Reports say govt may set up panel to ‘study condition of Dalits who convert to Islam or Christianity’: Why we need to tread carefully
Supreme Court of India on the 30th of August issued a notice to the Union Government, asking for their response in a plea that said those Dalit Hindus who had converted to Christianity or Islam should be given the same reservation benefits as extended to the Scheduled Caste (SC) category. The Supreme Court has given the central government a window of three weeks to respond. After that, the petitioners would get one week to respond to the government’s response.
With several such pleas pending in the court, that demand reservation for “Dalit Christians” and “Dalit Muslims”, according to media reports, the government is now mulling setting up a panel to study the condition of those Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam. According to Indian Express sources, the decision to set up the panel is being discussed at the Cabinet level and a decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon.
The national panel will study the social, economic, and educational status of Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity. It will submit its report within a year. Reports indicate that the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) have given the green signal for such a move.
Notably, last year, the then Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in the Rajya Sabha that Dalits who had shunned their faith and converted to Islam and Christianity will not be permitted to contest parliamentary or assembly elections from constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC), and will not be allowed to claim other reservation benefits. Speaking on eligibility to contest from reserved constituencies, Prasad said, “Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order outlines that… no person who professes a religion different from Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.”
In 2009, the government-appointed Justice Rangnath Commission recommended 10 per cent reservation for Muslims and 5 per cent for other minorities in government jobs. The committee also favoured Scheduled Caste status for Dalits in “all religions”.
The commission recommended delinking the Scheduled Caste status from religion and abrogation of the 1950 Scheduled Caste Order, which “still excludes Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis from the SC net.” The committee recommended that if Muslims were not available to fill the seats, other minorities could be appointed, but in “no case”, the seat should be given to anyone from the majority community. It is noteworthy that Member Secretary of the commission Asha Das was against the SC status on Dalit converts to Islam and Christianity. She found no justification to give such converts SC status. Furthermore, she added that such converts should continue to form part of OBCs and avail benefits accordingly. However, the commission rejected her dissent note.
In 2010, BJP had dubbed the report as a curse and said it should be thrown “into a dustbin”. The party vowed to protect “the rights of backward classes”. The statement was made during a convention in Bengaluru. Then-BJP president Nitin Gadkari had said that the party would not accept the report “at any cost”. He added that BJP would oppose if the then-government decided to implement the recommendations that would result in cutting into the reservation of OBCs.
It is pertinent to note that several Supreme Court judgements and High Court judgements have ratified the 1950 Presidential Order which essentially said that only those who profess Indic faiths – Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists – would constitute Scheduled Castes. Those who convert to Islam or Christianity, leaving Hinduism, would not be eligible for the same benefits.
With the government setting up a panel to study the condition of Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam, fears have grown that the move would give legitimacy to the demands of reservation and further incentivise conversion.
Reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims: Why the Modi government should be careful
On 27th December 2021, there was a documented case of a Hindu man belonging to the Dalit section, being force-fed beef by the Christian villagers and ostracised, because he refused to convert to Christianity. Speaking to the media outlet, Salik Gop’s family claimed that, despite being a cowherd family, they are constantly pressured to eat beef. Leave alone farming, their family has been even barred from using the water from the village well. Their children have been forbidden to go to school, said Salik Gop. The family’s entire source of income has been disrupted so that they acceded to the conversion demands of the influential Christian missionaries participating in proselytization in the area, but, Salik Gop said that no matter what happens, he will not submit to their demands.
Only a month before this case came to light, a woman health worker of Jamdih village of Gumla district of Jharkhand approached the police with a complaint against the Christian villagers, accusing them of torturing their family members to accept Christianity. The complainant, who belonged to a Scheduled Caste, had also alleged that the assailants even sexually abused her daughter to mount pressure on the family to adopt Christianity. She had also said that the accused persons instigated the villagers against her family.
There are hundreds of such cases that are documented on a regular basis, where Hindus belonging to the SC community are forced and tortured to accept Christianity. If the reservation was extended to Dalit Christians, that would almost be legitimising these aggressive and violent conversion tactics that are often used by Abrahamic faiths. The force being used to convert Hindus to Christianity, especially those who belong to the “lower castes” would only increase given that the conversion itself would find far more legitimacy with reservations being extended.
