Dalit Christians get home from Buta Singh, Chairman, national Scheduled Caste Commission

In Dalit Christians, India

PRESS STATEMENT
NEW Delhi, July 23, 2007

National Scheduled Caste Commission chairman Buta Singh’s assurance to High Powered Christian delegation: SC Commission supports SC rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims, but will also ask Government to increase quota from present 15 per cent to embrace actual Census data.
[
The following is the text of the Statement issued by Dr John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, Government of India]

Top leaders of the Christian lay community, including the All India Catholic Union and the All India Christian Council, met with National Scheduled Caste Commission chairman Dr Buta Singh, a former Union Home Minister, on Sunday, 22 July 2007. The meeting came immediately after the Government of India, through additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, told the Supreme Court of India bench headed by chief Justice, that it was awaiting a report from the National Scheduled Caste Commission, a statutory body, to give its opinion on the issue of Scheduled rights for Dalit Christians. The Supreme Court on 19 July 2007 resumed hearings on a Public Interest writ litigation challenging the Presidential Order of 1950o which denies scheduled rights to Christians and Muslims converted from the former untouchable castes. Buddhist and Sikhs, who were also excluded earlier, were restored scheduled rights by previous Congress and United Front governments through legislation in Parliament after protracted agitation.
After the writs were filed in the Supreme Court last year by the Public Interest Litigation centre of former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, Vellore lawyer D David, a Dalit, and Br Jose Daniel’s Dalit movement, the Union government urged the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) to examine the issue. The NCRLM, headed by another former Chief justice of India Rangnath Misra, gave its report to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh two months ago before it was wound up at the expiry of its term. The NCRLM accepted the demands of the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims that they suffered from the impact of caste in Indian society and therefore should be given the privileges and the protection of law given to people of the Scheduled caste of the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Faiths, In effect, the Justice Misra Commission said the Dalits of India suffered the same disabilities in society and opportunity and should not be discriminated against on grounds of religion. It suggested legislative and legal remedies to undo the impact of the Presidential order of 1950. Instead of publishing the report and accepting it as demanded by the Dalit Christians and Muslims, the Government told the court it will await the opinion of the National SC Commission.
The Chief Justice has given government eight weeks to come before the Supreme Court again to disclose its decision on the issue.
The Dalit Christian community has long agitated on the issue. Community leaders representing many organisations, including the Catholic Union, the Christian Council, the United Christian Action and the Union of Dalit Christians Movements India, an umbrella organisation, met over the weekend to plan their course of action and demand that the government accept the Justice Misra Commission report.
A delegation later met Mr. Buta Singh, chairman of the National Scheduled Caste Commission. The delegation, led by Dr. John Dayal, consisted of Mr. Issac Behera, Advocate Edward Arokio Doss and Mr. C Francis. The delegation gave a detailed memorandum to Dr Buta Singh. The delegation told Dr But Singh that two previous chairmen of the SC Commission, who were nominated by the then Bharatiya Janata party and who and allegiance to the Hindutva groups, had spoken against Dalit Christians and Muslims out of political bigotry, without going into the merits of the case.
In the 90 minute meeting at his official residence, Dr Buta Singh said he was committed to the cause of all Dalits, whatever is their region. He said his Commission would examine the issues in the Justice Misra Report compassionately. He said he was of the opinion that Scheduled Caste protection and rights should be available to people of very religion who suffered from this social infirmity which existed in every religion. He said while Caste as no doubt a product of the Hindu religion, but every other religion which was born in India or came to India became contaminated with this malaise. Quoting a Persian couplet, he said “anything which enters a salt mine becomes salt.”
Dr Buta Singh said his SC Commission will submit its report expeditiously. It will also tell the Government to implement Constitutional processes to raise the quota for Scheduled Castes and tribes, which was at present 15 per cent and 7.15 per cent to their actual numbers in the population. He said the Fathers of the Constitution had desired that the quota percentage be fixed on the basis of data that emerged from the National Census after ten years. The Justice Misra report has also recommended that groups such as Dalit Christians who it wants in the Scheduled caste category may be deleted from the OBC grouping of the population.]

TEXT OF MEMORANDUM
The following is the text of the memorandum submitted to Dr Buta Singh by Dr John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, Government of India, Mr. Issac Behera IAS [Retd] Former Secretary to the Government of Orissa, President All India Catholic Union, Orissa, Mr. Edward Arokio Doss, Advocate Madras High Court, National Convenor, Union of Dalit Christian Movements India and Mr. C Francis:
Dr Buta Singh
Chairman
National Scheduled Caste Commission
Lok Nayak Bhawan
New Delhi

Re: Appeal to the National SC Commission to accept and support the recommendations of the Justice Rangnath Misra National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities supporting grant of Scheduled Caste Status to Dalit Christians

Dear Dr Buta Singh

Greetings from the 1.60 crore Dalit Christians in India.

