Quota for Dalit Christians and Muslims: Supreme Court wonders if Rangnath Misra panel report can be relied upon : The Tribune India

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Quota for Dalit Christians and Muslims: Supreme Court wonders if Rangnath Misra panel report can be relied upon

Govt counsel said the court should wait for the new commission’s findings on the contentious issue

Quota for Dalit Christians and Muslims: Supreme Court wonders if Rangnath Misra panel report can be relied upon

Photo used for representational purpose only. iStock



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, April 12

As the Centre refuses to accept Justice Rangnath Misra Commission’s recommendation to extend the benefit of reservation to Dalits converted to Christianity and Islam, the Supreme Court on Wednesday wondered if the empirical data from the report can be relied upon by it to decide the issue.

“There was Justice Ranganath Misra Commission. It gave its report and you, in your own wisdom, said you do not accept it. You constituted another commission. Should we wait till the commission responds?” a Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul asked Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, who said the court should wait for the new commission’s findings on the contentious issue. The new commission headed by Justice KG Balakrishnan was doing its work and relevant data had to be collected, the ASG said.

The Bench – which also included Justice A Amanullah and Justice Aravind Kumar -- was hearing petitions seeking the benefit of reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.

It wanted to know what was the effect of the commission’s 2007 report that has been rejected by the government and if the empirical data which formed its basis could be relied upon while determining a constitutional issue.

During the hearing, the Bench noted that social stigma and religious stigma were different things and social stigma might continue even after a person converted to another religion. “We cannot shut our eyes when we are considering constitutional questions,” it said, posting the matter for further hearing on July 11.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 says that no person professing a religion other than Hinduism or Sikhism, or Buddhism can be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste. However, Muslim and Christian groups have been demanding similar status for Dalits who have converted to Christianity or Islam, saying the restriction went against their fundamental right to equality, religious freedom, and non-discrimination.

The petitioners contended that the change in religion did not change social exclusion and caste hierarchy continues to hold fort within Christianity even though the religion forbids it and the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 was discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 (equality before law) and 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste etc) of the Constitution as it discriminated against Scheduled Caste converts to religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.

Maintaining that there was more than enough material to proceed with the hearing, petitioners’ counsel Prashant Bhushan said there was no reason for the court to wait for the report of the new commission. He said almost two decades have gone by since filing of the petition in 2004, he said.

The NDA government, which rejected Justice Misra’s report, appointed a three-member commission headed by former CJI KG Balakrishnan in October 2022 to examine if Schedule Caste status can be given to those members of SC community who have converted to Christianity or Islam. The first Dalit CJI, Justice Balakrishnan also served as the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission.

The Centre has asserted that "the object of the reservations and identification of Scheduled Castes is over and beyond the 'social and economic backwardness'… the identification of scheduled castes is centered around a specific social stigma [and the connected backwardness with such stigma] that is limited to the communities identified in the Constitution [Scheduled Castes] Order, 1950."

It said the nature of conversions to Buddhism has been different from that of conversions to Christianity. Scheduled Castes converts to Buddhism embraced Buddhism voluntarily at the call Dr. Ambedkar in 1956 on account of some innate socio-political imperatives. The original castes/ community of such converts can clearly be determined. This cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims who might have converted on account of other factors, since the process of such conversions has taken place over the centuries".

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