New Delhi. In a deeply divisive issue, Dalit groups find themselves at odds over the extension of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) reservation to Muslims and Christians in India. Currently, the Supreme Court is deliberating a plea that seeks SC status for individuals belonging to these religious communities. The central government had previously formed a three-member commission, led by former Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, to examine the matter of granting SC status to Dalits who converted to religions other than Sikhism or Buddhism.
However, the rejection of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report by the government as "flawed" prompted the formation of the second panel. With differing opinions and arguments, Dalit organizations, intellectuals, writers, and activists have voiced their support or opposition, further intensifying the controversy surrounding this significant reservation policy.
The Supreme Court is hearing the plea which seeks SC status for Muslims and Christians. It is to be noted that last year in October, the central government had appointed a three-member commission headed by former Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan to assess the issue of providing Scheduled Castes (SC) status to Dalits who converted to religions other than Sikhism or Buddhism. The three-member commission also comprise Professor Sushma Yadav, member UGC, and retired IAS officer Ravinder Kumar Jain.
The second panel was set up after the government rejected the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report as "flawed". The Mishra commission had recommended the inclusion of converted Dalits from religions other than Sikhism and Buddhism. The center dismissed the report citing a lack of field study and empirical data.
Although the commission has been given a deadline of two years, the Supreme Court decided to rule on the quota, overruling the center's plea to wait for the report of the panel headed by former CJI K.G. Balakrishnan. Notwithstanding the reservation of the center over the Mishra Commission Report, the bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aravind Kumar, and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said the report was not "perfunctory" as alleged by the government.
Those who converted to the Muslim religion enjoy the benefits under Other Backward Classes. While the converts to Sikhism and Buddhism have been granted the constitutional right to reservations in jobs and education as the SC community under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950. The order was based on the premise that caste-based oppression was never faced by the members of the Christian or Islamic society.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Ali Anwar Ansari, former MP and a proponent of the extension of reservation to Muslims, said, "We are not for including every Muslim community in the Scheduled Caste list. We are saying that only the people whose name and profession are the same as that of Hindu Dalits should be given reservations. For example, there are castes like Halalkhor who have the same work as that of sweepers. There are other castes like Dhobis, which are common in both Hindus and Muslims. There are castes like Bhatiyara, Ghadhedi."
He said that these communities are not even 1% of the Pasmanda communities of the Muslim community. These communities are called Arjal, and Babasaheb, Gandhi, Nehru, Bhagat Singh have also written about these communities. He said that clause (3) was added to Article 340 in 1950 to bar other communities than Hindus from accessing the benefits of reservation. He added that we demand that if these Muslim communities are added, then the quota for Scheduled Castes should also be increased from 15% today.
The idea of extending Scheduled Castes reservations to Muslims has drawn protest from most of the Dalit groups. Several organizations, intellectuals, writers, and activists have vehemently opposed this move. Ashok Bharti, who runs the National Confederation of Dalit and Adivasi Organizations (NACDAOR), said in a recent tweet , "Those who call themselves Dalit amongst Muslims/Christians should be given separate reservation among the General Seats. If there can be 10% reservation for EWS, then 10% reservation for Muslims/Christians is also possible. Social Justice will only be strengthened by increasing the quota from 60% to 70%."