January 25, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether India might grant Scheduled Caste status to Dalit converts. We also look at the redevelopment of Suando village in Odisha, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Will India grant SC status to Dalit converts?
On Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea that challenged the functioning of the 2022 Commission of Inquiry (CI) that was devised to investigate the status of Dalits after conversion. The petitioner was the Secretary of Pragat Padhividhar Sanghatna, a socio-educational trust registered in Pune, a Christian who previously belonged to the Mahar community.
Meanwhile, the apex court is already hearing a slew of petitions pending since 2004 that seek the inclusion of Dalit Muslims and Christians in India’s Scheduled Castes list. The BJP-led government has directly opposed said inclusion in the past, but its recent political rhetoric makes it worthwhile to wonder whether the centre and the SC will acquiesce.
An advocate for the constitutional protection of Dalit Muslims and Christians challenging the CI seems strange, right? A look into the debate’s political and legal trajectory might explain how the affair is not much of a head-scratcher.
The petitioner challenged the KG Balakrishnan-led CI on the grounds that since 1955, the Union government has constituted multiple commissions on the same issue, whose findings assert the need for including the two minority groups under the Constitution (Schedule Caste) Order of 1950.
It is true, from the first Backward Classes Commission’s report in 1953 to the National Commission for Minorities report of 2008 and the Ranganath Misra Commission Report, all findings have substantiated the cause.
So, the activist pooh-poohed the committee for being yet another instrument of delaying justice and making a fishing inquiry to furnish hearsay evidence. As we shall find out, there is some truth to this claim. While we already have reports in the affirmative, what we lack is caste-nuanced census and data.
The petitions awaiting the Supreme Court challenge the validity of the 1950 order extending the SC status to only Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. They argue that the exclusion of Muslims and Christians is discriminatory, violates their fundamental rights, and disregards Articles 14, 15, 16 and 25.
Originally, the order only recognised Hindus as SC, but in 1956 it was extended to Sikhs and in 1990, Buddhist converts. Former Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made trying efforts towards the cause but to no avail.
The assemblage of committee findings points to a pervasive presence of caste and caste inequalities among Christians and Muslims, stating that Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity encounter the same social disabilities as before. And academics seem to agree.
The GOI has been disregarding these findings because they provide little empirical evidence, a qualification not mandated in the case of Sikhs and Buddhists. Nor were the two religious sects denied protection forasmuch as they do not possess a spelt-out caste order.
In fact, even religious authorities who have a history of being obstinate in revealing the rampant caste discrimination in Islam and Christianity now support these findings. In 2016 the Indian Catholic Church revealed staggering figures to acknowledge the normalised practice of discrimination and untouchability in the Church.
Dalit converts constituted 12 million of the 19 million members of the church in India. Yet, their presence in the creamy layer of leadership is almost nil. Out of the more than 240 bishops of the catholic church, there are only 12 Dalit bishops. Out of 31 Archbishops, there are only 2.
Similarly, the Jamiat Ulama i-Hind, India’s oldest Muslim body, wrote to the apex court that while the caste system does not exist in Islam in theory, the faith is not immune to cultural practices of discrimination. Excluding Dalit Muslims amounts to discrimination and arbitrariness.
The present government has ad nauseam rejected the possibility of including Dalit Muslims and Christians, based on an imperial order of the British government and by alluding to the foreign origins of the religions and referring to such converts as foreigners, even though they are citizens of India.
But there are new developments which suggest that all is not lost for Christian and Muslim converts yet. The formation of the CI, the admission of discrimination by religious authorities, and the Modi government’s attempts at co-opting the subaltern struggle are a few of them.
During its tenure from 2014, the BJP-led government has largely intervened in social issues and major constitutional changes when it appeases the Hindu vote bank, such as the Ayodhya temple construction, abrogation of article 370, and outlawing cow slaughter. Other interventions have targeted Islamic customs like the Triple Talaq.
VIEW: The time is ripe
No matter the motivations behind forming a Commission of Inquiry, the GOI’s latest move strengthens the cause of extending constitutional provisions. Not only is it a marker of political will, but it also indicates a favourable outcome for the petitioners due to the presence of a vast repository of primary and secondary research supporting it.
The absence of sufficient empirical evidence should not impede the case because of the circularity of this demand. The 2021 census has not yet been published, and even if it were, under prevailing guidelines, the census does not record national-level data on Dalit Muslims and Christians due to their exclusion from the SC list. In such an environment, existing data should suffice in attesting to the need for amending the 1950 order.
In case it does not hold presently, experts think that government institutions, including the office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, are capable of collecting disaggregated caste data in the future.
In fact, heightened awareness of this paucity in empirical analysis has motivated experts to devise methodological frameworks, like self-reporting, that facilitate recording overlapping social identities like caste, religion, and community. Past research, like the Mandal Commission framework, too, can serve as models.
Lastly, the BJPs electoral strategy of wooing the lower castes and other minorities could potentially move the GOI in favour of the extension. In the past, PM Modi has publicised his interest in elevating Pasmanda Muslims, who constitute 85% of the total Muslim population in India and can serve as a major vote bloc for the party. This year, the party convened to renew its commitment to wooing Christian and Muslim minorities.