This memorandum is submitted to you on behalf of
The All India Catholic Union, New Delhi
The Union of Dalit Christian Movements India, Madurai
The All India Christian Council, Hyderabad, and
The United Christian Action, New Delhi
Requesting you to accept and support the recommendations of the Justice Rangnath Misra National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities supporting grant of Scheduled Caste Status to Dalit Christians.

Dear Sir,

Dalit Christians have filed various PILs in the Supreme Court of India for restoration of their Human, Civil an Legal rights and Human Dignity which were curtailed by the Presidential Order of 1950 which restricted affirmative action and protection of law only to Dalits of the Hindu faith.

The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities headed by former Chief Justice of India Rangnath Misra to whom the matter was referred by the Government of India, after hearing our petitions and ordering extensive research by academic institutions such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in its report submitted to the Government some weeks ago accepted that grave and historic injustice had been done t religious minorities including Dalit Christians, by the said Presidential order and that these rights had to be restore in the cause of justice.

The Government of India told the Honourable Supreme Court of India [in Court Number One of the Chief Justice of India] that it has submitted the Justice Misra Commission recommendations to the Honourable National Scheduled Caste Commission which was statutory body for its views.

Dear Dr Buta Singh, Sir,

We are very happy the Government has asked for your recommendations. You Sir, perhaps better than anyone else in India, about the discrimination that Dalits face irrespective of the faith they may profess, because of endemic and deep rooted caste divisions in Indian society.

Sir, in Punjab, those called Mazhabi Sikhs still face discrimination at the hands of the upper castes even though the lofty and great Sikh Faith and teachings of its founder the Revered Guru Nanak and the Holy Guru Granth Sahib abhor such social ills. We recall with pride the valiant struggle of the Sikhs to regain their full human and citizen rights. The Government of the Day removed them from the persecution of the Presidential Order of 1950.

The egalitarian Buddhist faith also abhors casteism. The government of the day similar recognised the unreasonableness and illegality of the Presidential Order of 1950 and resorted to Dalit Buddhists, also called Ambedkarites, and restored to them the full protection of the affirmative action of the Constitutional provisions made for the protection of all people listed as Scheduled Castes.

Dear Sir,

The Union government headed by the Congress party with the late Mr. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister had also heard our appeal in 1996. The Union Cabinet after a detailed analysis, as contained the Cabinet note of the period, decided to bring forward suitable legislation to also restore Dalit Christian’s full rights as Scheduled Castes. The legislation was prepared and in fact presented to Parliament by the then Union Welfare Minister, the late Mr. Sita Ram Kesri. The Bill fell through not for any reason other than the fact that Parliament was dissolved and fresh General elections called.

As a veteran political leader and Union Minister for long years holding the important portfolios including that of Home Affairs, you are fully cognizant of these facts. We therefore have full faith in your wisdom and sensitivity, and are sure of your support for our cause. We are sure you will reverse the extremely politically motivated, partisan and communally-tainted statements of your predecessor who sought to divide and polarize the victimized Dalit community on religious lines.

