The Central government on Tuesday, in response to a question in the Parliament said that no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste. As such, the benefits of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) meant for the welfare and development of Scheduled Castes can not be extended to Converted Christians from Scheduled Castes.
The central govt informed that Andhra Pradesh govt had informed on 30th July 2021 that they have issued orders that non-statutory concessions granted to the Scheduled Castes (Hindus) by the State Government be extended to Scheduled Caste converts to Christian and to Buddhism. The central govt, however, said that the scheme by Andhra Pradesh govt will not apply to benefits extended under the CSS or any other statutory benefits under the Centre.
Extending benefits meant for SC to converted Christians in Andhra
According to reports, an estimated 80 per cent of Christian converts were from the SCs in Andhra Pradesh and they were enjoying the benefits facilitated by the 1977 order which includes allotment of land/house, free electricity, and loans that are intended to benefit SCs.
The Presidential Order of 1950 says that “only those who profess Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions will be considered as Hindu. The moment an existing SC person stops practising and professing the above religions, he ceases to be an SC and no benefit meant for SCs can be extended to him or her.” As such, if an SC person converts to Christianity, he/she would not be eligible for the benefits.
Experts have expressed their concerns regarding the freebies doled out to Christian community by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Andhra Pradesh government. The freebies are not only causing a loss of public money, but these appeasement schemes are also aimed at encouraging ordinary Andhra citizens to convert, experts suggest.
As per the 2011 Census, the Christian community in Andhra Pradesh accounts for about 1.4% of the total population, however, the number of followers of the faith is estimated to be higher in the state due to the rising conversion phenomenon.
In November 2020, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment directed the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Department to take action against Christian pastors who received honorarium under Disaster Relief Fund by using Hindu SC/OBC caste certificates. Legal Rights Protection Forum (LRPF), an NGO working in the field of law, had pointed out an alleged scam taking place under the state government scheme to provide honorariums to all religious service rendered in the state.
LRPF had said that real SC/OBC beneficiaries were deprived because Christians grabbed the benefits using their SC/OBC certificates. As per the data obtained through RTI filed by the NGO, it was revealed that 58.14 per cent Christian Pastors have Hindu SC community certificates and 13.37 per cent Christian pastors have Hindu OBC community certificates. The NGO further alleged that the Christian Pastors used their Hindu identities when seeking benefits under government scheme meant for SCs or OBCs and utilised their Christian identity to gain benefits of government schemes intended for Christian pastors.