But we must also acknowledge that not all conversions by Dalit Hindus to Christianity are by force. There are several Dalits who convert to Christianity either by inducement or because they believe the conversion would give them social mobility. In both cases, however, the rationale is similar. The inducement is that converting from Hinduism to Christianity would give the Dalit individual far more respect, social acceptability and economic stability. The trope that is often used is that the Christian society is an egalitarian one and hence, the Dalit should shed the baggage of his identity and convert.
In fact, the urge to shed that historical and identity baggage is so severe, that often Dalits who convert to Christianity change mostly everything about themselves. Once a Dalit converts, one notices that they change their mannerisms, their linguistic pattern, how they dress and even how they eat. They become a part of the Church congregation which in theory, is meant to treat everyone in its parish equally. There have in fact been many cases where even the converted Christian starts disconnecting with their extended family and friends circle because of their newfound identity. The psychology behind that is once the individual is baptised, they are reborn and start an entirely new chapter of life as a devout Christian, therefore, the earlier roots must be abandoned completely. Another reason for this also is that either those new converted Christians start looking down on their Hindu relatives or they believe that with their changed lifestyle (mannerisms, eating habits etc), they are a misfit in the Hindu society they once belonged to.
Take this case, for example. Dharam Pratap Singh, who had become David after converting to Christianity, had insisted on the burial of his Hindu mother and refused to cremate her. Eventually, her granddaughter had to travel 1,100 kilometres just to cremate David’s mother. In this case, it was also said that the mother was being forced to convert to Christianity by David, but had resisted those attempts.
Christian theology is based on the principles of proselytisation of non-Christians. Beyond that, the ritual of baptism itself is one of “purification”. By virtue of the ritual itself, an individual gets rid of his past identity and starts anew, in the image and likeliness of God. Therefore, their entire identity is purged. In the case where the son insisted on burying his Hindu mother instead of cremating her, the son obviously started believing in the tenets of Christianity which says that the soul will burn in hell if the Christian way of life is not followed. Further, there is substantial societal and Church pressure on the converted Christian to ensure that even their family follows Christianity. David, in the case cited above, beyond his religious belief, must have also been fearful about the ostracisation he might face from the Christian community if his Hindu mother was cremated and not buried. These issues are, of course, internal to the Christian community, however, it is a fair indicator that the Church ensures that the umbilical cord to Hinduism is summarily snapped.
With such changes, it is fair to assume that the individual converts to Christianity because, in his perception, he would shed his part baggage and achieve upward social mobility. A better social status after conversion is a primary motive for those who convert out of their own free will and even those who are induced to convert. Given that these individuals believe that conversion to a theoretically more egalitarian society would help them shed their past identity baggage completely, it is fair to say that they stop being “Dalits” altogether.
n that case, if they are getting equality, why should they be entitled to reservations owing to their former Hindu identity? This could as well be a way to whitewash casteism in Islamic and Christian societies. There are enough examples of lower castes within these two religions being discriminated against. They essentially want state protection while their own discriminate against them, but use their Hindi identity to do so – preserving the propaganda of Christianity and Islam.
Once it is established that Dalits convert to Christianity to shed their historical social oppression, the only argument that remains is that these individuals have remained economically backward due to the historic wrongs committed against them. These are the two premises that form the basis of reservation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Dalit’s conversion to Christianity takes care of their social backwardness, or at least, it is supposed to. As far as their economic backwardness is concerned, the government has now introduced an EWS quota that is meant for the economically backward classes regardless of their caste or religion.
Additional reservation on the basis of an identity they gave up, is essentially going to work as an incentive for Hindus to convert to Christianity. It is pertinent to note that according to reports, 70% of Indian Christians are Dalit converts – if that is true – this essentially means that the majority of Christians would be taking benefits as minorities and as “Dalits”.
Civilisationally, these are issues that the Modi government must tread carefully on. Any reservation accorded to “Dalit Christians” would be a travesty of justice to those who held on to their ancestral and dharmic roots. Not only that, it would act as an incentive for missionaries to convert more Hindus with inducements and false promises almost incentivising the onslaught on the Hindu community by proselytizing societies.
Courtesy : Opindia
Note: This news piece was originally published in opindia.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights .