Reservation for Scheduled Caste Converts: What does the law say?

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The Indian Constitution for the government to make laws for protecting and nurturing minorities and one of its most important aspects is the reservation given to the minority communities. The reservation has been provided to the Dalits (Scheduled Castes) as mentioned in the “The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950”. But the act considers Dalits from the Hindu, Sikhs, and Buddhist communities only and not the Schedule Castes from any other religion in the country.

What is the definition of Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Class?

In general, when we see it, the schedule caste is an official name given to the people belonging to deprived and backward communities that were not treated at par with the upper caste people in the Hindu Community. Basically, the people who have been deprived of all the rights in ancient India because of the prevailing caste system are counted under Schedule Caste.

According to “the Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950”, only Hindus belonging to Schedule Caste were included in the list. In 1956, Sikhs were added to it. And in 1990, Buddhists were added. Christians and Muslims have been kept out of its ambit till now.

Other Backward Classes include those people who are educationally and socially disadvantaged in society. There is no specific definition given to the OBC people under the constitution. They are provided with a 27% reservation for “jobs in central services and public undertakings”.

Since article 16(4) itself provides provisions for the reservation of backward classes, it has to be extended to each and every religion. The constitutional provision cannot be interpreted to discriminate against people on the basis of religion. Thus, the reservation for the Other Backward Classes extends to every religion. The Central Government has to update the list consisting OBCs in the periodic intervals of ten years.

What is the case with the Scheduled Caste Converts?

After independence, the instructions for providing 12.5% reservation to the Scheduled Castes were specified. This was later increased to 15% after the census of 1961. There are a number of procedures and steps to check the religion of the person while he or she has applied for a reservation. It is first verified that they belong to Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists and then only the appointment is approved. The letter of appointment issued to them contains the clause that the appointee has to report any conversion of religion from the specified category to another. The administrative or the appointing authority has to be informed immediately about the conversion.

There are three basic conditions related to conversion and re-conversion of the scheduled castes. They are as follows:

  1. When a scheduled caste person converts from Hinduism or Sikhism or Buddhism to any other religion, they cease to be the part of Scheduled Caste category. However, such converts can still get reservations under the Other Backward Classes category of different states. There are states who have specially added converts of the SC category to the OBC list.
  2. When a Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist of scheduled caste converts to another religion and then converts back to their own religion, they will get their ascribed scheduled caste status back if the society is willing to accept them back. And with this, they can also get their reservation back.
  3. In the case when scheduled castes convert back to their own religion from, say, Christianity or Islam, the mere fact that their forefathers belonged to this religion and caste would not suffice to make them entitled for the reservation. They will have to prove that the members of the society they are living in have accepted them in the previous form.

The same rules apply for any citizen contesting under the scheduled caste category. If they convert to Christianity or Islam, they would not be able to contest elections from the SC seats. This has been clarified by the Union Ministers.

Is there any scope to include Christians and Muslims under the Scheduled Caste category?

When the current government was asked “Whether the government is considering making changes to the election rules, categorically stating that the Dalits who have accepted Christianity or Islam would be not eligible to contest from SC reserved seat”, the Union Law Minister specified that there is no such proposition in the government to do so. However, a petition on the same issue is pending before the Supreme Court and was admitted in 2020. The decision is awaited by a huge population in the country.

My take on Caste System

While it is true that some of the castes have faced discrimination and ill-treatment in ancient times. And it was for this purpose, the government initially made a reservation system for a limited time period. But it has been extending and continuing since then. It needs to be understood that providing reservation is not solving the problems inherent in society. The ones who are enjoying the benefit of reservation might not even be suffering from the consequences of the caste system.

Instead of this people must be made aware that the system they have been following for ages was never actually defined and not does it has any origin theory or reason sufficiently backing it. It is true that the system is deeply rooted in society, but making common people and coming generations question its origin and existence can be a way out of it.

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