COUNTERVIEW: Not if the centre can help it
There are glaring signs that Dalit Muslims and Christians will be shortchanged by the BJP-led government. While the Balakrishnan commission was formed in October 2022, the Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment informed the Lok Sabha in December that no commission had yet been formed to study the case.
Its set-up might have been a welcome move, but only its functioning will reveal whether there exists a political intent. It would also be imprudent to ignore the content of the GOI’s affidavit in 2022, which positions it as unwilling to recognise the prevalence of caste discriminatory practices in the Muslim and Christian communities.
Through frequent soft stances and announcements of sneh yatras, the BJP appears to be keeping minorities on the hook for electoral arithmetic. The party indeed wants to woo the Pasmanda population, but that is no indicator of delivering constitutional protection.
The BJP’s most loyal vote bank composes of upper-caste Hindu elites, who have materially opposed the elevation of the status of minorities. To dent the minority vote bank, the party will likely rely on rhetoric rather than a constitutional amendment.
However, since the Supreme Court has decided to hear the petitions in March instead of waiting for the Balakrishnan report, the jury’s still out for how much of a say the centre currently holds.
- Supreme Court dismisses plea against panel on SC status for Dalit converts – The Hindu
- First time, Church says: Dalit Christians face untouchability – The Indian Express
- Reservation for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians – Legal Services India
- Identifying SCs among Dalit Muslims, Christians challenging. Lack of data biggest roadblock – The Print
- How Unreliable Data On Dalit Christians & Muslims Expose Them To Discrimination – IndiaSpend
- On reservations for Dalit Christians and Muslims, a question of government’s intent – The Indian Express
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) India will grant SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.
b) India will not grant SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
How Modi government’s warning about private economic data ends up highlighting its own failures
For the Left:
Why Muslims must consider the rainbow BJP is making. Identity matters in a democracy
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Jind mahapanchayat (Punjab) – Farmers in Punjab are gearing up for the January 26 mahapanchayat at Jind. Across 2,500 villages in the state, meetings have been held with farmer unions claiming large numbers for the protest on Republic Day. Among those participating will be 32 farmer unions under the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) banner. At the district level, tractor marches will be organised across the country.
Why it matters: The protests stem from the government’s promises to farmers in the wake of the controversial farm laws being repealed. Unions have mobilised farm groups to protest the government’s inaction. They want the FIRs against protesting farmers to be scrapped and for a crop insurance scheme. They also want the MSP to be a legal guarantee.
Film institute students call off strike (Kerala) – Students of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA) called off their indefinite strike days after Shankar Mohan left his post as the institute’s director. The strike was called off after talks with Higher Education Minister R. Bindu. It will take a while before classes resume since the Dean and Administrative Officer also resigned.
Why it matters: The minister said that a search is on for a new director and promised that vacant seats for reserved communities would be filled. A student welfare committee will be set up to address grievances. A social justice committee will also be formed to investigate any issues relating to SC and ST students and employees.
Suando village redeveloped (Odisha) – Suando village, the birthplace of social worker and reformer Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das, will be completed in three weeks. There are plans to introduce water sports on the river Bhargavi flowing close to the village. The ancestral house has been renovated, and there’s a new museum to showcase Das’ life and times with his books and rare photos.
Why it matters: In 2021, the state allocated ₹25.25 crores to turn the place into a heritage village. The water sports facility is aimed at being a recreational facility for tourists. The transformation plan was prepared by the Indian National Trust for Art Cultural Heritage based on discussions with the villagers.
Governor’s intention to step down (Maharashtra) – Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, facing opposition criticism on several issues, said he told the Prime Minister of his desire to resign. He said it was an honour and privilege to serve the people of the state and thanked them for their love and affection. Over the years, he had run-ins with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government on his refusal to appoint 12 members to the Legislative Council from the gubernatorial quota.
Why it matters: Koshyari took charge as Governor in September 2019. More recently, he said the role of Governor brought him unhappiness. Several opposition leaders spoke of his desire to resign in the past. Soon after he took office, the Shiv Sena severed ties with the BJP, and he administered the oath to Devendra Fadnavis as the Chief Minister, but the government lasted only three days. Calls for his resignation grew in the wake of his remarks on Samarth Ramdas being the guru of Shivaji.
Tackling child marriage (Assam) – The state government has issued strict guidelines to the police to launch a drive against child marriage. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said child marriages are mainly prevalent in 10 districts with about 1 lakh cases. He said anyone who marries a girl below the age of 14 would be punished under the POCSO Act. The police have been tasked with gathering information about the cases in 15 days and taking action.
Why it matters: The National Family Health Survey-5 showed Assam had a high percentage of child marriages at 31%. It’s one of the contributing factors to high maternal and infant mortality in the state. Child marriage is punishable under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006. In 2022-23, the survey showed Shubri district with a 50% child marriage rate and a 22% teenage pregnancy rate.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$10 billion – Microsoft is investing $10 billion in OpenAI, the creators of popular tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E-2. It’s the company’s third investment in OpenAI going back to 2019.