Tuesday, August 2, 2011

[ZESTCaste] The Unending Struggle of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims for Equality: S. Japhet and Y. Moses


The Unending Struggle of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims for
Equality: S. Japhet and Y. Moses
July 28, 2011

by Shivam Vij

On the sidelines of a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar today

Guest post by S. JAPHET and Y. MOSES

Religious minorities, both Christians and Muslims from different parts
of the country have converged in Delhi to demand reservations for
Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. This is part of a long standing
struggle demanding the Government to introduce a bill to amend the
constitution to include Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the
scheduled Castes list. The Christian community has been agitating
since the promulgation of the Presidential Order Government of India
1950 that effectively prevents those professing religions other than
Hinduism from being considered as Scheduled Castes. It has been argued
that the 1950 Order violates Article 15 that prohibits discrimination
on grounds of religion, race or caste and Article 25 that gives the
right to all citizens to profess and practise any religion according
to his or her choice. The demand is that affirmative action or
positive discrimination of dalits, providing reservations in
government jobs, educational institutions and representation in
Parliament and state legislatures should be extended to all dalits
irrespective of whatever religion they may profess and practise.

Christians have taken up this issue of exclusion and discrimination
with successive Prime Ministers, Presidents and political parties and
have organised rallies and dharnas from time to time demonstrating
their numerical strength and unity of purpose.  None of these efforts
have yielded the desired result, although there were times when it
seemed that they were close to getting the government introduce a bill
to amend the constitution to include Dalit Christians and Dalit
Muslims as Scheduled Castes. One such occasion was during the congress
regime in 1996 when a bill was crafted and tabled by the Social
welfare Ministry but was not admitted by the Speaker for want of seven
days statutory notice. Thereafter, there were also attempts in 1997
during the United Democratic Front government to introduce the bill.
But the agitating Christian community has found the parliamentary
route rather slippery since political parties, especially the Congress
party is high on expressing sympathies and support outside the
parliament than inside it. Even the 1996 attempt to introduce the bill
is seen more as a pretence and ploy than a serious effort to meet the
popular demand of the Christian community.

The alternative route to justice for Dalit Christians (DCs) and Dalit
Muslims (DMs) is through the judicial process. There are writ
petitions challenging the 1950 presidential order pending before the
Supreme Court of India. Here again, the UPA government is adopting
evasive methods to prevent a Court verdict on the issue. It sought
several adjournments since 2005 and has adopted the tactics of
constituting commissions and committees in response to the court's
order. The Ranganath Mishra Commission it had set up in 2005 submitted
its report in May 2007, which was again referred to the National
Commission for Scheduled Castes for further examination. Both the
commissions are in favour of extending constitutional protection and
guarantees to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims as available to their
counterparts professing Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. In this
context it is important to note here that the 1950 Presidential Order
was amended twice earlier in 1956 and 1990 to include Dalit Sikhs and
Dalit Muslims respectively.

The apparent reason for postponing the issue by the UPA government is
the objection from certain sections of Hindu dalits who fear
additional groups would eat into their limited quota of 15%. This need
not be the case because the quota for SCs and STs is revised from time
to time in proportion to their population. The numbers of the new
groups do not add up to upset the applecart. In any case, the point of
quota limitation does not justify the exclusion of a people who suffer
similar socio-economic, political disabilities as their counterparts
in other religions. It has been proved beyond doubt by various studies
that Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam are thrice discriminated
by the State, caste Hindu society as well as by their co-religionists
of non-dalit background. A recent study commissioned by the National
Commission for Minorities makes this amply clear. It is worth
summarising the findings of this scientific study, conducted by Satish
Deshpande with the assistance of Geetika Bapna of the Department of
Sociology, University of Delhi and submitted in 2008.

Using survey methods with structured questionnaires, community based
investigations and enquiries and long-duration field work using
ethnographic techniques, this study states "there can be no doubt
whatsoever that Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians are socially known
and treated as distinct groups within their own religious communities
and that these groups are treated as 'socially inferior'…."in most
social contexts, DMs and DCs are Dalits first and Muslims and
Christians only second. The report emphasises that the body of
evidence taken as a whole is unambiguously clear on the fact that
there is no compelling evidence to justify denying SC status to DMs
and DCs. Dispelling doubts over the negative impact it can have on
percentage quota in including these groups, the report maintains that
the numbers of both DMs and DCs according to the NSSO (National Sample
Survey Organisation) estimates will be under three million only, a
number that would hardly justify a 'lifeboat' type argument. The
report reinforces the demand of agitating communities that DMs and DCs
are not so distinct from other Dalit groups that an argument for
treating them differently could be sustained.

It should also be remembered that in several cases of atrocities
committed against Dalits , majority of the victims were dalit
Christians as in the case of Karamchedu and Chundur. These victims
were attacked not because they were Christians but because they were
untouchables. Therefore the problem of Dalit converts to Christianity
and Islam is more a social problem than a religious one. Despite their
conversion their socio-economic status has not altered or changed.
Rather, it has worsened their condition without constitutional legal
support. Therefore the struggle of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims
is a legitimate demand for equal rights and full citizenship.

(Dr S. Japhet is Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion
and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India University.
Dr. Y Moses is Senior Researcher there.)


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