Dear Dr Buta Singh, Sir,

As Plaintiffs before the Supreme Court, and then immediately as witnesses before the Misra Commission, we Christians of Scheduled Caste origin had again adduced tens of thousands of pages of sociological, statistical and legal evidence, historical data, Constitutional history and judicial precedence, to establish beyond the shadow of doubt that the vagaries and infirmities, the barriers and obscene and racist social practice of untouchability because of caste, continues to hound people of Scheduled Caste origin despite their conversion to Christianity in the mass conversions of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century, and even those who convert today.
There is no ambiguity, or scope for confusion, in identifying current Christians of Scheduled caste origin. Whether they are in Jammu or the Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala or Tamil Nadu, Christians of Scheduled caste origin continue to live where they have lived for centuries – together with their brethren of Hindu or Buddhist or Sikh faith in the `Cheri’ on the outskirts of the upper caste villages. The neighbours know who they are, the upper caste bigots know who they are; the schools know it in their records [which we have handed over to the NCRLM] and the 1931 census knows who they are. Identifying them will no more difficult than identifying a Scheduled caste of the Hindu faith.
Nonetheless, we present here some more points for your consideration:
1. Poverty Line: There can be several sources of deprivation in a complex society such as India. Economic assistance to the poor, that is, those who are below the poverty line, is accepted as legitimate by most of the population. But when the absolute size and the proportion of population which falls below the poverty line is substantial, the limited state resources will not permit such a measure. In India at least 30 percent falls below the poverty line as of now. In such a situation the state would be compelled to provide a critical minimum of economic assistance only to the destitute.
2. Power Line Secondly, in matters of citizenship, there is a section of population (not only women) below the Power line.
3. Pollution line Thirdly, there is the pollution line, a phenomenon peculiar to a caste society. According to the traditional caste hierarchy, the population was divided into two polar opposites–the ritually clean and the ritually unclean–the latter being those who were believed to be permanently in ritual pollution and consequently excluded from social interaction and eternally stigmatized. The deprivation of India’s ex-untouchables’ counting over 160 million today, constituting 16 per cent, designated as Scheduled Castes (SCs) by officialdom, but preferred by them to be labeled as Dalits, is primarily not entirely rooted in the social stigma attributed to them. In fact the SCs are the only group, which combines the deprivations associated with poverty, power and pollution.
The vast majority of Indians are deprived on one or the other count. The State has to take into account two factors: multiple deprivations suffered by some of the groups/communities and the hierarchy of factors contributing to deprivation.
The Constitution’s Secularism means the State accords (a) equal respect for all religions and/or (b) the state keeping equal distance from all religions. But this doctrine is not consistently applied to all religious collectivities which in turn has implications for the application of the policy of protective discrimination.
The inconsistency begins with the mode of defining religious collectivities. According to the Hindu Code Bill “Hindus” include Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. This legal expansionism cuts at the very root of Indian secularism.
The Presidential Order of 1950 covered only Hindu lower castes designated as Scheduled Castes to start with, but extended to the Sikhs of Scheduled Caste background in 1956 and to neo-Buddhists in 1990. But Muslims and Christians of Scheduled Caste origin are yet to be brought under the purview of the Presidential Order.
There is yet another anomaly when one notes that all Scheduled Tribes are entitled to all the benefits of the policy of protective discrimination, irrespective of their religion. In contrast Scheduled Caste persons who convert to Islam and Christianity are denied the benefits. Thus the salient defining criterion is different in the two cases: tribe in the case of STs and religion in the case of SCs; the two social categories who are entitled to all the benefits of reservation. This means the conversion of SCs and STs to Islam and Christianity has differing consequences for the converts. While it affects the SCs adversely, it is neutral in regard to STs. There is inconsistency both in principle (denial of freedom of religion to SCs) and in practice in the application of secularism.
And the Supreme Court of India is unambiguous in its pronouncement: ‘….to deny the constitutional protection of reservation solely by reason of change of faith or religion is to endanger the very concept of secularism.’ This entitlement exclusion of a section of Indian citizens because of their religious identity imperils one of the foundational principles of Indian constitution namely equality of all citizens irrespective of their religious faith.
It is clear that the people of India are vivisected into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in terms of the application of the policy of reservation. Those who profess religions of ‘Indian’ origin are insiders and the followers of religions of ‘alien’ origin are outsiders. Islam and Christianity are widely perceived not only as alien religions but are also stigmatized as products of conquest and colonialism in India. Not only are these widely held popular beliefs historically incorrect but the vast majority of those who profess these faiths are native, indigenous pre-Aryan people of India converted from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. Only their religion in ‘alien’.
It is crucial to recall here that from 1936 onwards religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians as well as Scheduled Castes enjoyed political reservations. In the post-Partition Constituent Assembly debates (1947-49) the SCs were removed from the category of ‘minorities’ and were made an integral part of Hinduism. At the same time reservations for religious minorities were abolished. In this process Muslims and Christians of Scheduled Caste origin lost entitlement to reservation both as religious minorities and as Scheduled Castes.
