New Delhi, January 21, 2011
Supreme Court to examine quota benefit to Dalit converts
The Supreme Court on Friday decided to examine the issue of extending
reservation to Dalit Christians and Muslims under the category of
Scheduled Castes, six years after the issue was brought up before it.
The Court sought the views of the National Commission for Scheduled
Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic
Minorities (NCRLM) saying important Constitutional issues arise from a
bunch of petitions on the issue.
A Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices K.S. Radhakrishan
and Swatanter Kumar also appointed senior advocate T.R. Andhyrujina as
amicus curiae to assist the Court in the matter in which the petitions
have been filed both in favour and against extending the benefit of
reservation to Dalits who have converted to other faiths.
The Bench said some questions need to be examined on the issue in the
context of the President's Order of 1950 which identified the castes
to be brought under the reservation policy and posted the matter for
hearing on February 24.
It said the first question that is required to be examined is whether
the "Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950", which says that no
person other than those who profess the religion of Hinduism, Buddhism
and Sikhism will considered as Scheduled Castes is void and in
violation of Article 14, 15, 19 and 25 of the Constitution.
The second question is whether a Scheduled Caste person belonging to
religious faith other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism are entitled
to the benefit of reservation.
The third question that has to be answered is whether exclusion of
other religions from "Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950" is
valid or not.
The "Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950" lists 1,108 castes
across 25 states in its first schedule which are benefited by
During the last hearing, the Bench had termed the issue as "sensitive"
and "important" and had said it might refer the matter for examination
by a larger bench, if required.
It had said it would also examine the meaning of 'caste' in terms of
Articles 16(4) and 15(4) of the Constitution which deal with
reservation in state jobs and empowerment of socially and
educationally backward classes and ensure that none of the interested
groups is left out from being heard.
The bench had said it would bring the issue in public domain by
putting it on the Supreme Court's website.
The Court was informed that during the previous hearings, the Centre
had said it would study the report of a commission which examined the
issue of granting Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians for
extending benefits of reservation to them.
The Centre had said it would go through the report of the NCSC before
presenting the Centre's view on the issue.
The NCSC has come out with its report after going through the
recommendations of the NCRLM headed by former Chief Justice of India
The petitioners submitted that the matter has been pending since 2004
and has sought an early hearing on the issue.
The court had in January 2008 said there was no urgency in the matter
as the Presidential order of 1950 has been challenged.
The Centre had in June 2007 maintained that the NCRLM in its report
had found substance in the points raised for granting Scheduled Castes
status to Dalits who have converted to Christianity.
The bench said the issue is sensitive as it would also have to see
what would happen if religious conversion was due to extraneous
reasons, that is, only to secure the benefits of reservation.
"That is why, we want to understand the meaning of caste. It is a very
important issue and proper understanding of the meaning of caste is
needed," the bench had said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, Centre for Public
Interest Litigation, which had first filed the petition on the issue,
submitted if Dalits within Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism can be
extended the benefit of reservation, there should be no reason why
Dalits converted to other religions too should not be accorded the
He had said that despite adopting other religions like Christianity,
Dalits continued to be saddled with same socio-economic disabilities.
Solicitor-General Gopal Subramanium, who maintained that the
government was examining the issue, had said Dalits converting to
Islam have also sought reservation and were still carrying the same
There are petitions opposing the plea for granting reservation to
Dalit Christians on the ground that there has been no concept of caste
The PIL had said as reservation was available to Dalits in Hinduism,
Buddhism and Sikhism, there was no reason why Dalit Christians should
be deprived of the benefit.
The CPIL had contended that paragraph three of the President's
"Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950" was coming in the way of
granting SC status to Dalit Christians.
The NGO had submitted that it was the right time the court strikes
down the order requiring all Dalits to belong to a particular religion
if they were to avail the reservation benefits as it goes beyond the
mandate of Article 341(1) and violates the fundamental right
guaranteed under the Constitution.
All India United Christians Movement for Equal Rights had said the
Congress government had in 1996 brought a Bill in the Lok Sabha to
amend para three of the "Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950"
for extending reservation benefits to Dalit Christians.
The CPIL had claimed that social standing of Dalits, even after
converting to Christianity, has not changed and they have to face
discrimination even in churches.
The NCRLM, which had prepared its report after visiting various
states, had examined whether the SC converts suffer from social
disabilities like untouchability even after embracing Christianity.
The demand for granting SC status to Dalit Christians has been opposed
in several quarters, including the SC/ST Commission which contended
that they cannot enjoy two rights — that is of minority and SCs.
The CPIL had contended that the earlier court rulings were given on
the basis of scanty material and claimed the petitioners had
"overwhelming" material to support their claim for reservation for
Citing a 2005 ruling of the Supreme Court, where it was said that even
if a tribal converted to Christianity, he or she could still avail the
reservation benefits as his/her status as ST remained unchanged, the
CPIL had said the same law should be applicable to Dalits after their
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