The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Supreme Court to examine quota for Dalit Christians

[Note: How can a christian be a "dalit" ? If so, what was the benifit of conversion ? if there are no castes in christianity and islam, how can there be any back ward caste issues ? If so, are they not being hypocratic ?]

By Our Legal Correspondent

NEW DELHI, FEB. 11. The Supreme Court today said that it would examine the question of providing reservation for Dalits even after their conversion to Christianity.

A Bench, comprising the Chief Justice, R.C. Lahoti, and Justice G.P. Mathur, after hearing the Attorney-General, Milon Banerjee, said: "It is a crucial issue and we will examine it after going through the earlier judgments cited by the petitioner and the Attorney-General." The Bench said it would take up the matter again after four weeks.

On a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation challenging the constitutional validity of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders, 1950 under which people belonging to the Scheduled Castes who converted to religions different from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism were deprived of reservation benefits, the court, in October last, had sought the views of the Attorney-General.

Today, when the matter was taken up, Mr. Banerjee submitted that he had written a letter in this regard and the Government had sent its reply. Though he had asked the Government to consider the issue sympathetically, "it is [a] matter of policy and legislation and the Courts should keep out of it." He submitted to the court the copies of his letter and the reply received from the Government.

Mr. Banerjee cited earlier apex court rulings holding that any amendment to the Presidential Order of 1950 regarding inclusion of any particular community within the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes was within the purview of legislative action. He brought to the notice of the court that the National Democratic Alliance Government had rejected a request for inclusion of Dalit Christians within the category of Scheduled Castes in 2002. The apex court had also ruled that the list of entries in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes categories under the Presidential Order was final and the Courts could not "add or subtract."

Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Shanti Bhushan contended that the earlier court rulings were given on the basis of scanty material and claimed that the petitioners had material to support their claim for extending reservation to the Dalit Christians. Last year, the apex Court had held that even if a tribal converted to Christianity, he or she could still avail of the reservation benefits as his/her status as a member of the Scheduled Tribes remained unchanged. The same law should be applicable to Dalit Christians also.

In the light of these submissions, the Bench said it would examine the legal position and adjourned the proceedings by four weeks.

The petitioner contended that the 1950 Order as it stood today violated the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution as the Scheduled Castes people converting to Christianity were deprived of the benefit given to people from the same community belonging to other religions. It said the social and economic liabilities of the Scheduled Castes converts to Christianity continued to persist even after their conversion.


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