is a question that must be answered based on the evidence presented in this case.

Furthermore, the court held that given the nature of a caste as it has developed over time, conversion from Hinduism to another religion does not result in caste loss since members of the caste can be of any religion. This can occur when caste is determined by economic or occupational characteristics rather than religious affiliation or when caste solidarity is so deep that conversion to another religion does not break the connection between the convert and the social community. This is a common occurrence in South India, where a person's caste status is maintained even after conversion to Christianity in some caste.[30]

In a recent case in February 2021, the Dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu protested against the discrimination which they faced.

"We have faced discrimination within the Church as well as in civil society for the past several decades, not only in Tamil Nadu but also in some other states, and our demand remains the same - to treat Dalit Christians equally."[31]

To this, law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stated in Rajya Sabha that Dalit converts to Islam or Christianity cannot claim reservation benefits.[32] This indicates that even today, the Dalit non-Hindus are facing problems of discrimination 74 years after independence.

Conclusion
The present situation is contradictory and unequal. There is a strong case for including Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in the Scheduled Caste group based solely on descriptive and statistical facts. If the reservation can be granted to Buddhists, then it makes no sense to not grant reservation to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.

The Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians mostly consist of the people who converted from the Hindu Dalit community due to centuries of discrimination and injustice. They are still discriminated against even after converting. Reservation for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians should be granted. Whether or not such prejudice can be proved in court, it will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the minds of all fair-minded Indians.

