12/07/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – According to The Wire, the Madras High Court held that an individual’s caste status couldn’t change because they converted from one religion to another. This holding could have significant effects for millions of low-caste Christians across India.
The holding was issued by Justice S.M. Subramaniam on November 17 after a man in Tamil Nadu was denied Scheduled Caste Benefits because he converted to Christianity. The Wire reports S. Paul Raj was denied an inter-caste marriage certificate from the Salem District Authorities because of his conversion to Christianity.
The denial of the inter-caste marriage certificate would have blocked Raj and his family from accessing several welfare benefits set aside for low-caste communities, including priority consideration for government jobs. In issuing its decision, the Madras High Court claimed the refusal to issue the inter-caste marriage certificate was wrong because changing religion did not change an individual’s caste status.
Since 1950, low-caste Christians and Muslims have been denied access to many of India’s welfare schemes. According to a 1950 president order, “No person who professes a religion different than the Hindu, the Sikh, or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.” By this presidential order, Scheduled Caste Benefits are denied to low caste individuals from the Christian and Muslim communities on the basis of religion.
According to the most recent census data available, there are approximately 200 million Dalits, individuals from India’s lowest castes, in India, accounting for nearly 16% of the population. Among India’s Christians, about 80% come from Dalit or low caste backgrounds.
The unfortunate truth is caste-based discrimination and marginalization are experienced by all Dalits, regardless of their faith. Despite this truth, however, India continues to deny benefits to some Dalits based on their religious identity.
For many low-caste individuals, the discriminatory policy forces them to choose between much-needed aid and the faith of their choice. For those that choose to convert to Christianity, this discrimination forces many to live double lives.
Several Public Interest Litigations have been filed in India’s Supreme Court to challenge the discriminatory nature of the Scheduled Caste Benefits. However, successive governments have failed to push these lawsuits forward, and the discrimination against India’s Christian and Muslim Dalits has been allowed to continue for 70 years.
If the Madras High Court’s holding on religion and caste status is confirmed by India’s Supreme Court, it could be the beginning of the end for these discriminatory policies.
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