The Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, an umbrella organisation representing various bodies fighting for Dalit rights across the country, along with the All India Dalit Rights Movement and a few other Left-associated workers’ unions on Saturday unanimously resolved to support the demand for extending reservation rights to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
The resolution was introduced by Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Subhashini Ali, at the All India Convention on Growing Attacks against Dalits at the H.K.S. Surjeet Bhawan in New Delhi. The charter of demands agreed upon at the convention also called for the strengthening of the Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act, restoring the SC/ST Sub-plan and its implementation in letter and spirit, and the introduction of compulsory reservation in jobs and in the private sector.
However, in the resolution passed at the Convention, the Left bodies specified that extending reservation to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims should not come at the cost of reducing the share of total reservations already available to Scheduled Caste communities.
Ms. Ali told The Hindu, “In India, social problems and social divisions are very acute and even when people convert they take their caste with them. They do not escape from their caste identity and caste oppression. This is the reality. In recognition of this reality, Dalits who converted to Buddhism were included in the reservation in 1990.”
She added that there has to be room to increase the limit on reservation beyond 50% given the circumstances of discrimination in the country so that this demand can be accommodated without disrupting the share of reservation available to existing SC communities.
Welcoming this move and calling it a “healthy political development”, Ali Anwar of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, said more Opposition parties in the country need to speak up for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians because in the absence of this, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is finding the space to “infiltrate our movements and sabotage our cause”. He also spoke at the convention on Saturday, making a case for support to his community and their demands.
While some Dalit Christian and Dalit Muslim communities have already been counted as Other Backward Classes (OBC), their central demand has been for inclusion in the SC category, given that they continue to face discrimination due to the practice of untouchability.
Despite the unanimous resolution passed on Saturday, there are disagreements within Left bodies. For instance, K. Radha Krishnan, the National President of the DSMM, who is also Kerala’s Minister for SC/ST/OBC Welfare, told The Hindu, “There is surely a case for reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims but it must be separate from the SC reservation.”
V.J. George, President of National Council for Dalit Christians (NCDC), one of the organisations fighting for SC status for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the Supreme Court, said, “We do not support this separate reservation. Our fight has always been to be included in the SC list and to that end we too believe that the entire SC quota can be increased so that existing SC communities do not lose out.”
These developments come even as the Union Government has formed a three-member Commission headed by former CJI Justice KG Balakrishnan to examine whether Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims can be accorded the SC status.
In addition to this, the organisations attending the Convention on Saturday also called for the scrapping of the National Education Policy, implementing Land Ceiling Acts and distributing land to the landless, stopping privatisation, regularisation of contract and temporary workers, and enacting a law against “institutional murder”.
At the Convention, Ms. Ali urged all the allied organisations to hold similar conventions at the state level and mobilise people over the next few months in a bid to hold large public rallies on February 28, 2023, over the charter of demands decided upon on Saturday.