Quota for Dalit Muslims, Christians: Ball in Meira's court

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New Delhi, Nov 8 (UNI) Putting the ball in the court of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has formally apprised it of its views favouring quota for Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity.

Giving up its long-standing reservation to the idea of extending Dalit Muslims and Christians the status of Scheduled Castes, the Commission had last month accepted the demand of these sections to be given the reserved status.

Last week it sent a formal note to the Ministry on its revised stand, a senior official told UNI.

The ball is now in the Ministry's court, as it was for it to take the proposal to the Cabinet.

NCSC Chairman Buta Singh immediately after assuming office this summer had said he was not averse to the idea of quota for those sections and was ready to examine the issue with an open mind.

However, as per the decision taken last month, the Commission does not want that the quota should be given out of the 15 per cent earmarked for the Scheduled Castes.

It wants the Government to first carry out a survey of the population of Dalit Muslims and Christians and then decide the percentage of reservation to be given to them. But this should be given out of the quota for OBCs.

For carving out a percentage out of the 15 per cent quota for SCs, Article 341 of the Constitution has to be amended, while giving the quota from the OBC category would not require any such thing.

The Commission's stand has put the Government in a tight position as giving reservation to Dalit Muslims and Christians without encroaching upon the percentage earmarked for SCs and OBCs would exceed the 50 per cent ceiling fixed by the Supreme Court, and adjusting it within the OBC percentage has its own political ramifications.

SC status for Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity has been a very sensitive issue in the post-Independence period. The demand of these sections intensified after the Constitution was amended to include Dalits of the religious minorities in the SC list.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 says that only Dalits professing Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism are considered Scheduled Castes, the weaker section of society that enjoys special care and protection from the State. Dalits of other religions are deprived of this status.

The civil rights activists have been protesting against these provisions, saying that legislation was discriminatory and it amounts to limiting religious freedom.

They argue that change of faith does not alter their status, social and economic backwardness and the burden of being downtrodden for centuries overnight.

In 1996, the Government had prepared a draft amendment bill, intending to include Dalit Christians in the list of Scheduled Castes by amending the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950.

However, the amendment bill could not be passed in Parliament.

UNI

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