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Scheduled Caste (SC) status for Dalit Christians

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Government Policies and Interventions

 

Source: TH

 Context: The Union Government established a commission, led by former Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, to explore the possibility of granting Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Dalit Christians.

  • The Tamil Nadu Assembly passed a resolution to amend the 1950 Presidential (SC) order to include them.
  • The Justice Ranganath Misra Commission (2007) and studies by Deshpande and Bapna (2008) favoured extending reservation benefits to Dalit Christians.

 

Hindu Dalits converted to Christianity to escape caste-based discrimination but haven’t achieved the expected equality due to lingering social hierarchies. The article highlights the need to recognize the unique struggles of Dalit Christians through the “Theory of Intersectionality,” which considers multiple forms of oppression like race, gender, and religion intersecting.

 

The term “Dalit Christians” reflects a distinct identity, challenging the misconception that conversion erases caste discrimination. The legal framework’s focus on single-axis categorization has led to exclusion, and amending the SC list through the 1950 order is proposed as a solution.

Constitutional Provisions Description
Article 15(4) Special provisions for the advancement of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).
Article 16(4A) Provides for reservation in promotion to certain posts in favour of SCs/STs where they are underrepresented.
Article 17 Abolishes Untouchability, ensuring the elimination of caste-based discrimination.
Article 46 Mandates the State to promote the educational and economic interests of weaker sections, particularly SCs and STs, and protect them from social injustice and exploitation.
Article 335 Requires considering the claims of SCs and STs in appointments to services and posts, balancing with administrative efficiency.
Article 330 and Article 332 Reserves seats in the House of the People (Parliament) and legislative assemblies of States respectively for SCs and STs.
Part IX and Part IXA of the Constitution Envisages and provides reservations for SCs and STs in local bodies (Panchayats and Municipalities).
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Who is included in the Constitution Order of 1950?

  • When enacted, the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950, initially provided for recognising only Hindus (with exceptions) as SCs, to address the social disability arising out of the practice of untouchability.
  • The Order was amended in 1956 to include Dalits who had converted to Sikhism (in entirety) and once more in 1990 to include Dalits who had converted to Buddhism. Both amendments were aided by the reports of the Kaka Kalelkar Commission in 1955 and the High-Powered Panel (HPP) on Minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in 1983 respectively.
  • The Union government in 2019 rejected the possibility of including Dalit Christians as members of SCs, rooting the exclusion on an Imperial Order of 1936 of the then colonial government, which had first classified a list of the Depressed Classes and specifically excluded “Indian Christians” from it.

  

Why are Dalit Christians excluded?

  • The Office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) had cautioned the government that SC status is meant for communities suffering from social disabilities arising out of the practice of untouchability, which it noted was prevalent in Hindu and Sikh communities.
  • It also noted that such a move would significantly swell the population of SCs across the country.
  • In 2001, RGI referred to a 1978 note and added that like Dalit Buddhists, Dalits who converted to Islam or Christianity belonged to different sets of caste groups and not just one, as a result of which they cannot be categorised as a “single ethnic group”, which is required by Clause (2) of Article 341 for inclusion.

  

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Scheduled Caste