NEW DELHI: Adding to the intense debate over affirmative action, India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has recommended Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians on grounds that socio-economic status does not change with religion.
“There is a strong case for according Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Muslims and Christians,” says a NCM report, “Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities: A Status report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge”.
“A Scheduled Caste person’s socio and economic status remains unchanged even if he changes his religion. Hence, there is no ground to deny him benefits of affirmative action simply because he changes his creed,” said NCM chairperson Mohammad Shafi Qureshi.
“The present government has the determination to take bold initiatives for the welfare of the people on margins. I do not foresee any reasons in not heeding and executing our recommendation,” Qureshi told IANS.
The minority panel is planning to submit a copy of the report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and will urge him to expedite efforts to meet the long-pending demand of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.
The NCM’s recommendation is in sync with the stand of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), which has consented to the idea but with the rider that Scheduled Caste status to the minority groups should not affect the 15 percent quota norm for Hindu Scheduled Castes.
At present, Scheduled Castes have 15 percent reservations in government jobs and academic institutions while Scheduled Tribes enjoy a 7.5 percent quota. In addition, other backward classes (OBCs), including both Hindus and Muslims, have been given 27 percent quota.
The NCM report, a copy of which is with IANS, has put forward detailed statistics from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), revealing the widespread poverty and backwardness amongst Dalit Muslims and Christians, to support its demand.
According to the report, 39.6 percent Dalit Muslims and 30.1 Christians in rural India belong to the below the poverty line (BPL) category with a monthly per capita expenditure less than Rs.356.30 — the benchmark for rural BPL.
In urban areas, 46.8 percent Dalit Muslims and 32.3 percent Dalit Christians live below the BPL — their monthly per capita expenditure is less than Rs.538.60, the government benchmark for urban BPL.
“According due statutory recognition to Dalit Muslims and Christians would not only right a wrong, but would also remove an indefensible anomaly in our politico-legal system that can legitimately be construed as discriminatory,” says the report prepared by Satish Deshpande and Geetika Bapna of Department of Sociology, University of Delhi.
“Based only on the descriptive and statistical evidence available, there is a strong case for including Dalit Muslims and Christians in the Scheduled Caste category. There are compelling arguments in favour of such an inclusion based on principles of natural justice and fairness,” adds the report.
In its May 2007 report, the Justice Ranganath Mishra led National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) had favoured inclusion of Dalit minorities into the Scheduled Caste fold.
He recommended a sub-quota of 8.4 percent for minorities within the 27 percent quotas for OBC quota, and reservation to Dalit minorities under the Scheduled Caste category within the 15 percent quota.