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

July 28, 2011

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.)

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2011 4:28 PM

    While sympathetic to the demand for inclusion, I would hazard a suggestion that we distinguish between the rhetoric that we use to gain the demand, and the meaning of equality.

    I do not believe that gaining access to the reservation quota will make the groups on these lists equal. It will provide a justifiable access to State quotas and a piece of the State. However, reservations as they stand, will only harden the identity of the group on the list.

    Allow me to elaborate on my apparently anti-dalit/ reservation position. A group of Catholics (to my mind dalit/ bahujan) that I am studying (working with) refuse to publicly get into the caste dimensions of the battle they are in. This is despite the fact that internally they acknowledge that the persons on the other side, are united by their caste.

    I wonder whether they refuse to do this, because the Catholic rhetoric used in Goa, as well as the rhetoric of equality used by the State, acknowledges us as equal, while employing the upper-lower caste language, will forever freeze them into a position that they want to either get out of, or avoid?

    Furthermore, their demand is not for reservation, since they see no value in the resources the State can give them, but rather in staking equality in the public (cultural) sphere.

    Make any sense?

  2. July 28, 2011 5:17 PM

    Sure, the more the merrier on the free ride that is the whole reservation system. Give a man a fish, he’ll ask for a double helping of machher jhol with extra rice and gravy and happily vote to keep you in power. Why bother teaching him to fish?

    Recently there was a furore when an old joke about Delhi University cutoffs became a reality and hit 100%. I propose that we do away with the fucking general quota altogether, and simply hand over every college seat and government job to the SC/ST/OBC/ABC/XBC and what have you. I mean, ‘upper castes’ are the oppressors, right, and they have to pay for the misdeeds of their ancestors. Since all of them obviously have at various times ‘exploited’ the lower castes and every last one of them is right now rolling in diamonds as a result.

    A government that had some shred of accountability towards its people, or commitment to make the nation progress would have properly implemented primary education for all. Let people complete their school, learn to stand on their own feet and be self reliant.

    Give them the crutch of reservations, and it becomes a free lunch in perpetuity.

  3. July 28, 2011 5:43 PM

    Every caste should be given homeland as per 4th august 1932 round table conference resolutions.
    Everything else is crap/trap/scam.

  4. ooh, on the other hand permalink
    July 28, 2011 7:11 PM

    ‘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’
    But the total reservation cannot exceed 50%.It is 49.5% already in central govt services and educational institutions.So they cannot add not even 1% to this 15%. In fact the quota is now frozen because the centre decided not to increase it in proportion to population.
    If SCs demand it today and get it OBCs will also demand a similar increase.27% for OBCs was arrived at after deducting the reservation for SC&ST i.e. 50 -22.5 (15+7.5)=27.5 rounded to 27%
    If dalit chrsitains and dalit muslims are declared as dalits they will also stake their claim to the quota and hence the fear of the hindu dalits is justified. Those those clamour for reservation for dalit christians and dalit muslims should first acknowledge that the existence of these categories of people shows that Hindusim alone cannot be blamed for the poor status of dalits and discrimination on account of caste and birth persists among non-hindus too despite all claims about the benefits of conversion and absence of inequality in those faiths. So they should stop blaming hindus and hindusim alone for discrimination.

  5. Yojimbo permalink
    July 28, 2011 7:57 PM

    The caste system originates from the varna system of the Rg Ved and Manusmriti.
    This is not present in Islam or Xtianity.
    It is quite foolish to make such distinctions within these communities and probably will still not result in any improvement for these communities anyways. To make this compromise for short-term gains is also short-sighted.

  6. July 28, 2011 11:08 PM

    Isn’t it priceless to see non Hindus scrabble for a slice of the pie by claiming Dalit status, all along when it’s been ok to bash Hinduism for the caste system?

  7. Mohan permalink
    July 29, 2011 1:23 PM

    Every one, all the time using Karamchedu and Tsundur of Andhra Pradesh villages
    ( almost 21 years passed) example of Dalit atrocities seems redundant

  8. July 29, 2011 2:22 PM

    much as i try to be sympathetic towards this i can’t. one’s choices are one’s own and once you converted(or got converted) to a religion of your choice why in sur-name do you want to reap the benefits of the same thing that you ran away from? much as i am tempted to label all this as bull &^%$ i would really want to know…its not unknown that the rampant conversions in the name of God happen are because the converter makes the convertee(!) see that because of which a dalit suffers, that concept is not present in Islam/Christianity. Now when you have made that jump from the false to the truth, why do you still want to hold on to your dalit identity?

    • Kumarpushp permalink
      August 1, 2011 6:36 PM

      Dalitstan is the only solution .166 million dalits did not get dalitstan the day dalits will get seprate county away from hindus means end of reservation .

  9. Harsha permalink
    July 29, 2011 6:56 PM

    This stituation upholds the prodigy of Dr Ambedkar who analysed all faiths in their theological perspective and finaly subjudiced in favour of Buddhism which is more materialistic vis a vis the ideological rigidity of semitic faiths

  10. Pradeep permalink
    July 30, 2011 1:24 AM

    Let us ask a natural question – first of all – why Dalits have become Christians and Muslims? Becoz of exploitation by Hindu bigots. Modern education and monetary lure of Christianity and the money power of Muslim made them to convert. After conversion, if the position continues to be the same – then what was the use of conversion? Neither Christ nor Muhammed – not gods – only representatives – could give Dalits the freedom they aspired.They only entered fire from a hot pan. If they had the courage to get out of Hindu bigotry, today after having tasted the exploitative nature of Christianity and Muslimism, they should have the courage to come out and say – no we do not belong to any religion. We are only poor – give us our dues. None of the religions and their rich and poweful leaders are interested in poor. For them poor are only numbers. Christian Padris in India – to convey to Pope in Rome – we have so many followers, the Imams to report to their paymasters – this is our followings, the Hindu Mutts to claim – we are so many. My contention – is there is no need for reservations for Dalits – Hindu, Christian or Muslim.

