Give SC status for Dalit Christians
By Sunil Raj Philip
Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin (CSCO), also called Dalit Christians, and Dalit Muslims, have been asserting their right for equal Constitutional provisions at par with fellow Dalits of this country. This has been denied to them historically by the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order – popularly known as the Presidential Order - 1950, Paragraph 3.
The exclusion of people of Schedule Caste (SC) Origin who adhere to religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism from their fundamental rights has caused great concern and has been debated from the very beginning of its promulgation.
Police stopping protesters marching towards Parliament on Dec 11 demanding SC status for Dalit Christians
The impact of this order is that Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims cannot avail the affirmative action programmes and privileges of Government of India and other State Governments for the Scheduled Castes, which includes reservation in education, employment and reserved seats in Parliament and State Assemblies.
They also do not enjoy the protection of the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989.
Because of this discrimination, the marginalised people have been indirectly forced to remain in Hindu Religion. They hesitate to choose any other religion which they may want to follow. It is in violation of freedom of Religion which is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution.
The National Council of Churches and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and National Council of Dalit Christians have opposed this discrimination for a long time.
We had conducted rallies and protests in various part of the Country and in Delhi during the 1990’s, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
We had met several times, the Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and Prime Ministers. Due to our continuous demand, the Government of India referred this matter to the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, also called as Ranganath Mishra Commission.
It was constituted by the Government of India in 2004. The Commission submitted its report to the Government on 21 May 2007. The report was submitted to the Parliament in December 2009.
The commission stated that non inclusion of SC Christians and SC Muslims in the Scheduled Caste list is a discrimination based on religion and goes against articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India. It was pointed out that religion must be de-linked from caste based reservation.
Till now, twelve State Governments and Union Territories have recommended to the Union of India for granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
Most of the Political Parties- CPI, CPI (M) , BSP, SP, RJD, JD(U), JD(S), DMK, AIADMK, Telugu Desam party, MDMK, PMK, Trinamool Congress, NCP and Shronmani Akali Dal - have supported the demand. The Congress supports the demand in principle; the only parties against this demand are BJP and Shiva Sena alone.
A writ petition was filed in 2004 praying for the deletion of Presidential order 1950 by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and Mr. Franklin Thomas Caesar. This case is represented by Senior Advocates, Shanthi Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan and Kamini Jaiswal.
In January 2008 the Supreme Court directed the Government to file its response, but the Government has so far not filed its response.
Notice was also served to the Schedule Caste Commission and National Commission for Minorities to file their reply. Both the commissions have given their reply. The National Commission for Minorities clearly supports the demand and the SC commission has given a neutral reply.
We have brought to the notice of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi about the delay from the Government side in filing its response.
A protest rally was organized in Delhi by the National Council of Churches of India, Catholic Bishops Conference of India, and National Council of Dalit Christians on 11 December 2013.
As the people (from Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions and ecumenical bodies, along with Muslim supporters) walked towards Parliament House, police blocked them and then brutally lathi-charged them.
Even water cannons (having dirty water) were spewed on the people. Bishops, priests, nuns and laypeople were subject to this inhuman treatment. Many people were injured badly because of the high-handedness of the police.
Police used water cannons against the protesters
As the protestors courted arrest, they were taken to the Parliament Street Police Station. They demanded that the Prime Minister should meet them. Finally the Prime Minister’s Office assured the protestors that he would meet their representatives the following day. The detained protestors were released at 5:00 p.m.
The next day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the delegation, which included Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary, NCCI, Mr. Alwan Masih, General Secretary CNI Synod and Ms. Leila Passah, General Secretary YWCA.
The delegation complained against the brutal treatment that was meted out to them and pressed their demands:
The UPA Government must take speedy steps to implement the recommendations of National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ranganath Mishra Commission), in the present session of parliament itself.
- The UPA Government should immediately file a reply (affidavit/written statement) to the query of Honourable Supreme Court of India on the Writ Petition No.180/2004 pending in the Supreme Court for the past 9 years and put an end to its deliberate delaying tactics.
The Prime Minister apologized for the ruthless behavior of the police. He also assured the delegation that he would place the matter of justice to Dalit Christians and Muslims before the Cabinet and seek their consensus for appropriate action.
It is the fervent hope of the Dalit Christian community in the country that their longstanding sense of injustice will be effectively redressed by this Government.
Rev. Sunil Raj Philip is a Social Activist and Executive Secretary, Commission on Dalits, National Council of Churches in India, Nagpur.