After having to make do with funds from the Social Justice Ministry’s contingency Budget for the first four months of its functioning, the Commission of Inquiry to examine whether SC status can be given to Dalit Christians and Muslims has been allocated an amount of ₹3.05 crore in this year’s Budget.
Under pressure from the Supreme Court of India to clarify its present position on a batch of petitions seeking Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Christians and Muslims, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had formed the three-member Commission of Inquiry in October 2022.
However, even after months of forming the Commission, it is awaiting a full-time office space, secretarial staffers, and official email IDs to conduct correspondence through.
A Commission member had told The Hindu a couple of weeks before the Budget announcement, “The government has informed us that all our needs will be taken care of in the upcoming Budget allocation.”
The Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, has been given a total of two years to finish its studies and present a report to the government.
Commission members have told The Hindu that they intend to undertake field visits to as many States as possible for their work and examine the socio-economic condition in which such population live.
While issuing the terms of reference for the Commission, the government had said that the issue was a “seminal” one and that despite the demands for according SC status to Dalits who had over the years converted to Islam or Christianity, there was also a section of the society that was against this.
In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court in 2022, the Social Justice Ministry said that it expects the Commission to establish the “oppressive severity” of the discrimination faced by Dalit Christians and Muslims within their new religious fold and that it would only support giving them SC status if this is found to be the same as that faced by Dalits of Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist faiths.
According to the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, currently, only Dalits of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths can be categorised as SC.
The Narendra Modi government, in two affidavits filed before the Supreme Court, maintained that it is not in favour of according SC status for Dalit Christians and Muslims, owing to the “foreign contributions” to the creation of these population in the country.
This, despite the National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, in their 2011 and 2012 affidavits filed before the top court, said they were in favour of extending the SC tag to Dalits who had converted to Islam or Christianity.