New Delhi, November 28, 2007 — The Supreme Court of India today postponed the hearing on demands by Dalit Christians and Muslims for full Constitutional rights because the Central government once again failed to officially respond, saying it had not yet heard from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
The Supreme Court will now take up after Christmas the writ appeals challenging Article 341 Para 3 of the Constitution to grant affirmative action benefits to Dalits converted to Christianity or Islam.
The adjournment came after Gopal Subramanium, additional solicitor general for the Indian government, told the court that the United Progressive Alliance government led by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had still not received a report from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. The Commission had been instructed to consider an earlier report by former Chief Justice Ranganath Misra’s panel. That panel had accepted the appeal of Dalits and recommended in May 2007 that Christian and Muslim coverts from untouchable castes be given the same privileges given to Dalits who have become Sikhs, Buddhists or Hindus.
When the Indian Constitution became law on 26th January 1950, all Dalits, irrespective of religious identity, were given legal protection and benefits such as job and education reservations to help them rise from thousands of years of slavery.
However, the Presidential Order of 1950 restricted such rights to Hindus. This effectively punished anyone who joined another religion by snatching all their rights from them, unless they again converted to Hinduism. It was later amended to include Sikh and Buddhist converts.
Lawyers who argued for the Dalits included advocate Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, and Dr. M P Raju.
National Integration Council member Dr. John Dayal said, “This seems part of a planned dilatory tactic. This entire process of referring the issue to various commissions has taken more a year. If the government wants it and has the political will, it can change the law and restore full rights to all Dalits.”
“Dalits who converted to Sikhism and Buddhism have been given these rights, but those to Islam and Christianity continue to be punished by being deprived of affirmative action. Article 341 Para 3, which was amended in 1956 and 1990 to benefit Sikhs and Buddhists, must now be changed to also include others. Indian secularism will be strengthened by not bringing in religion in matters of affirmative action,” said Dr. Dayal.
Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council, said, “The demand for Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Christians and Muslims is a fundamental civil right. The access to affirmative action must be restored to all Dalits unconditionally and irrespective of religion.”
Disappointed by the delay of the Supreme Court judgment, Christians decided to hold a protest rally tomorrow at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.
The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.
All India Christian Councel, November 28, 2007