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ICC Note: The Indian government has decided to oppose the request for dalit status to be granted to those who practice or convert to Christianity or Islam. They justified the decision by saying that only Hinduism acknowledged the “caste system” that led to the inclusion of a class titled Scheduled Castes. They argued that recognizing Scheduled Caste status among Christians and Muslims would violate basic principles of these religious institutions because they do not acknowledge India’s caste system.

By Subodh Ghildiyal

03/30/2015 India (The Times of India) – The Centre has decided to oppose the demand for dalit status for “converts” to Christianity and Islam, arguing that only Hinduism recognized “caste system” and “untouchability” that led to the creation of a special category called Scheduled Castes.

An interesting reason cited to red-flag the demand is that the Constitution provides reservation in legislatures to dalits and tribals to “compensate for the social injustice” suffered by them over centuries and extending this benefit to converts would impinge on the rights of SCs/STs.

While the move was expected after social justice minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot made the government stance plain in an interview to TOI on October 10 last year, it is now learnt that his ministry detailed reasons to the Union law ministry to oppose in Supreme Court the petition seeking SC status for converts.

The unambiguous opposition from the BJP government is a sharp departure from the UPA regime’s strategy to buy time – in 2005, entrusting a national commission to study the issue and in 2011, deciding to wait for ‘socio-economic caste census’ for data to commission further studies.

As polarizing as it is complicated, the issue is rooted in the reasoning that SC status — limited to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists — should be made religion-neutral, thereby opening it to Hindu “untouchables” who converted to Islam and Christianity.

Strongly objecting to the demand, the BJP government argues that “untouchability” was a peculiar aspect of Hindu religion that “denied to disadvantaged castes the fundamentals of human dignity, human self-respect and even some of the attributes of human personality.”

Linking this “evil practice” exclusively to Hinduism, the government says mere social “backwardness” cannot put converts at par with dalits whose backwardness arises from the traditional practice of “untouchability.”

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