This is the original sin committed by the Indian state with regard to Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin. It is high time to rectify it.
We formulate the following distinct reasons to urge that Christians too be brought under the purview of the 1950 Presidential Order.
1. There is ample evidence that the majority of Christians in India are converts from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes. Even after their conversion their social status continues to be the same.
2. The First Backward Classes Commission (Kaka Kalelkar Commission) in its report on 30 March 1955 said: ‘…we found that segregation of converts from Scheduled Castes was not successfully overcome in certain parts of South India….Harijan converts were not allowed to pray together with upper class Christians….in some places in the south these classes are forced to have a separate cemetery for their dead’.
3. The Second Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission) appointed in 1979 in its report on 31 December 1980 said: ‘Though caste system is peculiar to Hindu Society yet in actual practice it also pervades the non-Hindu communities in India in varying degrees….lower caste converts to a very egalitarian religion like Christianity, ever anxious to expand its membership even after generation were not able to efface the effect of their caste background.’
4. The National Commission for Minorities in its third Annual Report, 1980 opined: ‘The Commission has prima facie felt that since the Christians, Muslims and Buddhists of Scheduled Caste origin continue to suffer from social and economic disabilities even after their conversion there should be no objection to their availing of the concessions admissible to them before their conversion.’(The case of Buddhists is settled in 1990)
5. Though Christian theology does not recognize caste and untouchability, the Supreme Court of India in the case of S. Anbalagan vs. Devarajan AIR 1984 SC 411 realised that , ‘The practice of caste … is so deep rooted in Indian people that its mark does not seem to disappear on conversion to a different religion…. The mark of caste does not seem to really disappear even after some generation after conversion’. In the celebrated case of Indira Sawhney and others vs. Union of India SCR 2 1992, the Supreme Court commented: ‘The concept of caste…is not confined to castes among Hindus. It extends to castes, where ever they obtain as a fact, irrespective of religious sanction for such practice’.
6. On 1 January 1995, as many as 149 Members of Parliament submitted a Memorandum to the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao for the immediate extension of statutory benefits to Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity and also requested to introduce a Bill in the ongoing session of the parliament. In a proposal dated 6 March 1996 the Welfare Ministry proposed the inclusion of Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity in the category of Scheduled Castes. The Cabinet approved the proposal at its meeting held on 7 March 1996. The Cabinet decided to introduce the Bill to amend the Presidential Order 1950 (the third amendment) so as to include Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity under the purview of the Order. The Bill was listed for introduction as a supplementary item in Lok Sabha on 12 March 1996. But it could not be introduced due to procedural lapses. The Cabinet then decided on 14 March 1996 that an Ordinance be promulgated. Although the Ordinance was proposed to the President it could not be effected because a new Government was to assume office soon.
7. A Memorandum signed by 103 Bishops of India on 20 February 996 was submitted to the then Prime Minister of India requesting the extension of all the benefits available to SCs to Christians of Scheduled Caste background. This was an admission of the existence of caste-based discrimination within the Church.
8. The National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians in its publication: Demand for the Restoration of Equal Rights for Christian Dalits, 1996 and the booklet entitled Equal Rights to Dalit Christians, published by the Centre for Dalit Studies in 2001, documented extensively the discrimination and atrocities to which Christians of Scheduled Caste origin are subjected to.
9. It is necessary (a) to recognise that a hierarchy of deprivations exists and (b) that a selective application of the policy of protective discrimination to particular categories in terms of the sources of their deprivation is necessary and feasible.
10. The cumulatively deprived in India are mainly the poor SCs irrespective of their religious faiths. An analysis of the existential conditions of Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste origin unfolds that they are cumulatively deprived. And yet they are not entitled to all the benefits of reservation. This is because of the deep-rooted prejudices prevalent in India against Christianity and Islam as religions, due to their past association with colonialism and conquest. Unfortunately, this prejudice is articulated not only in everyday life at the popular level but it is also reflected in the Indian Constitution and in state policies. This is a matter not just or reservations in a few Government jobs. It is a question of empowerment in all its dimensions – social, economic, and political.
Accepting our demands does not hurt our brethren in the Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist faith. It poses no threat for the security and integrity of our beloved nation. It does not add to societal tensions. Ours is a demand not for a mere few seats by way of reservations in education or government employment. Our’s is a demand for social justice and human dignity, of universally accepted human rights and the full scope of citizenship and protection of the Law. This involves empowerment – social, economic and political. In these areas, the cake is humungous, very, very large. There is sufficient for every religious community amongst the scheduled castes.
You, Sir, and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes have in your power to reverse a historic injustice.
Thank you
For and on behalf of the above organisations
Dr. John Dayal