  11. Inasu permalink
    July 30, 2011 2:34 AM

    The question of resevation of jobs and seats to the Dalits of all hues, is rather redundant
    in the presentday context. What is really needed are programmes of self-help and prio-
    rities based on the economics of the family, including as someone said, compulsory education upto the age of 16 as in the developped countries, A non-Dalit, but always
    topping the class, I had a real tough time finding the meager finances I needed for pur-
    suing my studies, Finally I resorted to generous benefactors in the village. All during the
    years of my university education, I had been a working student as is so common in the
    West. The problem in India is not only with the notion of the caste system, but equally with
    the idea of ‘what work you do’. The stigma we attach to several types of jobs (there are
    hundreds of them we need badly as we modernise) is the real villain. That is, we are far from the ideal, “work is worship’., specially manual work. Why not introduce hundreds of
    scholarships and grants to those who are willing to work all the while continuing to study.
    That might be one. step forward in breaking the taboos stuck with so many jobs to be
    carried out by physical efforts guided by intellectually understood concepts. Reservation
    merely confirms the caste status from which one wants to escape! Hell of a paradox!

  12. Rajesh permalink
    August 3, 2011 5:34 PM

    Reservation should be based on serious sociological studies of conditions on the ground. If it is in favour of Dalits, either Christians or Buddhist is not important.
    There is no free ride in reservation. Its being called a free ride by only casteist here. If you are prepared to integrate Dalits in the main stream caste free society, where an upper caste will marry with a lower caste, the entire issue will disappear in no time. If not, these difference will get more endemic and a starting point for division of India .Indians think in a very narrow way, bringing hate mongering religious texts in discussion. This will take you back, or worst, like a dog chasing its own tail. It will become never ending crises.
    The fact that Indian Government plans to improve conditions at grass root level has met with total faliure since funds are very conveniently stolen by upper staste hindus in power, will only add to the problems in discussing reservation.
    All discussion by intellectuals for pro or con sides of reservation is an utter disgrace to the ultimate aim of reservation. Reservations is because of lack of equality, social injustice, authority and governance in favour of upper caste. inequitable resource distribution,social stigmas, undemocratic populace and long held prejudices that target the minorities . India has lost its vision of become a great democratic country. Its sliding back towards an extremist ideologies where the rule of gun will become norm.

    • Kumarpushp permalink
      August 5, 2011 3:25 AM

      Why Hindus only should get reservation.why Hindu led government is not dividing the agriculture land according population.why Hindus should keep all lands.equal distribution of land is the only solution for reservation ,otherwise day is not faraway when reservation wala will fight for their motherland.

  13. Pradeep permalink
    August 5, 2011 12:36 AM

    Dalit Christians or Dalit Muslims do not need any reservation unless they come out of these religions and declare themselves poor – not belonging to any community. They cannot have best of all worlds.

    • Kumarpushp permalink
      August 8, 2011 4:22 PM

      Why Hindus,Sikhs and Neo buddhist should get reservation.Dalit muslims and dalit christians are not organised and they donot have any vote bank means we should leave them in hand hindu Ghouls.If Master tara singh would have not threatened Nehru and Rajendra Prsad means Sikh would not have not got reservation.if RPI and kanshi ram would not have born means neo buddhist would not have got resevation,if Mandal would not have born means OBCs would have not got reservation in central services.2.2 million hindus are having fun in America and 2.5 million hindus are having fun in middle east so Muslims dalit and christians dalit should hit hindus hard where they cause them pain then they will get justice in Hindu led government in india.

  14. Sardar Ali permalink
    August 5, 2012 9:33 AM

    Govt.of.india is discriminating with muslim and christian dalits since the introduction of constitution 1950 so one cannot rely upon this govt. Moreover govt. of india hinders supreme court of india not to do justice with these people. What can we do is to be seen in the coming election.

  15. sai ram permalink
    January 11, 2013 1:31 PM

    It is high time we change the existing reservation policy in the name of religion caste or creed is an old scenerio Reservation is only for poor down trodden and deprived and should be purely on the basis of income or social background. 60 years after independence many conversions intercaste interreligious marriages have taken place so now the segment itself is different. People of different communities have merged, extension of cities urbanization have taken place which give a totally different outlook of the population chunk.
    what ever said and done concept of caste is changing and ultimate goal is to serve the poor. Those days dalits very looked at as a very poor class apart from being exploited.

  16. Pallavi Ghosh permalink
    September 15, 2013 7:14 PM

    There is a factual error in the third paragraph in the article. The two amendments of the Presidential Order of 1950 included the Sikh Dalits and the Buddhist Daits. The Christian and Muslim Dalits remain unrecognized by the State even today.


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  2. The Unending Struggle of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims for Equality: S. Japhet and Y. Moses | Alice News
  3. The Issue of SC Status for the Christian Dalits | Kamalakarduvvuru's Blog

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