Focus on quota for Dalit Christians

Supporters argue that reservation is covered by the right to freedom of religion

Updated - September 16, 2016 11:05 am IST

Published - June 06, 2016 12:00 am IST - CHENNAI:

Burning issue:The conflict in Eraiyur in Villupuram led to police firing in 2008.— File photo

Burning issue:The conflict in Eraiyur in Villupuram led to police firing in 2008.— File photo

The demand for according Scheduled Caste (SC) status for Dalit Christians has become more vocal with the recent Cabinet approval for including Narikuravars and a few other communities in the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST).

DMK leader M. Karunanidhi recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking SC status for Dalit Christians and ST status for the fishermen under the category of marine tribes.

“When the Indian Constitution allows the right to freedom of religion, you cannot deny SC status for the Dalits just because they have converted to Christianity or Islam,” argued Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) general secretary Ravikumar.

What comes in the way of Dalit Christians getting the benefits of reservation set apart for the SCs was Para 3 of the 1950 Presidential Order, which states, “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste.”

“But the order was amended in 1956 to give the SC status to Dalits in Sikhism and again in 1990 to Dalits converted to Buddhism,” pointed out Anbuselvan, writer and Dalit researcher.

The National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities, better known as the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission, has strongly recommended deletion of Para 3 of the Presidential Order. The Sachar Committee also recommended reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims. But the Centre had objected to these recommendations on the grounds that granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Muslims would encourage large-scale religious conversion.

Compartmental quota

As it remains a contentious issue, Mr. Anbuselvan suggested providing compartmental reservation for Dalit Christians within the OBCs because their presence also strengthened the struggle for separate reservation for the OBCs.

“I feel that their inclusion in the SC category would exert more pressure on the existing population benefitting from reservation. But they should be allowed to file cases under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989,” he said.

As per the 2011 census, Christians constitute 6.12 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population and in any church, whether it is Protestant or Catholic, Dalits account for a minimum of 60 per cent. In some areas, their presence has touched 85 per cent.

Christianity has offered Dalits the much needed impetus for upward mobility, said

Fr Jagath Gasper Raj, while acknowledging that it had not completely improved their status. “We must honestly accept that their condition is abysmally backward and reservation benefits will certainly improve their condition,” he said.

While Mr. Anbuselvan alleged that Dalits had to grapple with problems such as admission into schools and colleges, and administrative and ecclesiastic positions continued to be beyond their reach, Fr Gasper said it was a sweeping statement.

“Two Catholic Bishops are Dalits and the former Bishop of Madras Diocese is also a Dalit,” he said.

While making a strong case for reservation for Dalit Christians, Mr. Ravikumar, however, alleged that there seemed to be motive behind the Church encouraging the demand of Dalits. “Their attitude seems to be ‘do not ask for a share from us. But go to the government’. The Church should be more accommodative in the case of Dalit Christians,” he said.

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