Quota for converted Dalits: SC gives Centre 3 weeks to place its stand on record

The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the Centre three weeks to place its stand on a plea seeking extension of reservation benefits to people from Dalit communities who convert to Islam and Christianity.

“Learned Solicitor General submits that he would like to place on record the current position/stand on the issue in question which deals with the prayer for extension of claim of reservation from Dalit communities to other religions other than the ones specified. On his request, three weeks’ time is granted,” a three-judge bench presided by Justice S K Kaul, and comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Vikaram Nath, said after examining a batch of pending petitions.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the broad question is, “Would a Dalit, after being converted into Christianity, voluntarily or involuntarily…still continue to get the benefits of a Dalit because generally the conversion is to ensure that some ill-effects of being a Dalit is taken away.”

Appearing for the NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), which has also filed a petition on the issue, advocate Prashant Bhushan told the bench that the plea raises the prayer that ‘The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950, which was amended to say that only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs will be considered to be Scheduled Castes, is unconstitutional, as it discriminates on ground of religion”.

Bhsuhan said the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report, which went into the question, said Dalits in other religions also suffer the same disabilities as Dalit Hindus. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission went into the issue subsequently and said it is discriminatory.

But it also raised the “fear” that if Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are given reservation, then Dalit Christians, who are slightly better educated given access to Christian educational institutions, will corner much of the reserved seats, Bhushan said. To get around that, he said, the Commission suggested reserving seats according to population of different communities.

Justice Kaul said the “question is reservation within reservation. It has been done in the OBC category. Whether it can be done in the Scheduled Castes category will be the question of law”.

As Mehta said that the question was whether a Dalit person would enjoy the same status even after conversion, Justice Kaul said, “There are many cases where even after conversion it is not openly professed. It comes much later. There are various social reasons for it.”

Mehta said, “The government of the day did not accept the Mishra Commission report on the ground that it did not take into account several factors.”

The court asked the S-G how much time he would need to place whatever he wanted to on record. “It’s a short issue, there is a legal conundrum involved which has to be settled,” Justice Kaul said.

Mehta said besides legal, social and other questions are also involved, and the issue has many ramifications.

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Justice Kaul said all these old matters are pending because of “social ramifications”, and the day has come to take a call.

The court gave the petitioners one week’s time to respond to the government’s stand when it is filed and fixed October 11 to hear the matter next.

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