End-Notes:
  1. India Const. part 3
  2. Sobin George, Dalit Christians in India: Discrimination, Development Deficit, and the Question for Group Specific Policies, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, (2012), http://www.dalitstudies.org.in/uploads/publication/1473146694.pdf.
  3. Satish Deshpande, Geetika Bapna, Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities A Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge, Report Prepared for the National Commission for Minorities - Government of India, (2008),http://kscminorities.org/pdf/Status%20Report%20on%20Dalits_in_Christian_and_Muslim_Communities.pdf.
  4. Kailash Jeenger, Reservation Is About Adequate Representation, Not Poverty Eradication, The Wire, (May. 18, 2020), https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-bench-reservation.
  5. Akshay Shivdas, Varna System: The Forgotten Meaning, The International Research Journal of Social Sciences, E-ISSN 2319- 3565 Vol. (512), 42-46, (Dec, 2016), http://www.isca.in/IJSS/Archive/v5/i12/8.ISCA-IRJSS-2016-173.pdf.
  6. Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Rules (1995)
  7. S. M. Dahiwale, Khairlanji: Insensitivity of Mahar Officers, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 44, no. 31, 2009, pp. 29-33. (2009), www.jstor.org/stable/25663388.
  8. Anushree Joshi, There is Caste in the Hathras Gangrape, You Just Refuse to See It, Live Wire, (Oct. 01, 2020), https://livewire.thewire.in/gender-and-sexuality/there-is-caste-in-the-hathras-gangrape-you-just-refuse-to-see-it/.
  9. Prakash Louis, Dalit Christians: Betrayed by State and Church, Economic and Political Weekly, 42, no. 16 (2007), http://www.jstor.org/stable/4419488.
  10. Yoginder Sikand, A New Indian Muslim Agenda: The Dalit Muslims and the All-India Backward Muslim Morcha, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 21:2, 287-296, (2001), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1360200120092860?journalCode=cjmm20.
  11. Akshaya Nath, Over 430 Dalits convert to Islam in Coimbatore citing injustice, more conversions underway, India Today, (Feb. 12, 2020, 12:15 AM), https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/dalits-convert-islam-coimbatore-hindu-discrimination-injustice-1645564-2020-02-12.
  12. Bhupendra Yadav, What drives the Dalits to Christianity?, The Hindu, (Nov. 02, 2010. 10:07 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/books/What-drives-the-Dalits-to-Christianity/article15673403.ece.
  13. Stalin K, India Untouched, (2007), https://stalink.wordpress.com/documentaries/india-untouched/.
  14. Kaka Kalelkar, Report of the Baclward Classes Commission, Government of India, (1956)
  15. James, P. A., and G. Sreenivas Reddy, Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 14, no. 26, 1979, pp. 1100-1104. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4367742.
  16. High Power Panel on Minorities, SCs, STs & Other Weaker Classes, Report on Minorities, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, (1983), http://hdl.handle.net/123456789/9071.
  17. Sam Asher, Paul Novosad, Charlie Rafkin, Intergenerational Mobility in India: New Methods and Estimates Across Time, Space, and Communities, (Feb, 2021), https://paulnovosad.com/pdf/anr-india-mobility.pdf.
  18. Satish Deshpande, Geetika Bapna, Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities A Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge, (2008), http://14.139.60.153/bitstream/123456789/222/1/Study-DALITS%20IN%20THE%20MUSLIM%20AND%20CHRISTIAN%20COMMUNITIES.%20A%20STATUS%20REPORT%20ON%20CURRENT%20SOCIAL%20SCIENTIFIC%20KNOWLEDGE.pdf.
  19. Satish, supra note 2.
  20. Prime Minister's High Level Committee Cabinet Secretariat, Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India, (2006), http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/sachar_comm.pdf.
  21. Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ranganath Misra Commission Report), Ministry of Minority Affairs, (2007), http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/volume-1.pdf.
  22. Yaroslav Trofimov, In India, 'Untouchables' Convert To Christianity -- and Face Extra Bias, The Wall Street Journal, (Sept. 19, 2007, 11:59 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB119014428899931394.
  23. Ali Anwar, Masawat Ki Jung, (Indian Social Institute, 2005).
  24. Ashwini Deshpande, Even when class conditions are equalised, caste seems to have an independent effect on future life outcomes, The London School of Economics and Political Science, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2016/12/08/even-class-conditions-are-equalised-caste-seems-to-have-an-independent-effect-on-future-life-outcomes-ashwini.deshpande/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+IndiaAtLSE+%28India+at+LSE%29.
  25. Shreehari Paliath, Vast Income Inequalities Within Castes: Study. Top 10% Among Forward Castes Own 60% Wealth, India Spend, (Jan. 14, 2019), https://www.indiaspend.com/vast-income-inequalities-within-castes-study-top-10-among-forward-castes-own-60-wealth/.
  26. Shaju Philip, In election year, Kerala govt nod for OBC quota to Nadar Christians, The Indian Express, (Feb. 14, 2021, 07:41 AM), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/in-election-year-kerala-govt-nod-for-obc-quota-to-nadar-christians-7173526/.
  27. Perspective Planning Commission, Percentage of Population Below Poverty Line by Social Groups, 2004-05, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, http://socialjustice.nic.in/UserView/index?mid=76672.
  28. Yaroslav Trofimov, In India, 'Untouchables' Convert To Christianity -- and Face Extra Bias, The Wall Street Journal, (Sept. 19, 2007 11:59 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB119014428899931394.
  29. Krishnadas Rajagopal, SC to examine Dalit Christians' plea that reservation should be "religion neutral", The Hindu, (Jan. 08, 2020, 04:16 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sc-to-examine-dalit-christians-plea-that-reservation-should-be-religion-neutral/article30512888.ece.
  30. C. M. Arumugam vs S. Rajgopal & Others on 19 December, 1976 A.I.R. 939, 1976 S.C.R. (3) 82.
  31. Bijay Kumar Minj, Dalit Christians stage protest march in southern India, Union of Catholic Asian News, (Feb. 10, 2021, 04:57 AM), https://www.ucanews.com/news/dalit-christians-stage-protest-march-in-southern-india/91354#.
  32. Dalit converts to Christianity, Islam won't get quota, The Times of India, (Feb, 12, 2021, 04:19 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/dalit-converts-to-christianity-islam-wont-get-quota/articleshow/80871535.cms.

Suggested Articles On Reservation:

  1. Caste and Conversion in India
  2. Right to Reservation - A Fundamental Right
  3. Conversion And Reservation: Christian Dalits And The Obstacles To Social Mobility
  4. Status Of Other Backward Class And Reservation Policy In Jammu And Kashmir After Scrapping Of Article 370

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