Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said 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.
Prasad was responding to a question posed by the BJP member GVL Narasimha Rao during the Question Hour in Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
30 minutes into the Question Hour, BJP member GVL Narasimha Rao sought an answer from the Union Law Minister on the Centre’s stand on whether those who previously belonged to Dalit community but had converted to Islam and Christianity will be allowed to contest elections from the reserved seats.
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.”
The Union Law Minister clearly drew a distinction between Dalits embracing Islam and Christianity with those choosing to remain within the folds of Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism. In 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru-led central government had passed an order limiting the definition of “scheduled caste” only to members of the Hindu faith which were later extended in 1956 to Sikhs and to Buddishts in 1990.
However, he clarified that the government was not mulling over to bring an amendment in the Representation of the People Act to debar SCs/STs converting to Islam or Christianity from contesting parliamentary or assembly elections.
When Congress leader Digvijaya Singh asked Prasad to enunciate if marginalised Muslims and Christians will be extended the benefits of reservations, the law minister said in no uncertain terms that only Dalits within the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh community will stand eligible to receive the benefits. He also added that Dalits who had converted to other faiths were induced on the basis that there was no discrimination in new faiths and therefore, they do not qualify to receive the reservation benefits.
Supreme Court verdict says only those belonging to Indic faiths entitled to reservation benefits
In the past, Supreme Court, too, had upheld the caste benefits only to those belonging to the Indic faiths.
“Once such a person ceases to be a Hindu and becomes a Christian, the social and economic disabilities arising because of Hindu religion cease and hence it is no longer necessary to give him protection and for this reason he is deemed not to belong to a scheduled caste,” the court ruling had said in a 2015 case.
The court had also stated that a person whose ancestors were from a caste categorised as a scheduled caste, if and when returns back to the Indic faiths from Christianity and Islam will be entitled to reservation benefits.
However, in practice, the aforementioned restriction is easily skirted around. Several reports have found that vast numbers of Christian individuals avail reservation benefits, and other facilities extended by the government for SC/ST by possessing fake caste certificates.