Supreme Court asks Centre for its stand on SC status for Dalit Christians, Muslims

Published on Aug 30, 2022 10:52 PM IST

On the petition for SC tag for Dalit Christians, Muslims that has been pending for 18 years, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday: “All these old matters are pending in this court because of its social ramifications. A day has come when we have to take a call on this.”

The Supreme Court gave the Centre three weeks to file its affidavit on a petition that sought SC status for Dalit Christians and Muslims. (HT File Photo)
The Supreme Court gave the Centre three weeks to file its affidavit on a petition that sought SC status for Dalit Christians and Muslims. (HT File Photo)
ByAbraham Thomas

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to take a stand within three weeks on the contentious issue of extending scheduled caste tag to Dalit Christians and Muslims and said that the day has come to take a call on issues having social ramifications.

Under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are recognized as scheduled castes.

Dealing with a public interest litigation filed by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which flagged the issue for consideration by the court in 2004 and to which the Centre did not file any response during the long gap of 18 years, a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Oka and Vikram Nath said, “All these old matters are pending in this court because of its social ramifications. A day has come when we have to take a call on this.”

The court gave the Centre three weeks’ time to place on record its stand on the issue of reservation for Dalit communities of other religions other than those prescribed under the 1950 Order and posted the matter for consideration on October 11.

Appearing for the Centre, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “This matter is engaging the attention of the central government and we request for some time to bring the decision on record.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan who appeared for CPIL told the court that the issue involves a short question whether the 1950 Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order discriminates against Dalit Muslims and Christians. Christian and Muslim organizations too had approached the Supreme Court and their petitions were bunched together with CPIL petition.

The petition sought a direction from the top court to declare paragraph (3) of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 as unconstitutional as it stated, “…no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.” The petitioners ought delinking of religion from consideration of scheduled caste status.

In 2007, former Supreme Court judge, justice Ranganath Misra headed the panel on the issue of granting SC status to religious communities besides Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and recommended that the 1950 Order was discriminatory.

Tushar Mehta said the government does not accept the recommendation. “We do not accept the Ranganath Misra Commission report as it ignored many aspects,” SG Mehta said. But the court asked him why no affidavit was filed rejecting the Misra commission findings.

The 2011 census has total population figures for Christians and Muslims at 2.4 crore and 13.8 crore but there is no data on Dalit converts in these religions. In 2008, a study by the National Commission for Minorities recommended SC status for Dalit Christians and Muslims. This report too was not accepted.

Prashant Bhushan said that the government apprehends that since Dalit Christians have wider access to education and other benefits, they will stand a better chance to corner the reservation benefits meant for scheduled castes. The court allowed Bhushan to file his response to Centre’s affidavit before the next date of hearing.

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