Manmohan seeks consensus on quota for Dalit Christians, Muslims
Promises action "to allay fears and insecurity Christians are experiencing"
Chief Ministers will be asked to deal firmly with anti-Christian violence
Promises to act on the Saldanha report on violence against minorities
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured a Christian
delegation on Saturday that he was trying to evolve a consensus on
granting Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
He also said he would ask Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to speak
to the Chief Ministers, especially of Karnataka and Orissa, to deal
firmly with anti-Christian violence, and that he would personally
speak to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to seek a legal
reprieve from a Supreme Court directive, which had led to the
demolition by the Municipal Corporation of stone crosses, dating back
to the British and Portuguese times, in Mumbai.
In a press note, the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), a Mumbai-based NGO,
said Dr. Singh "listened patiently" to the delegation and assured it
that he would do all in his capacity "to allay the fears and
insecurity that Christians were experiencing." He said his government
was also "concerned about the unfortunate happenings and was aware of
the image it gave the country abroad," the note said.
The Prime Minister's assurance, at a 45-minute meeting at his
residence, on consensus comes little over a fortnight after
Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati briefed the Cabinet Committee on
Political Affairs on the long-standing demand by the Dalit Christians
and the Dalit Muslims that they be given reservation, the way Dalit
Buddhists are, as per the 1950 Presidential Order.
Mr. Vahanvati's briefing was given in the context of a public interest
litigation petition pending in the Supreme Court. At the last hearing,
the court asked the government whether the fact that the Dalit
Christians and the Dalit Muslims were deprived of the benefits of
reservation did not amount to hostile discrimination under Article 14.
The government will have to either justify upholding the 1950
Presidential Order or accept the Ranganath Misra Commission's
recommendation. The matter is expected to come up in the court some
time next month, it is learnt.
The government would have to deal with the matter soon, sources in the
government said, as a decision would impact on the promised caste
census: at present, there are no authentic figures for the various
Congress sources added that at present, the party was divided on the
issue: as things stand, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes
has said that if reservation is given to these two groups, it should
not be from the 15 per cent meant for the Dalits — it should be a
separate quota. The existing position on reservation at the national
level is: 27 per cent for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), 15 per
cent for the Scheduled Castes (or the Dalits) and 7.5 per cent for the
Scheduled Tribes. The three categories together account for 49.5 per
cent, and till now, the Supreme Court has ruled that reservation
should not exceed 50 per cent. Clearly, therefore, a decision one way
or the other will open a can of worms.
If the government, therefore, upholds the status quo, aggrieved groups
like the CSF may well challenge it in court, CSF sources said.
Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told the Prime Minister that the
government needed to act soon, "as its dithering was being viewed
negatively by the minorities as an instance of communalising the SC
benefits to support only the Dalits of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist
Those who met the Prime Minister included Archbishop Concessao,
Michael Saldanha, retired judge of the Bombay and Karnataka High
Courts; CSF general secretary Joseph Dias; and Sunil Sardar,
president, Truth Seekers International.
Justice Saldanha is the author of the report which holds Karnataka's
Bharatiya Janata Party government and the Hindutva brigade culpable
for the ongoing anti-minority violence in the State. The Prime
Minister, CSF sources said, promised to have the report examined and
action taken wherever required against the guilty.
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