Member: National Integration Council, Government of India

National President: All India Catholic Union (Founded 1919)
Secretary General: All India Christian Council (Founded 1999)
President: United Christian Action, Delhi (Founded 1992)

505 Link, 18 IP Extension, Delhi 110092 India
Email: johndayal@vsnl.com ; http://groups.google.com/group/JohnDayal
Phone: 91-11-22722262 Mobile 09811021072

Enclosures:
ABSTRACTS FROM THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR RELIGIOUS AND LINGUISTIC MINORITIES HEADED BY JUSTICE RANGNATH MISRA -REPORT PUBLISHED ON 21ST MAY 2007

Additional Term of Reference
Para 3 of the Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Order 1950

¨ On a careful examination of prevalence of the caste system among various actions of the Indian Citizenry we have concluded that caste is in fact a social phenomenon shared by almost all Indian Communities irrespective of their religious persuasions. Many of the particular castes are found simultaneously in various religious communities, equally facing problems of social degradation and mistreatment both by their co-religionists and the others.

¨ We are also conscious of the fact that the Constitution of India prohibits any discrimination between the citizens on the basis of caste, and yet it sanctions special affirmative measures for Scheduled Castes. At the same time it prohibits any discrimination on the ground of religion. Reading all these constitutional provisions together, we are convinced that any religion-based discrimination in selecting particular castes for affirmative action will conflict with the letter and spirit of the constitutional provisions. We are accordingly making the following recommendations on the additional Term of Reference added by the government to our original Terms Reference several months after we began our work

¨ We recommend that the caste system should be recognized as a general social characteristic of the Indian Society as a whole, without questioning whether the philosophy and teachings of any particular religion recognize it or not – since the Indian brands of certain faith traditions like Christianity and Islam have never assimilated many puritan principles of those religions, posting this question in respect of the caste system only and singling out for a differential treatment is unreasonable and unrealistic.

¨ We should like this fact to be duly recognized that among the Muslims of India the concepts of Zat (caste) and arzal (lower castes) are very much in practice; and even the Muslim law of marriage recognizes the doctrine of kufw – parity in marriage between the parties in all vital respects including social status and descent – which in this country means nothing but caste.

¨ In view of what has been said above, we recommend that para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc. – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.

¨ We further recommend that all those groups and classes among the Muslims and Christians, etc. whose counterparts among the Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists, are included in the Central or State Scheduled Castes lists should also be covered by the Scheduled Caste net. If any such group or class among the Muslims and Christians, etc. is now included in an OBC list, it should be deleted from there while transferring it to the Scheduled Castes – Placing the same persons in the Scheduled Caste list if they are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist but in the OBC list if they follow any other religion – which is the case in many States – in our opinion clearly amounts to religion-based discrimination.

¨ We further recommend that as the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of conscience and religious freedom as a Fundamental Right, once a person has been included in a Scheduled Caste list a willful change if religion on his part should not affect adversely his or her Scheduled Caste status – as that would in our opinion conflict with the basic constitutional provisions relating to equality, justice and non-discrimination on religious grounds; as also with the spirit of the old and time-tested Caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1850.

Modalities for implementing our recommendations

¨ We have been asked also “to suggest the necessary constitutional, legal and administrative modalities” required for the implementation of our recommendations. In this regard we have to say as follows.

¨ We are not suggesting any amendment in the Constitution – as we are fully convinced that none or our recommendations requires for its implementation any amendment of the Constitution and that each of these can be fully implemented by legislative or/and administrative action.

¨ We recommend that all Central and State Acts, Statutory Rules and Regulations be suitably amended to implement those of our recommendations which in the opinion pf the Ministry of Law and Justice or any another concerned authority may require such amendments.

¨ More specifically, we recommend the following legislative actions which in our opinion of the Ministry of Law and Justice or any another concerned authority may require such amendments.

¨ More specifically, we recommend the following legislative actions which in our opinion are required either for the implementation of some of our recommendations stated above or otherwise in the interest of the welfare of minorities: –

a) Enactment of a detailed law to enforce the dictates of Article 30 of the Constitution;

b) Amendment of the National Commission for Backward Classes Act 1993;

c) Amendment of the constitution (Scheduled Cates) order 1950 and the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1951 as also for the Central and State lists of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes;

d) Review of the laws and rules, processes and procedures, relating to selection and notification of OBCs at the Central and State level;

e) Enactment of a law to clothe with statutory status and judicial enforceability the Prime Minister’s 15 – Point Program for Minorities 1983 as modified in 2006;

f) Amendment of the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 and the National Commission for Educational Institutions Act 2004 so as to make it necessary for the government to appoint as the chair persons and members of these bodies – through a Search Committee as in the case of the National Human rights Commission – Only reputed experts in the constitutional, legal, educational and economic matters relating to the minorities;

g) Necessary amendments in the Wakf Act 1933 and all the Rules framed under its provisions;

h) Review and necessary overhaul of the laws, rules, regulations, procedures and processes relating to the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation and Maulana Azad Education Foundation.


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